Young Americans abandoning organised religion

America is often referred to as one of the most religious nations in the world. But that reputation may be beginning to fade as new research shows that younger people are abandoning traditional organised religion in large numbers.

LifeWay Christian Resources surveyed 1,200 18- to 29-year-olds and found that most of them don't pray, don't worship and don’t read the Bible and 72% say they're “really more spiritual than religious”". If the trends continue, “the Millennial generation will see churches closing as quickly as GM dealerships,” says Thom Rainer, president of Lifeway.

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.

The findings, which document a steady drift away from church life, dovetail with a 2007 LifeWay survey of teenagers who drop out of church and a study in February by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, which compared the beliefs of so-called “Millennials” with those of earlier generations of young people. 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 stopped 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.