Is the Sky Really Falling?
Serious questions remain: What are the real
dropout numbers? How many of today’s children will still be in the
church in two decades?
Answers to these questions vary, partly because of the wide range
of definitions of what it means to be involved in church. Here are
just a handful of the ways that researchers have separated the
churched from the unchurched.
“unchurched” if they answered either of these questions negatively:
“Do you happen to be a member of a church or synagogue?” and “Apart
from weddings, funerals, or special holidays, have you attended the
church or synagogue of your choice in the past six months, or not?”
In recent years, “mosque” has been added alongside “church” and
and young adults whether they’d attended “church or synagogue in
the past seven days.”
“churched” if they’d attended church regularly for at least two
months at any time during their teenage years.
been regular church attenders if they’d attended church twice a
month or more for at least a year during high school.
With such disparate definitions of what it means to be involved in
church, even the best research designs are bound to produce a
variety of results. Nevertheless, it’s possible to draw the
following valid inferences from the data.
for a long time. Young adult dropouts don’t represent a
recent trend. At least since the 1930s, involvement in religious
worship services has followed a similar pattern: Frequency of
attendance declines among young adults in their late teens and
early 20s and then rebounds by the time they turn 30.
remained remarkably stable over the past few decades. Forty-two
percent of all Protestants attended church weekly in the 1950s; 45
percent of Protestants made it to church every week in the early
21st century. In 1955, 38 percent of Protestant 20-somethings
showed up at church weekly; today, 40 percent of Protestant young
adults are weekly attenders.