Millennials and generational replacement are a large factor in declining Christianity according to recent studies
According to a 2014 Pew Research study, Christianity in America has dropped by nearly 8 percent since 2007. Primarily among millennials, Christianity seems to have lost its appeal over time, drawing concern from older generations who adhere strongly to the faith.
Perhaps those most concerned are the nation’s youth and young adult pastors, wondering desperately how they can encourage students to remain strong in their Christianity as they begin adult life in a nation with diminishing faith.
In the 2014 study it was found that Christianity is declining among Americans. The survey, compared with an earlier study from 2007, showed the number of adults in America that consider themselves Christian has dropped by 7.8 percent in recent years.
In contrast, the number of those who consider themselves “unaffiliated,” also referred to as “the religious none,” has increased 6.7 percent in the same time frame. In addition non-Christian religions have also grown, increasing in affiliates by 1.2 percent, leaving Christianity as the only religion losing members.
Jessica Martinez, senior researcher at Pew Research Center explained in an email, “The recent decline in religious beliefs and behaviors is largely attributable to the “nones,” who are a growing minority of Americans, particularly millennials, who say they do not belong to any organized faith.”
The category of unaffiliated, or the religious “none,” include atheist, agnostic, and those who believe in “nothing in particular.” According to Pew Research, the unaffiliated category has risen 6.7 percent between 2007 and 2014.
So why is affiliation with the Christian church so rapidly declining while the religious none increases?
Pew Research explains that millennials are more likely to have been raised in families that are religiously unaffiliated than they are to be walking away from a childhood religion. Of those who were raised without connection to a religious group 67 percent have continued to claim adherence to the realm of the religious “none,” which is a “higher retention rate than most other major religious groups,” wrote Michael Lipka in a 2015 Pew Research study.
Though religious affiliation decline is evident in all generations surveyed, it is most notable among the millennials. As the generations age and pass away, other generations grow older and take their place creating what researchers describe as “generational replacement.”
According to Pew Research generational replacement is a key factor in the growth in the number of adherents to the realm of the religious “none.” As generations grow older and younger ones are raised, each experiences a different world than those before them causing them to have different beliefs and values which, in turn, replace those of their predecessors.
Six out of every 10 millennials claims to be Christian. In comparison, seven out of 10 claimed Christianity from the older generations including baby boomers and generation x-ers. The ratios seem negligible at the moment, but if they continue in their decline Christianity will quickly become a minority, replaced by a nation that claims no religion.
Martinez, said in an email, “As the millennial generation enters adulthood, they display much lower levels of religious affiliation, including less connection with Christian churches, than older generations.”
Pew researchers describes millennials as “the most liberal age group,” often embracing political and religious ideologies that have been typically been rejected by older generations. The culture among millennials is one of individualism, equality, and acceptance of once taboo cultural phenomena.
If a church is unable to comply with their ideals than millennials are more likely to disengage from the religion as a whole.
“We found that religious involvement was low when individualism was high,” Dr. Jean Twenge, researcher and psychologist at San Diego State University, explained in a statement to The Huffington Post. “Individualism is a cultural system that places more emphasis on the self and less on social rules. Individualism can conflict with religion, especially as religion usually involves following certain rules and being part of a group.”
As millennials are aging they are beginning to defy social rules in attempts to normalize previously ridiculed behavior, they have found that Christianity does not always leave room for pushing boundaries.
Postmodernism and millennials often go hand in hand as they question the ideological boundaries that society puts in place.
“Millennials are post moderns operating within modernistic social and organizational structures,” explained Justin Evans, professor of Theology.
Christianity typically remains within the boundaries of traditional thinking which clashes with the millennials desire to question what they are taught.
With Christianity still as the majority it seems an obvious reaction for millennials to claim adherence to “nothing in particular” or the “religious none” as a direct protest of what society believes. As the millennials age and new generations are added to the population it is unclear if the trend of declining Christianity will continue.
As Martinez wrote “What exactly this would mean for America’s religious landscape in the future remains to be seen.”