Reviewed by Kimberly Zayak
The transitions that occur in young adulthood arguably make for one of the most challenging seasons in life. Young people graduate from college and are immediately expected to live independently, land a job, pay off loans, and find a spouse. Amidst this emotional and physical turmoil, one important aspect of life is often forgotten: the church. Religious institutions are seeing a greater decline in young adult attendance than ever. In Got Religion? How Churches, Mosques, and Synagogues Can Bring Young People Back, Naomi Schaefer Riley investigates the reasons behind this and looks for ways to reverse the trend and bring back the young.
"The habits they form this week will affect next week, too," says Riley, but so many other priorities trump finding and becoming connected to a faith community. What few young adults fail to realize, however, is that involvement with a faith community offers not only the spiritual grounding so important for navigating their transition effectively but also a rich fabric of relationships that can provide the social capital that is essential to moving forward.
In the book, faith leaders caution young adults against the worship of "open options," a "false god" that tells us that we've got plenty of time to become involved and it's best not to commit to any one thing too quickly. "Emerging adulthood" is a new term that recognizes the lengthening transition period between adolescence and adulthood. Young adults are taking more time to leave home, decide on a career, and get married—and consequently they also often neglect their faith journey.
Aware of this trend, the Catholic Church is doing more to introduce young adults to the idea of becoming spiritual leaders. The idea of "social justice" plays a role in the formation of young adults going through college. These opportunities for social action introduced in college are creating a draw on students. More colleges are offering service opportunities that allow students to give back and, as Riley states, many students are specifically attracted to Catholic institutions because of the Roman Catholic focus on service. In some colleges, service projects are mandatory.
The black church, too, is finding effective ways to reach out to young people. Reverend DeForest Soaries of First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, N.J., realized a need for change when he learned that the youth pastor of the National Baptist Convention was 80 years old. Soaries set about replacing the older ministry leaders in his church with younger leaders who can better relate to and mentor the youth of the church. Today, the majority of Lincoln Garden's staff are between the ages of 25 and 40. While he received backlash for his staffing changes, Soaries explained, "'Twenty years from now, we won't be here. We can't wait 'til we're too old to make this transition.'"
Riley digs deep into the reasons behind why young adults are shying away from religion and how these institutions can bring them back. This is not a read only for young adults; if you're finding yourself without a religious home, consider Got Religion?
Having recently graduated with an English degree from Eastern University in St. Davids, Pa., Kimberly Zayak is one of those "young people" that faith communities want to both attract and hold on to.