Yesterday, at a Heritage Foundation-sponsored event here in Washington, D.C., I had the opportunity to hear researcher Christian Smith present findings from his latest batch of research involving his National Study of Youth and Religion project. Whereas the first round of research focused on the religious lives of American teens, Smith’s second round follows the same subjects several years later as they move into what he describes as “emerging adulthood,” the phenomenon in which a variety of factors prolong adolescence and delay the full responsibilities of adulthood — not to be confused with the “emerging church”.
The results of the research are both frightening and fascinating. Among some of the findings on their views of religion and religious communities are that Emerging Adults (EAs):
- are generally indifferent to religion
- think that the shared central principles of religion are good, while religious particularities are peripheral
- think that religion is for making good people
- think that religious beliefs are cognitive assents rather than life drivers
One item which stood out was that EAs felt that religious congregations were “elementary schools of morals.” Smith aptly noted that people tended to graduate from schools, and then move on (obviously Smith excludes the “perpetual grad student” from the purview of his study…). These EAs tend to see religion in the same manner: something from which they can “move on.” The research also notes that EAs do not see themselves as “belonging” to their religious congregations
Given that his sample was from broad religious spectrum — and the fact that it’s obvious in the aggregate that persons who harbor the above sentiments are likely unregenerate — it’s still a sobering notion that many evangelical churches are full of EAs who think like this. We should be ready for ministry to them.