In a recent provocative article by Drew Dyck, a manager in the Church Ministry Media Group at Christianity Today, there are alarming indications that young adults are leaving the church in record numbers. Some question this type of data but increasingly it seems to be beyond dispute. (I have rarely heard discussion of the fact that only 10% of the population attended church in 1800 before the campus revivals of New England and the Second Great Awakening!)
There are some striking mile markers that appear on the road through young adulthood: leaving for college, getting your first job and apartment, starting a career, getting married—and, for many people today, you can add walking away from the Christian faith to this list. Drew Dyck says that sociologists are seeing a major shift taking place among young adults who are moving away from Christianity. Dyck believes: “A faithful response requires that we examine the exodus and ask ourselves some honest questions about why.”
Recent studies have brought this exodus trend to light. Among the findings released in 2009 from the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), one stood out more than any other. The percentage of Americans claiming "no religion" almost doubled in nearly two decades, climbing from 8.1 percent in 1990 to 15 percent in 2008. The trend wasn't confined to one region. Those marking "no religion” made up the only group to have grown in every state, from the secular Northeast to the conservative Southeast. The “Nones” were most numerous among the young: a whopping 22 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds claimed no religion, up from 11 percent in 1990. The study also found that 73 percent of “Nones” came from religious homes; 66 percent were described by the study as "de-converts." This is staggering no matter how you cut it. People who were churched have intentionally left the church.
Other survey results have been grimmer. At the May 2009 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, top political scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell presented research from their new book American Grace, which I have recently been reading and find powerfully important for understanding the present religious context of America. Putnam and Campbell report that "young Americans are dropping out of religion at an alarming rate of five to six times the historic rate (30 to 40 percent have no religion today, versus 5 to 10 percent a generation ago)." Again, this news is grim if you care about the future of the church in America.
A corresponding drop in church involvement is also evident in this recent research. Rainer Research says that approximately 70 percent of American youth drop out of church between the age of 18 and 22. The Barna Group estimates that 80 percent of those reared in the church will be "disengaged" by the time they are 29. Barna Group president David Kinnaman described the reality in these extremely bleak words: "Imagine a group photo of all the students who come to your church (or live within your community of believers) in a typical year. Take a big fat marker and cross out three out of every four faces. That's the probable toll of spiritual disengagement as students navigate through their faith during the next two decades."
In his most important book unChristian, David Kinnaman relayed his findings from thousands of interviews with young adults. Among his many conclusions he discovered that: "The vast majority of outsiders