A new survey finds that American teens are far less likely than their parents to see faith as an integral part of their lives.
Only 24% of teens say faith is “very important” to them, compared with 44% of adults, according to survey results published last week by the Pew Research Center.
Meanwhile, nearly a third of American young people (32%) between the ages of 13 and 17 identify as “religious nones” (unaffiliated with any or any faith tradition), reflecting the trend of Americans turning away from traditional religion. But most teens follow their parents, the survey shows.
“Protestant parents are likely to have teens who identify as Protestants, while Catholic parents mostly have teens who consider themselves Catholics, and the vast majority of religiously unaffiliated parents have teens who describe themselves as atheists, agnostics or ‘nothing in particular,’” the Pew researchers said.
Pew surveyed 1,800 teenagers and their parents or guardians online in March and April 2019. The interviews, completed independently by parent and child, also bolster last year’s watershed survey showing the highest percentage of faith-unaffiliated Americans in modern history.
The survey paints a wide and varying portrait of the faith lives of young people living under the guise of their parents, a historically faithful category of the American public. Previous research shows that changes in religious belief happen after children leave home.
“Scripture teaches that primary responsibility for religious education falls to the family,” John Uldrick, minister for students and missions at First Baptist Church in Rome, Georgia, told Baptist News. “This data doesn’t surprise me, especially as it relates to teens taking after their parents and what their parents believe.”
The survey’s results suggest that teens still adopt the faith practices of their parents or guardians, though evangelical teens “stand out from other adolescents” in religious commitments, Pew researchers said.
Eight in 10 evangelical teens follow their parents’ traditions. By comparison, only 55% of children of mainline Protestants — including the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) — say they share their parents’ religion. Nearly 3 out of 4 evangelical teens are apt to express “absolute certainty about God’s existence,” compared with fewer than half of mainline Protestants (49%) and Catholics (45%).
Evangelical teens (70%) are also more likely to have a “deep sense of spiritual peace/well-being” than mainline Protestants (54%), Catholics (54% or religiously unaffiliated young people (31%). Although Catholic teens (50%) are most likely to “think about the meaning and purpose of life,” mainline Protestants (47%) and unaffiliated teens (42)%) express more often feeling a “deep sense of wonder about the universe.”
The numbers follow another Pew survey last fall that found America hit a new threshold of religious pluralism or absenteeism, with more Americans considering themselves to be “religious nones” (26%) than at any other point in modern time. The share of Christian adults also fell by 12 percentage points (or roughly 10 million Americans) since 2009, Pew researchers estimated.
America enjoys a reputation for active faith life compared to other Western nations, according to various survey data. While a study by Roger Finke and Rodney Stark suggests that only 17% of Americans adhered to a specific faith tradition in 1776 and 45% by 1890, church attendance among citizens blossomed during the 20th century. When Gallup first asked about religious identity in 1948, 91% of American identified as Catholic or Protestant.
Fostering faith among youth in an increasingly secular nation has long been a challenge for churches.
This summer, Barna Group, an evangelical publishing and research house in Ventura, California, reported that youth and teens expressed preference for the phrase “sharing faith” rather than “evangelism” and were hesitant to use the word “convert.” Barna also reported that the church dropout rate for 18- to 25-year-olds rose from 59% to 64% over the past decade.
Last fall, Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles told the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ annual meeting that the church must emphasize its teachings on “social justice,” not sexuality, to connect with Generation Z.
“We have a very powerful tradition around doing the works of justice. And young people like that. They get hit,” Bishop Barron said. “Welk now this tradition. We should propagate it.”
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