“This generation is less likely to affiliate with established religious groupings than previous ones, even if they do have a sense of spirituality.”
Ed: How would you describe the state of Christianity and the church among emerging adults—18 to 29-year-olds—today? What are their biggest questions, concerns, or motivations?
Russell: According to the Pew Research Center, over 50 percent of emerging adults identify as not religious. Three out of ten emerging adults are neither spiritual nor religious, and 22 percent are spiritual but not religious. That means that this generation is less likely to affiliate with established religious groupings than previous ones, even if they do have a sense of spirituality.
This trend towards non-religiosity and non-affiliation should be alarming to the Christian church, especially in terms of the corporate character of the faith. As Americans become hyper-individualized, it will see further declines in church participation and attendance, baptisms, member financial giving, and missions.
A key factor shaping this disaffiliation from Christianity is that emerging adults see that it has become too tied to partisan politics. Since this generation has high values for social justice, diversity, and environmental sustainability, they are looking for movements and groups that support these concerns in concrete ways.
Another trend affecting this group is technology and social media. Because they have more options than before that cater to their individual tastes and interests, they become more consumer-driven in how they spend their time. Churches must adapt and respond to this shift in order to draw in non-Christians and to serve their emerging adult membership.