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Fading faith? Survey shows generation gap in religious devotion

Published: Saturday, March 13 2010 2:23 p.m. MST

Steve Baker, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Studies suggest today's current crop of young

adults — labeled the "Millennial Generation" — is less religious than

preceding generations.

But a closer look suggests they really may not be much different than preceding generations at the same age.

Whatever the case, religious leaders haven't lost faith in the Millennials.

Millennials

were born in 1981 or after and will be coming of age in the early 2000s

— the new millennium. They follow past generations: "Gen X" (birth

years between 1965 and 1980), "Boomer" (1946-1964), "Silent"

(1928-1945) and "Greatest" (born before 1928).

__IMAGE1__In

a collection of national surveys compiled by the Pew Forum on Religion

and Public Life, Americans ages 18 to 29 are considered less religious

than their older counterparts. More than one in four Millennials — or

26 percent — say they are unaffiliated in religion (see survey results).

The forum survey is at pewforum.org/docs/?DocID=510.

Millennials,

it seems, are less inclined to pray, to regularly attend worship

services or to participate in other religious practices than are other

generations today.

But when the Pew

Forum looked at survey results from past generations in their

respective young-adult stages, the Millennial numbers aren't always

drastically different.

For example,

40 percent of Millennials say religion is very important in their lives

while 60 percent of Boomers agree now with that statement. But only 39

percent thought so back in the late 1970s.

Another

Boomer example, 37 percent of Millennials say they are a "strong"

member of their religion, compared to 43 percent of Boomers today.

But the Boomers' percent in the late 1970s was just 31.

And

it's not just the Boomers. Some 41 percent of Millennials say they

participate in daily prayer, while Gen X respondents have 54 percent

now praying daily, compared to just 42 percent in the late 1990s.

The

Rev. Michael J. Imperiale of First Presbyterian Church of Salt Lake

City sees Millennials as a generational rebound or pendulum shift from

the past, saying Gen X followed the late baby boomers' sex, drugs, and

rock and roll with a generation that was more traditional, conservative

and driven with high expectations.

In

turn, the Millennials are more liberal politically and socially and

more accepting of individuals and their rights and beliefs, he added.

"They

say they're spiritual, but they don't want much to do with religion,

especially organized religion," the Rev. Imperiale said. "They want to

have a sense of God in their lives — but not necessarily the church."

Pastor Mike Gray of Salt Lake City's Southeast Baptist Church agrees. "They don't want to do church; they want to be church," he said, adding, "they're going to be loyal to each other, and they want to make a difference."

Pastor

Gray said young adults in his congregation respond to "hands-on

opportunities" — participating in a recent 30-hour "famine" for Haiti

or helping at Reach Salt Lake with food distribution, literacy efforts

and afterschool mentoring with low-income children.

Millennials

respond to personal interest, wanting real dialogue when they express

their opinions, said Pastor Imperiale. And they'll respond to church

leaders and churchgoing family and friends best when longtime religious

practices are communicated in a contemporary way.

He describes it as "dusty old religious language that doesn't connect with the street language of today."

Millennials, he added, "need to know they are valued, loved and generally appreciated."


E-mail: taylor@desnews.com

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