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Most younger adult believers don’t attend church, survey finds

A strong majority of Generation Z and Millennials who say they have made a personal commitment to Christ do not attend church in person or online at least once a month, according to a new study. 

The August edition of the “State of the Bible: USA 2022” report from the American Bible Society finds that 40% of Generation Z adults ages 18 and over attend church “primarily online.” They were followed closely by 36% of churchgoers ages 77 and up.

However, the report suggests that among Gen Z and Millennials who have made a meaningful commitment to Jesus, about 66% do not attend church either in person or online at least once a month.

The study produced 2,598 responses from a representative sample of adults 18 and older within all 50 states and the District of Columbia collected from January 10-28, 2022. 

Gen Z is defined as those ages 10 to 25 in 2021, while Millennials were defined as ages 26 to 41 in 2021. 

While more than half (54%) of all adults up to age 57 said they have “made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in your life today,” fewer than a third of those in the three youngest generations who have made that commitment are “practicing” Christians.

“This should challenge every Christian and ministry leader to intentionally cultivate relationships with their younger neighbors, who are often seeking security and hope amidst ever-increasing anxiety,” said John Farquhar Plake, director of ministry intelligence for the American Bible Society. “It’s our prayer that every generation is able to meaningfully connect with the Word of God, engaging with it as a way of life and actively living out their faith in community.”

Practicing Christians were defined as those who identify as Protestants or Catholics, consider their faith very important to them and attend religious services at least once a month. 

Non-practicing Christians identify as Christians but fall short in at least one of those other areas, the importance of faith or church attendance.

Sixty-one percent of non-practicing Gen Z Christians say they have made a personal commitment to Chrsit, while 57% of their Millennial counterparts say the same. Only 28% of Gen Z respondents said they attend church at least once a month, while 22% of Millenials said the same. 

Only 13% of Gen Z and 12% of Millennial respondents were considered “Scripture Engaged.” Gen X (75%) is the most Scripture-engaged generation among Practicing Christians.

According to the survey, those considered “non-practicing Christians” are far more likely than “practicing Christians” to attend services online.

While practicing Christians prefer in-person services, non-practicing Christians are about as likely to attend online as in person.

According to the survey’s definitions of “practicing” versus “non-practicing” Christians, nearly half of all American adults (46%) fall into the non-practicing category.

“You might consider them the ‘sleeping giant’ of the church,” the survey noted.

“They have some contact with the Bible and the church. They know some things about Jesus. Yet they’re saying they long to know more. How will churches respond? How will publishers, charities, schools, and creative artists step up to this curiosity?”

According to the study, half of Gen Z respondents said they “wish they read the Bible more,” and 55% said they are “curious to know more about Jesus.”

“Among Non-Practicing Christians, Gen Z has the highest percentage of people saying they’ve increased their Bible reading in the past year (17%) … and also the highest percentage who say they’ve decreased their Bible reading (20%),” the report states. “This may indicate a certain volatility as they make choices about their spirituality and reading habits.”

The “State of The Bible” findings closely mirrored a report from Pew released in March, which showed in-person church attendance has stagnated after churches reopened following the COVID pandemic shutdown.

In July 2020, a few months after the pandemic lockdowns began, according to the report, 13% of U.S. adults said they attended religious services in person the previous month.

In March 2021, Pew reported that the figure had increased by four percentage points to 17%. And in September 2021, the share of adults who said they attended a religious service in the past month rose to 26%.

But in March 2022, the share of Americans who attended religious services in person in the previous month was 27%, just slightly higher than the 26% reported last September. 

The study also mirrors a 2019 Barna study that finds that two-thirds of American young adults who attended a Protestant church regularly for at least a year as a teenager say they dropped out of church for at least a year between the ages of 18 and 22. Only 34% said they continued to attend church twice a month or more. 

Among the top reasons they listed for dropping out of church were they “moved away to college,” church members seemed “judgemental or hypocritical,” they didn’t feel connected to people in the church, they disagreed with the church’s stance on social issues or their work responsibilities prevented them from attending.

Among young adults who attended church regularly for at least one year as a teenager, 31 percent are currently attending twice or a month or more, suggesting there is a 69% chance that teenagers who drop out of church won’t return. 

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