Fascinating post today from Richard Flory at the USC Center for Religion & Culture, in response to both Rachel Held Evans’ latest writing and (it would seem, given the timing) the Pew Research report.
Based on our data, evangelical Millennials are decidedly not moving into mainline Protestant or Catholic churches in any significant numbers. Looking at just the young people who identified as evangelical when we first surveyed them as teenagers, only 5 percent moved to mainline Protestant denominations and only 2 percent moved to the Catholic Church. Fully 25 percent of these emerging adults now identify themselves as “not religious” and have few or no ties to any religious group.
Bad news all around for established religious groups. But there is some good news:
Despite this bad news for evangelicals, in a current research project we’re finding there is a vibrant movement of younger evangelicals who are neither leaving religion behind nor converting to liturgical forms of Christianity. Instead, they are forming their own churches. These churches are by any measure fully in line with historic evangelicalism, but are motivated by their members’ desire for smaller congregations focused more explicitly on the spiritual and material needs of their local communities.
Most of these new churches differentiate themselves from their evangelical forebears by committing to being multi-ethnic and multi-class congregations. Some are also committed to being inclusive of the LGBT community. None are particularly interested in politics and culture wars as practiced and sponsored by the Evangelical Religion-Industrial Complex. Instead, any politics they may engage in relates to improving local schools, creating job opportunities, feeding and clothing the hungry and any number of other activities that seem to have been lost to evangelicalism as it has been practiced over the last 40 years.
In other words, Flory claims that for those Millennials who remain Christian, both the left and right wings of organized American religion are being abandoned in favor of new, independent churches who combine a right-leaning expression of personal faith with a left-leaning focus on meeting social needs.