Evangelicals Struggle to Spread ‘Good News’ Among Young Americans

Brandon McCauley and two friends pray before he speaks about his commitment to God. (Steven Turville for Al Jazeera America)
Brandon McCauley and two friends pray before he speaks about his commitment to God. (Steven Turville for Al Jazeera America)

More young Americans are turning away from organized faith as millennials question the mix with politics

“I have been given the task of sharing the gospel,” said Brandon McCauley, an 18-year-old who just finished his senior year at Lebanon High School in Ohio, where he ran a lunchtime Bible study program. “I am offering you the opportunity to experience Jesus Christ,” McCauley exhorted fellow students, as he debated whether to pursue the ministry instead of higher education.

“I like being different,” said McCauley, explaining his motivation to tell classmates that they will end up in hell if they aren’t saved. “If you sin, you deserve death,” McCauley yelled, before getting choked up and concluding, “I’m the reason that He had to die … I am accepting that You died on the cross for me.”

American adults under 30 increasingly identify with no religion whatsoever, but some teenagers on the edge of this demographic are enthusiastically embracing faith. As the fraction of unaffiliated, agnostic, and atheist surpasses one-third of young people, proselytizing denominations are trying to win over the so-called “nones.”

A landmark Pew Research from 2012 shows that attachment by young people to organized religious bodies is on the decline. Many of those who don’t belong to a church, synagogue, or mosque still practice religion informally to a certain extent. However, they have grown wary of the way that traditional institutions mix political power with the pursuit of otherworldly aims.

Nine out of ten older Americans are directly affiliated with a religion, a statistic that goes down to two-thirds with the youngest adults. Softened commitment generally means less strong attachment to God and less frequent attendance at services. It also entails more liberal political views, a higher likelihood of voting Democratic, and support for abortion rights.

If economic development leads to secularization, then stagnant growth and chronic unemployment in certain parts of the country would seem to drive religious resurgence. But at the same time, the ranks of the unaffiliated have grown even among the non-college-educated. This suggests the trend is not just spurred on by the skeptical collegiate atmosphere. Many Americans born after 1980 appear not to be seeking new answers, leading to decreased or flatlining interest in evangelical branches such as the Southern Baptist Convention.

“With respect to evangelical Protestants in particular, their share of the population is holding steady,” said Greg Smith, associate director of research at the Pew Forum for Religion and Public Life. He said the conservative group’s numbers are “pretty stable … 28 percent of adults describe themselves as ‘evangelical’.”

Smith attributed the declining white evangelical Protestant share of the U.S. population to a larger racial and ethnic shift. While just one-fifth of millennial adults identify as evangelical, the Hispanic population is increasingly moving from Catholicism towards evangelical churches.

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SOURCE: Al Jazeera America
Ben Piven

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