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Young adults ditch religion but hang on to God, study says

America’s young adults are less likely than their parents to claim a specific denomination or religion, but most still believe in God, according to a recent study.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life’s study on “Religion Among the Millennials,” released in February, found that about a quarter of 18 to 29-year-old Americans have no religious preference or affiliation, and only one in five attend services. Those born after 1980 are classified as the Millennial generation. The Forum’s study reported that 26 percent of young adults said they had no religious ties, compared to about 5 percent of an older generation.

At 53 percent, the prevailing belief in God seems to contradict the decline in religious affiliation. Even young adults who believe in evolution still believe in right and wrong, heaven, prayer and reading the Bible. According to the study, 27 percent of young adults read the Bible weekly, and just under 50 percent of adults under 30 say they pray every day. Three-quarters of the interviewees said they believed in an afterlife, a number comparable to previous generations.

“I feel like more and more people of our generation see God as just someone there,” junior Caitlin Peterson said. “They believe but don’t want to follow because it means giving up a lifestyle. They want to be in control of their own lives.”

Freshman James Knoop said he has observed the generational differences in younger Christians’ move toward contemporary churches. The move has created a huge gap between grandparents and grandchildren, he said, and when people reject the beliefs of the generations before them, they lose the benefits of learning from those before them.

Biblical studies professor Jeffrey Volkmer said Christians must take care when considering these statistics because anyone can walk into a church and call himself a Christian. Volkmer said he doesn’t think the number of Christians is declining, but rather, the mainline denominations like Methodist and Presbyterian are declining.

Research from the study shows that 18 percent of today's adults under 30 were raised in a religion but are not affiliated with any religion. Meanwhile, about a quarter of 18-19 year-olds said they had no religion.

As for those who choose to leave a church, Volkmer said there are several possible reasons — they don’t understand what it means to be a Christian, they don’t see church as necessary, they witness hypocritical Christians or they see the church only in light of political associations.

Senior Wes Turner said many people think they don’t need church because their culture tells them they’ll go to heaven as long as they’re good or believe in a higher power.

The Pew study had a similar conclusion. Almost 75 percent of affiliated young Americans believe in more than one true way, the study said.

Junior Gillian McPherson made her own conclusions about young adults.

“We’re a generation that sucks at evangelizing,” she said. “The hypocritical, judgmental ‘Christians’ are the ones out there in the media.”

“Young people are leaving the church in droves because they are not finding the answers to the world’s challenges,” Volkmer said. “The pulpit should be seen as having an equipping and training role.”

Peterson said Christians are too afraid to go and speak the Gospel because they think people will judge them and non-Christian friends will push them away.

Turner said the lack of belief warrants Christian action.

“Realize there is something wrong and do something,” he said. “Missions. Talk to people. Ask questions.”

McPherson said students don’t have to be a good speaker to evangelize. They can witness through their talents.

“I’m hoping there will be a change,” she said. “God has equipped people in many ways — art, sports, sciences, English. There are different avenues of training at Biola to do that. They need to discover their passions and what God’s equipped them with.”

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