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This morning, Pew Research Center released what is effectively part two of its “American Religious Landscape” survey, entitled, “U.S. Public Becoming Less Religious.”
It’s full of fascinating data that gives great insight into how Americans deal with religion, ethics, and politics together. However it has some particularly interesting data on Millennials and how their faith compares to that of other generations.
When you compare Millennials’ attitudes toward religion with that of every generation that has come before them, the scene is bleak at best:
Here are some of the more notable stats in bullet point form:
Check out this second table, highlighted in the yellow box is the Older Millennials and how their views have changed in the last seven years:
Pew included other data about Millennials in the survey, but none of it is entirely surprising. Fewer Millennials believe their religion is the only way to eternal life in 2014 than did in 2007, which is no surprise. It did surprise me, however, that two percent more Older Millennials rely most on religious teachings for ethics and that two percent more Older Millennials read Scripture at least once a week in 2014 than did in 2007. But two percent is pretty tiny—it’s tough to make much meaning out of that.
Perhaps the two most polarizing political issues of the last decade have been the matter of same-sex marriage and abortion. Most Christians won’t vote for someone if they aren’t pro-choice and pro-traditional-marriage, and unbelievers tend to vehemently disagree with how believers see the morality of such issues.
Across all spheres of Christianity and among those who are not Christians, the younger the person is, the more likely he or she is to accept homosexuality and same-sex marriage. This may lead one to think that younger people are more “liberal” than older people across the board, and they may be in many areas. But check out this table of graphs below. Notice how young people view abortion:
Young people, even unaffiliated young people, remain against abortion despite their more “progressive” views on homosexuality. Astonishing. Encouraging, really.
You’ll notice in the tables above that among all generations, but Millennials particularly, that the middle answer, “somewhat,” “weekly,” etc., is always the least-chosen answer. This is not a huge deal, but it is fascinating to me.
For instance, look at that second table, and look specifically at what Older Millennials say regarding the importance of religion. Those who say it is “very important” remained unchanged at 44% between 2007 and 2014, but six percent of those who said it was of “somewhat” importance in 2007 jumped over to thinking religion is “not too or not at all” important in 2014.
It’s not wise to read a lot into a little stat, but this one stat did intrigue me. It speaks to the idea that while the overall number of Christians in America is getting smaller, it may, in fact, be due to those who simply are no longer sitting on the fence thinking religion is “somewhat important.”
It would be deeply troubling to me if 10-20% of people who said religion is very important in 2007 jumped to think it is not important in 2014, but that’s not happening.
It reminds me of Yoda’s iconic line:
As we examine the Pew data and take a look at how Millennials think about religion and what they’re doing in terms of acting out their faith, whatever it is, there appears to be little middle ground. Half-hearted faith seems to be going by the wayside as Millennials decide whether or not to pursue this “faith” thing: less reading the Bible “weekly” and more reading it “daily” or “never;” less going to church “once a month” and more going “weekly” or “never.”
Honestly, as I was read through this study and the data that came of it and tried to think of implications for pastors and church leaders, I had a tough time coming up with anything substantive.
This study doesn’t tell us a ton about Millennials that changes how we think about them or how we minister to them. This data largely confirms what we have already thought about Millennials: they’re less religious and more socially progressive than those who have come before, but they still don’t like abortion.
However, there is one piece of this study that I believe is helpful when it comes to evangelism and sharing the gospel with Millennials. See this graph:
Millennials, both Young and Old, feel less spiritual peace and well-being than any other generation. At the same time, more Younger Millennials feel a deep sense of wonder about the universe than any other age group, and Older Millennials are just a few points lower around the middle of the pack.
About half of Millennials feel a do not feel a sense of spiritual peace, and about half of them feel a deep sense of wonder about the universe. This points back to the old (and true) idea that Millennials tend to be “spiritual but not religious,” which I think means their heart is primed for the gospel.
Pastors and church people, remember this as you seek to reach unbelieving Millennials in your communities. There is basically a 50-50 chance the Millennials you speak to do not feel at peace with where they are spiritually, and a 50-50 chance they feel “wonder” about the universe. This is not a generation closed off to the supernatural and wondrous—it’s a generation weary of institutional hypocrisy. Reach out to the young people in your community as a family, not as an “organization” or a “club.” Engage Millennials’ sense of wonder. Speak to their spiritual unrest. Point them to Jesus.