The latest issue of Christian Century has a review (by Brian McLaren) of sociologist Robert Wuthnow's new book After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion. Here are some statistics and snippets from the review:
- "Young adults are marrying later, having fewer children and having them later, moving more often, going to college in higher numbers, living with more immigrant neighbors and therefore more ethnic and religious diversity, and living in the suburbs even more than their baby boomer parents." [The suburban note is interesting to me, as often we imagine that twentysomethings are all hanging out in the cities a la Friends, but sheer demographics of suburban majorities seem to bear out that young adults are likewise gravitating toward the suburbs. And the juxtaposition with immigrant neighbors is not a contradiction, as suburbia continues to diversify.]
- Wuthnow says, "The net result is fewer young adults contributing to the activities of local congregations or receiving support from these congregations."
- Being married or unmarried has a stronger effect on church attendance than anything else.
- The average adult age of mainline congregations is 52, and for evangelical congregations, it's 48. Both mainliners and evangelicals are losing young adults. The only groups for whom young adult retention has remained stable are Catholics, Jews and black Protestants.
- In 1970 the ratio of mainliners to evangelicals was five to four. In 2000 it was two to three.
- The more recent evangelical growth comes from Roman Catholics becoming evangelical - 9 percent of younger evangelicals were raised Catholic (compared to 4 percent in 1970).
- 46 percent of people in their early 40s attend church weekly, while only 29 percent of twentysomethings do.
- The proportion who talk about religion with their friends is highest among young adults in their twenties (despite higher percentages of being uninvolved with a church).
- Rates of orthodoxy are higher for those with a college education than for those without.
- About 38 percent of younger adults lean conservative religiously (with 20 percent being "staunchly conservative"), while 56 percent lean liberal religiously.
- 56 percent of young religious conservatives attend church weekly, while only 14 percent of young religious liberals do.
- Evangelicals are 1.7 times more likely to be "unwelcoming toward Asians and Hispanics" than nonevangelicals. "Evangelicals are a more likely source of mobilized resistance against newcomers than any other religious group."
One of McLaren's conclusions from Wuthnow's data is that "we should increase dialogue between church leaders and people working with young adults in Christian colleges and in ministries on secular college campuses. These are people who rub elbows with young adults day to day, and they have a lot of good advice to offer local churches, but hardly anybody asks."
From my location as an editor at InterVarsity Press, one of the best ways that the church can access the expertise of parachurch campus ministry leaders is through books they have written. A number of upcoming books are written by InterVarsity staff: Don Everts's One Guy's Head series of postmodern apologetics books, I Once Was Lost by Don Everts and Doug Schaupp about what they've learned about postmodern evangelism from two thousand recent converts, and narrative book True Story and companion giveaway booklet Based on a True Story by James Choung, who offers a fresh presentation of the gospel that's far more holistic, missional and justice-oriented than traditional summaries. (See this YouTube video for a three-minute version of his approach.) All of these are good resources to help the local church can understand today's twentysomethings and thirtysomethings and contextualize ministries in ways that resonate better with them.