Why are young people dropping out of religious institutions? Can anything be done to reverse the trend? In Got Religion?, Naomi Schaefer Riley examines the reasons for the defection, why we should care, and how some communities are successfully addressing the problem.
The traditional markers of growing up are getting married and becoming financially independent. But young adults are delaying these milestones, sometimes for a full decade longer than their parents and grandparents. This new phase of “emerging adulthood” is diminishing the involvement of young people in religious institutions, sapping the strength and vitality of faith communities, and creating a more barren religious landscape for the young adults who do eventually decide to return to it. Yet, clearly there are some churches, synagogues, and mosques that are making strides in bringing young people back to religion.
Got Religion? offers in-depth, on-the-ground reporting about the most successful of these institutions and shows how many of the structural solutions for one religious group can be adapted to work for another.
The faith communities young people attach themselves to are not necessarily the biggest or the most flashy. They are not the wealthiest or the ones employing the latest technology. Rather, they are the ones that create stability for young people, that give them real responsibility in a community and that help them form the habits of believers that will last a lifetime.
Table of Contents
Preface / vii
Introduction / 1
1. Location, Location, Location: / 17 How the “Th eology of Place” Is Plugging Young Adults Back into Their Communities and Their Churches
2. The All- American Mosque: / 35 How Shedding Immigrant Ways Can Reshape Islam in the United States
3. Joining the Service: / 55 How the Catholic Church Is Training a New Generation of Laypeople to Be Spiritual Leaders
4. What’s NEXT? / 73 Channeling the Enthusiasm of Birthright Israelinto a Permanent Jewish Commitment
5. A Ward of Their Own: / 91 How the Mormon Church Is Turning Twenty-Somethings into Community Leaders
6. When No One Needs Church Anymore, How Do You Make Them Want It? / 107 The Relevance of the Black Church in the Twenty-First Century
7. The End of Sheep Stealing: / 123 How Churches Can Collaborate to Bring Twenty-Somethings Back into the Fold
Conclusion / 139
Notes / 155
Index / 157
Endorsements and Reviews
“Naomi Schaeffer Riley is one of the keenest analysts of American religious life today. In this book, she takes up a question that every religious community is asking. Not everyone will agree with everything in this book, but everyone who cares about American religious life will find a provocative and fruitful catalyst for conversation and action.”
“If you want a book with pat answers to the “problem” of millennials and organized religion, you’ve come to the wrong place. If, however, you want to consider the many ways that adults in their 20s and 30s engage with religion, God, and peoplehood, if you want a book that holds just as many questions as it does answers, then pull out your highlighter and get comfortable. Riley takes us on a fascinating journey that traverses religious, geographical, racial, and cultural boundaries. Learn from those who may share a different understanding of God but a similar drive to create a meaningful life. I know I did.”
“No one writes about the religious experiences, beliefs, and practices of contemporary Americans more astutely or with great insight than Riley. In Got Religion? she explores the factors that tend to draw young adults into, or alienate them from, communities of faith. This is far from an exercise in merely academic sociology of religion. It contains valuable lessons for faith communities and their leaders—from Catholics and Jews to Mormons and Muslims—about what they can do to give young people, including young couples with children, stability and responsibility, helping them to deepen their spiritual lives and form habits that will serve them well in every dimension of their lives.”
“Got Religion? offers two reassuring messages to those worried that the under-thirty generation is running away from religion. First, it shows that the problem is not confined to particular faiths. Mormons and Muslims turn out to be as concerned as Catholics, Protestants and Jews. Second, it demonstrates that creative programs can succeed in luring young people back to religion. There is reason for hope. Chocked full of ideas and insights, this is a book that anyone interested in ‘youth engagement’ should read.”
“In researching and writing Got Religion? Naomi Schaefer Riley has accomplished a difficult task. She has managed to make fairly dense millennial generation demographic material both interesting and understandable. She has also connected the dots in illustrating how such material is relevant and instructive to those who seek to ‘bring young people back’ to their various faith traditions.”
“The precipitous drop in religious affiliation among young people in the United States has been covered to the point of exhaustion—often generating more heat than light. In Got Religion? Naomi Schaefer Riley weaves together a compelling counter narrative that focuses on the best examples of how various communities—Judaism, Catholicism, non-denominational Christianity and Islam—are successfully engaging young people. It is a study in American ingenuity, insight and reinvention as it applies to faith communities and it should be read by anyone in the field who believes that studying what works is the best way to fix what’s wrong.”
“Naomi Schaefer Riley is an astute cultural observer and critic, and a very good interpreter of the larger meanings and implications of social science research. For those concerned about the religious live of emerging adults, Got Religion? will be essential reading.”
“Riley digs deep into the reasons behind why young adults are shying away from religion and how these institutions can bring them back. This is not a read only for young adults; if you’re finding yourself without a religious home, consider Got Religion?”
“What may begin as a conversation at a wine and cheese social hour might ultimately lead to real conversion—or at least that’s the hope, dare we say, and faith that religious leaders are aiming to achieve. Rather than spending thousands of dollars on outside consulting agencies, these leaders would do well to first invest in Got Religion? as they set out to reclaim and reenergize members of their flock. The wisdom offered here will not only serve pastoral staff, but also parents who seek to pass on their faith to future generations and fellow congregants aiming to more actively contribute to the faith life of their own community. Such effects, if successful, might not only prove beneficial in the here and now, but in the hereafter, as well.”
“Got Religion? will challenge several of your personal prejudices and preconceptions, and confirm others. Nevertheless I doubt it will be possible to examine this book and remain unaffected by it. Riley’s material would make an ideal read for congregational leadership, Christian educators, service agencies, and denominational committees concerned with attracting this age group. I readily recommend the book.
Riley has written a useful overview of the challenges facing religious congregations as they try to recruit a younger generation to old-timey institutions and traditions. But rather than dwell on the reasons for the religious decline, she provides readers with case studies of seven different faiths that have tried innovative programs to meet the needs of a post-college generation… Though there is no magic bullet, the examples in this short volume provide a concise and readable examination of ways to shape future congregational lay leaders.
In this short but compelling volume, Riley adopts an ecumenical approach, profiling religious communities–Jewish, Mormon, Catholic, Evangelical, Muslim–with an emphasis on how religions can work together to bring young people back into the fold. Millennials, she insists, are looking for a community with a sense of purpose. A thoughtful and appealing book that addresses an important topic with commonsense solutions.