religion and emerging adulthood

A terrific piece by my colleague Chrisian Smith on religon and "emerging adulthood". By this Smith means the decade or so that educated young people take, on average, between the time they leave home and the time they "settle down."

Here's Smith:

A matter related to religious and other beliefs worth pondering concerns emerging adults' social attachments to churches. We have long known that, for a variety of reasons, religious participation for many young people declines significantly when they leave home. Going away to college seems especially likely to kill regular church attendance for most. Historically, marriage and parenthood have then marked the return for many to church and more active faith. Regardless of what one thinks of these facts per se, the following general observation holds. When the space between high school graduation and full adulthood was fairly short, as it was 50 years ago, the length of time spent out of church tended to be rather short. But with the rise of emerging adulthood in recent decades, churches are now looking at 15-year or even 20-year absences by youth from churches between their leaving as teenagers and returning with toddlersif indeed they ever return.

And these are crucial years in the formation of personal identity, behavioral patterns, and social relationships. Returning to church as full-fledged young adults with children in towyet having spent a decade or two forming their assumptions, priorities, and perspectives largely outside of churchthey may very well bring to the churches of their choice motives, beliefs, and orientations difficult to make work from the perspective of faithful, orthodox Christianity. The phrase "consumer-oriented" comes to mind. The burden then placed on the tasks of serious Christian formation, education, and discipleship can be weighty. One has to wonder whether such church returnees may not be shaping the church more than the church shapes them.

John T. McGreevy is the I.A. O'Shaughnessy Dean of the College of Arts and Letters and Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame.

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