Members of Generation Z — people between 13 and 25 years old — are more socially disconnected but less likely to find solace in faith, a new survey finds.
The Springtide Research Institute, which focuses its sociological studies on teenagers and young adults, found that 63% of respondents report being “unsettled, uncomfortable, or stressed” over uncertainties about their lives, while 19% say involvement with a faith community “helped them cope.”
Gen Z members are more likely to report overall happiness if they’re either “flourishing a lot” (73%) or “somewhat flourishing” (65%) in their religious lives. Only 44% of those who say they’re “not flourishing” report such happiness.
The Springtide data dovetails with that of other reports on increasing secularization. The Pew Research Center in December said 29% of Americans identified themselves as “religiously unaffiliated,” up 13 percentage points from 2007, while the number who said they were Christian fell from 78% in 2007 to 63%.
“What we’re finding with young people is that they’re very much interested in religious questions,” said Springtide Executive Director Josh Packard. “They’re just not necessarily so interested in the ways that institutions are engaging them and those questions.”
Mr. Packard said “traditional religious institutions” must be “more innovative in terms of how they engage … with the youngest generation that’s out there,” adding that “innovation is going to be the key” to attracting younger worshipers.
Springtide says its research over the past three years has found relatively stable levels of religiosity among the 13-25 set.
Between 29% and 33% said they’d become “more religious” in the past five years, and 27% to 33% said they were “less religious.” Those saying their religious involvement was “about the same” exhibited the most change — from 44% in 2020 to 38% in the summer of 2021 to 34% in December.
Respondents said “shared values” such as immigration rights, income inequality, LGBTQ inclusion and support for Black Lives Matter are more important in choosing a religious affiliation than “shared beliefs,” also known as religious tenets or doctrine.
“Doctrine is certainly a reason why people leave a church, [but] it is not typically the reason why people leave church,” Mr. Packard said.
What drives teens and young adults away, he said, is the “ultimatum of ‘believe everything we believe, and you can join us’” that some religious groups establish.
Mr. Packard said “really forward-thinking and innovative responses … from mainline and mainstream sort of religious institutions” might help draw Generation Z into faith relationships. Those groups that won’t change are “going to continue the trend of their own demise,” he said.
The Springtide executive director said that grownups “have never been more important than they are right now,” as a result of younger people’s loss of trust in traditional institutions.
“The importance of having a trusted relationship with an adult in your life … that is the thing that guides young people’s decisions, [and] parents still remain incredibly influential, the most influential source of the young person’s religious life,” he said.