Souls in Transition 5

Smith.jpgSo what is the religious life of emerging adults today? What about its affiliations, practices, beliefs and experiences?

What Smith and Snell discovered in their fantastic new book: Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults  will be of use to all pastors and churches.
Frankly, I’m surprised by the lack of comments about this exceptional book. Maybe you are all buying it and reading it! Question: Are these characteristics what you are seeing in emerging adults?
This chp is lengthy with lots of data and lots of graphs and lots of ideas, but here are some fundamental ideas:
60% of emerging adults identify as religious and the majority of that number is evangelical.
There is a tendency to fragment and avoid affiliation with a denomination and to identify as not religious.
There are clear indicators of shifting affiliations from teenage years into emerging adulthood — between 28 and 50 percent shift.
During emerging adulthood, the objective, public religious practices decline while more subjective dimensions (belief in God etc) decline less so. Between 18-23 fewer than 1% of emerging adults is attending a religious meeting other than church regularly. 25% think one should marry within one’s faith.

Most emerging adults report little change in their religiosity in the previous five years; those who say there is change tend to say they have become less religious.

“Most emerging adults seem positive about organized or mainstream religion in the United States” (141).
On heaven and who might go there … they are divided. Significant minorities engage in religious practices and have had significant religious experiences. Most think too many religious people are negative. 
They are friendly to individualistic and pluralistic perceptions of religion.
Only 15% they are spiritual but not religious.
There is a religious slump during emerging adulthood. But it does not seem fatal to their faith.
About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Steve Lutz

    “Most emerging adults seem positive about organized or mainstream religion in the United States” (141).
    I’ve been tracking with this book until now, but sorry, I just don’t buy this statement. Or perhaps we’re working with different definitions of organized/mainstream.
    If Smith/Snell are correct about the 1% who attend religious meetings other than church (and that sounds about right to me), then we ought to ask why the other 99% do not. On my campus, I see a small minority of people militantly against religion, and a huge majority of apathetic but negatively disposed-to-religion.
    I don’t see a majority of people with positive feelings.
    Do they really feel that positively about religion if 99/100 do not attend?
    This is where “UnChristian” seems to have more explanatory power for what most of us see on the ground.
    Do Smith/Snell make any projections about how many will recover from their religious slump and return to the fold, and why?

  • tony jones

    I’ve graphed some of these trends here:
    Steve, what the authors say is that, on the whole, emerging adults are vaguely positive about the role of religion in our society. While there are some in that cohort who are passionately for or passionately against religion, most don’t care enough to be passionate one way or the other.

  • Jon Snyder

    I wonder if the lengthening of late adolescence is causing a perceived death of emergents’ faith. if these stats are true, it seems like the problem isn’t that emergents are not religious, but that they are not attenders. This is incredibly common beginning with middle adolescence, especially if students are given a choice to not attend.
    This idea creates a compelling argument for reaching emerging adults in a non-traditional way, I think. Though what that way is, i’m not sure.

  • Dana Ames

    Well, Scot, I guess I haven’t commented because my experience leads me to generally agree with the book. I see most of that long list of characteristics you gave a couple of posts ago in my children and their friends.

  • Steve Lutz

    I guess from my anecdotal experience, if I had to guess which side the vast apathetic majority would lean on, I would say “vaguely negative” as opposed to vaguely positive. There’s so much skepticism and suspicion about organized religion in general, and Christianity in particular. But I know Smith/Snell have done their homework.

  • Jim Martin

    Scot, I also was curious about the statement, “Most emerging adults seem positive about organized or mainstream religion in the United States” (141).
    Tony’s explanation above was helpful. His comment regarding the lack of passion one way or the other toward organized or mainstream religion rings true with my own experience.

  • Scot McKnight

    Jim, Tony’s comment is one side of Smith/Snell’s result. The other side is that the oft-stated claim that emerging adults don’t like religion or institutions isn’t supported by the facts as much as one expected.

  • Scott

    I think people aren’t commenting because these posts are a lot of disjointed bullet points about different stats or points from the book. This disorients the reader and doesn’t give them anything to sink their teeth into. You may get more response by doing a whole new series where you more fully digest Smith’s excellent research and then post coherent summaries of the book’s main themes. Two that come to mind are: (1) that the “spiritual but religious” description about emerging adults doesn’t really find support; (2) the strong role of religious parents and involved religious adults in producing religious emerging adults (i.e., you most likely get what you are).
    Another thing that comes to mind is the explanation Smith offers in the end, that two aspects of two streams of Protestantism have come to deeply (negatively?) affect emerging adult’s lives: (1) evangelicalism’s radical individualism; (2) mainline Protestantism’s moral and theological relativism.
    Another major theme running through the book is simply the huge impact of the trend toward delaying marriage. How much if being driven by this trend?
    You also get the sense from the study as to whether emerging adults are very serious about much and whether they will accomplish much apart from spending a lot of time on facebook, send lots of texts, and have lots of dramatic romantic relationships. This is not to indict the emerging adults, after all they’re strongly shaped by forces put in place by the previous generation and beyond. Parent’s and grandparents largely have themselves to thank.