Religious Lives of Twentysomethings, Part 2

Written by Brandon O'Brien on January 5th, 2012

In a previous post, I described a few trends I noticed in student responses to prompts about the role of religion in their lives. In that post, I listed the commonalities that came as no surprise to me. Here I list a few recurring things I did find surprising.

Plan to have children in religious services/education.

Regardless of their religious background, a majority of my students expressed that they planned to take their children to church (synagogue, temple, etc.) or have them attend religious education. This was true even of students who do not consider themselves religious. They liked the traditions, they said. Or they want their children to have a strong moral foundation. Or they want their children to be baptized or bar mitzvah. These students weren’t concerned, necessarily, that the content of the faith be true; it seems they simply want their kids to share memories and a heritage they themselves were raised with.

Don’t need to believe to serve.

Half a dozen students or so wrote that they were currently leaders in a youth group, Sunday school, or some sort of religious organization (like Muslim Youth), but that they did not consider themselves religious. One girl is planning to major in religion and then go to seminary so she can be a (Christian) youth minister. But she isn’t sure she’s a Christian; she doesn’t know what she believes. Even so, she knows she wants to work with teens, provide a safe place for them to explore important questions, and navigate the challenges of becoming an adult. A religious setting appears as good a place as any to do that. Others say they currently work with children or youth in their religious communities, even though they do not share the beliefs of their religious community. Serving doesn’t require believing.

Even the religious ones don’t see relevance of religion for daily life, goals, etc.

In one assignment, I asked the students to reflect on how religion might hinder or help them attain their personal and career goals. This is where I found the biggest surprises. Predictably, students who weren’t sure about their spiritual convictions found the question hard to answer. If they aren’t religious now, they couldn’t imagine religion helping them down the road. But those students who do consider themselves religious—most of them Christians—saw their religious beliefs having very little impact on their personal or professional goals. A few said they wanted to get married in their church. One said she was a committed Christian but her longtime boyfriend is Muslim, and he can only marry her if she converts. She’s considering it. So, in that sense, religion has real consequences for her. But on the whole, students were stymied to come up with a way religion could play any role at all in the parts of their lives that really matter.

This is the data, such as it is. In the following post, I’ll make a few observations about what implications this might have for how we minister to young people.


3 Comments so far ↓

  1. Christy Evans says:

    Wow. Interesting.

  2. Jeff Fisher says:

    Have you seen The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons? I think he is making a lot of these same observations. He’s also one of the key speakers at the January Series at Calvin College

  3. brandon says:

    Thanks, Jeff. I’m familiar with Lyons, but I haven’t read this most recent book. If he’s seeing the same things I’m seeing, maybe I should check him out…

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