Among the 65% who call themselves Christian, “many are either mushy Christians or Christians in name only,” Rainer says. “Most are just indifferent. The more precisely you try to measure their Christianity, the fewer you find committed to the faith.”
Key findings in the phone survey, conducted in August and released today:
•65% rarely or never pray with others, and 38% almost never pray by themselves either.
•65% rarely or never attend worship services.
•67% don’t read the Bible or sacred texts.
Many are unsure Jesus is the only path to heaven: Half say yes, half no.
“We have dumbed down what it means to be part of the church so much that it means almost nothing, even to people who already say they are part of the church,” Rainer says. The findings, which document a steady drift away from church life, dovetail with a LifeWay survey of teenagers in 2007 who drop out of church and a study in February by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, which compared the beliefs of Millennials with those of earlier generations of young people.
The new survey has a margin of error of +/-2.8 percentage points.
Even among those in the survey who “believe they will go to heaven because they have accepted Jesus Christ as savior”:
•68% did not mention faith, religion or spirituality when asked what was “really important in life.”
•50% do not attend church at least weekly.
•36% rarely or never read the Bible.
Neither are these young Christians evangelical in the original meaning of the term — eager to share the Gospel. Just 40% say this is their responsibility.
Even so, Rainer is encouraged by the roughly 15% who, he says, appear to be “deeply committed” Christians in study, prayer, worship and action.
Collin Hansen, 29, author of Young, Restless, Reformed, about a thriving minority of traditionalist Christians, agrees. “I’m not going to say these numbers aren’t true and aren’t grim, but they also drive people like me to build new, passionately Christian dynamic churches,” says Hansen, who is studying for the ministry. He sees many in his generation veering to “moralistic therapeutic deism — ‘God wants you to be happy and do good things.’ … I would not call that Christianity, however.”
The 2007 LifeWay study found seven in 10 Protestants ages 18 to 30, both evangelical and mainline, who went to church regularly in high school said they quit attending by age 23. And 34% of those had not returned, even sporadically, by age 30.
The Pew survey found young people today were significantly more likely than those in earlier generations to say they didn’t identify with any religious group. Neither are Millennials any more likely than earlier generations to turn toward a faith affiliation as they grow older.