The Next Generation: A Diagnosis

Young Adult Catholics
Religion in the Culture of Choice
Dean R. Hoge, William D. Dinges, Mary Johnson, S.N.D. de N., Juan L. Gonzales Jr.
University of Notre Dame Press, $19, 296 pp.

The Basic Guide to Young Adult Ministry
John C. Cusick and Katherine F. DeVries
Orbis, $25, 223 pp.

"In the not too distant past, the backbone of Catholic Church life, from parishes and organizations to ordained and professed religious, was people twenty-five to forty-five years old. On most levels of the church today, the leadership is still held by that same group-not the same age group, but the same people now twenty to thirty years older."

- John C. Cusick & Katherine F. DeVries,
Chicago Young Adult Ministry Office

In 1994, three sociologists published one of the best-because one of the most rigorous-studies of generational change in American religion. Called Vanishing Boundaries (Westminster John Knox Press), the book tracked down a representative sample of baby boomers who had been confirmed as mainline Presbyterians, and it traced their consequent religious histories: Who had left and for how long? Who had returned to Presbyterian congregations? Who had gone elsewhere and why? Who believed what?

The study was set firmly in the context of the prolonged debate over the decline of mainline American Protestantism. The Presbyterian problem-and by extension the mainline Protestant problem-was not, the study showed, driving adult members out of church but failing to bring their sons and daughters in. Retention, in other words, not rejection. Church and family had simply...

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About the Author

Peter Steinfels, co-founder of the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture and a former editor of Commonweal, is the author of A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America.