The article reports on a Pew Research Forum study finding that 25% of those born after 1981 claim “no faith,” while over half of those raised in a faith have abandoned it! I believe these findings because they square with my own experience while growing up and with many people I know. The survey also finds correlations between a loss of faith and views on politics, social values, etc.
My personal opinion is that there are several reasons for less younger Americans stating a belief in God (my assumption is that they are walking away from the Christian concept of God):
1. Younger people have generally been exposed to a larger view of the world than their parents, so they have a greater knowledge of various religions, cultures, scientific discovery, etc. Consequently, they are able to look at their own culture and religious background more crictically.
2. Especially since 9/11, Americans have now seen up close that horrible violence is sometimes committed in the name of religion. This has been true throughout history, of course, but we have seen it (and felt it) for oursleves now.
3. 80% of the church congregations in American are in decline. Most have failed to stay relevant and communicate with the changing culture.
4. In the media, the most visible Christians are often closely affiliated with a reactionary political agenda. Actually, they have an America in mind that never actually existed (ex. the founding fathers were largely Deists, not modern evangelicals or fundamentalists). The media often showcases Christians who seem to want to turn America into a theocracy.
5. I think a lot of younger people see Christians as narrow-minded, anti-science, anti-intellectual, and judgmental. This has been widely reported by Dave Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons in the book unChristian.
6. They are young and at a time in their lives when they’re exploring new ideas (there seems to be a greater loss of faith now, however, than in past generations).
With all of this, it’s not surprising to me that younger people question the religious ideas that have been handed down to them.
Followers of Jesus
Then, there are those who do value some aspects of Christianity, or more specifically, the teaching of Jesus (the Sermon on the Mount, loving your neighbor, the Golden Rule, the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, etc.). They are left with the challenge of taking those things seriously in a world in which “Christianity” has negative connotations for many people.
It’s a tension that a lot of younger people face. It’s definitely true for the people we’re connecting with in One Church. Because of this, some are even changing their self-descriptors, starting to refer to themselves as “followers of Jesus” instead of “Christians.” It’s more than just semantics. It’s a statement that, “I find Jesus to be vital, but I don’t associate myself with all of what “Christianity” has come to mean to different people.
Unfortunately, it might be a surprise to some that “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name.:) Christ is the English translation of the Greek word “Christos,” which is a translation of the Jewish term, “Messiah” (anointed one, chosen one). It would be more faithful to the original Hebrew word to call following Jesus “Messiahanity,” anyway. So, there is nothing sacred about the term “Christian.” It’s possible that it was actually first used as a pejorative term by those who opposed the Jesus movement, as recorded in Acts 11v26.
Regardless, actions speak louder than words. How one refers to oneself is not nearly as important as what one actually does. A significant number of American Millennials aren’t walking away from faith and the Church because of semantics. My opinion is that it has something to do with “Christians” not looking enough like followers of Jesus.