Millennials, Religion and Civic Engagement

[cross posted on American Grace blog)

Flickr photo by Echobase

American Grace co-author David Campbell appeared on a Pew-sponsored panel called Portrait of the Millennial Generation with Neil Howe, Andy Kohut and Judy Woodruff, among others. Allison Pond, research associate at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, discussed some of Pew’s findings re Millennials and religion. Millennials, in comparison to earlier generations, according to Pond, are  less likely to pray, less likely to assert that religion is important to them, just as likely to believe in heaven/hell or in the afterlife, and more likely to tinker with religion (finding ways to cobble together a spiritual life although they are less connected to religious institutions).

As David Campbell points out on the panel:

If you look over the long haul from the ’60s to the ’70s, you do see a slight increase in the overall percentage of Americans who were evangelicals, and much of that growth was concentrated among young people.

That, however, ceased to be the case over the last 10 or 15 years. You have seen evangelical churches remain on the American landscape. And anyone who has been to the Saddleback Church in California or the Willow Creek Church in Chicago — these are massive megachurches — will know what I mean. It’s not that Millennials are streaming out of these churches, but they’re not being attracted to them the way that young people were in the past. That suggests to me that there’s an opening for religious entrepreneurs to somehow reach that segment of the population. They haven’t yet done so, and evangelicalism as it exists today does not seem to be reaching them.

On a later panel that same day Scott Keeter et. al. discussed differences between the Millennial Generation and earlier generations on abortion (more pro-choice) and religiosity (less religious).   And one questioner alluded to Pew’s findings that Millennials much more strongly believe that  “Houses of worship should express views on social and political issues”, to which Andy Kohut observed that these differences have to be interpreted in light of Millennials growing up in a context of greater separation of church and state than previous generations.

[In other discussions on the morning panel and afternoon panel there was a discussion of Millennials and community engagement.  For our  (Robert Putnam’s and my) take on this, see “Still Bowling Alone?” in the January Journal of Democracy.]

Some of findings to come in American Grace are consistent with Pew’s findings and some appear to differ. Stay tuned.

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