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Jesus Creed


Souls in Transition 6

posted by Scot McKnight

Smith.jpgWhat do emerging adults think of religion? This next chp in Smith and Snell discovered in their fantastic new book: Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults  will be of use to all pastors and churches. 

In fact, it may one of the most significant chps in the next decade of ministry because it maps what emerging adults think — and therefore it maps the audience of ministries today.

So only one question, but a big one: What are the top three in the following list in your community?
The most commonly voiced themes are these:
1. Religion is not a very threatening topic.
2. The majority of emerging adults are indifferent to religion.
3. The shared principles of various religions are good — all good. In fact, they say religions share the same core principles.
4. Religious particularities are peripheral to what is most important.
5. The point of religion is to make people good — make good people — make people better morally.

6. Religious congregations, therefore, are elementary schools for morals — and once you’ve been through elementary school you move on.
7. A family’s faith evokes a sense of dependence; therefore, not good.
8. Religion is not the place of real belonging.
9. By and large, friends rarely talk about religion.
10. Religious beliefs are “cognitive assents” but not “life drivers.”
11. What seems right to me is what is right and authoritative.
12. Take or leave what you want in your religion.
13. Evidence and proof trump blind faith.
14. Mainstream religion is fine, probably.
15. Religion is personal, not social or institutional.
16. There is no way to know what is true — in a final way.


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Ted M. Gossard

posted January 18, 2010 at 3:47 am


This reminds me of the Judges and how God’s people may have felt by and large at that time. A backlash in part? And part of a postmo mindset I would think. Does seem to indicate the need to help them see the uniqueness of Jesus, as well as some place for some sort of evidential apologetic.



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Rick

posted January 18, 2010 at 7:31 am


I agree with Ted’s thoughts.
Looks like moralistic therapeutic deism has had its impact, and unfortunately some of our churches continue to communicate that same overall theme.



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tony jones

posted January 18, 2010 at 8:24 am


Maybe I’m beating you to the punch here, Scot, but the waning belief in God is also distressing. And on this count, at least, evangelicals fare better than mainliners:
http://blog.tonyj.net/2010/01/souls-in-transition-changes-in-belief/



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Scot McKnight

posted January 18, 2010 at 8:31 am


Tony, decline though is characteristic of emerging adulthood so one would expect all groups to decline … I was impressed time and again about how the numbers of Black Protestants did not mirror the numbers of either evangelicals or mainliners.



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RJS

posted January 18, 2010 at 9:37 am


Each of these could be unpacked and explored. The list could be a good discussion starter.
I would like to know what is behind this one in particular: Religion is not the place of real belonging
To answer your question #2, #7, and #15 lead the list – but are not the only players.



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Steve Lutz

posted January 18, 2010 at 9:42 am


fantastic list and as usual spot-on.
huge implications for ministry over next 10 years.
i was particularly struck by the elementary school comment.
Scot– I agree, hard to understand why these topics aren’t generating more comments. IMO, this is hugely important & strategic.



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Deets

posted January 18, 2010 at 9:49 am


I am a family pastor in a middle-class, theologically-conservative church. I would love to see the data for other stages of life. It seems that most of these values may fit just about every stage with the exception of the oldest in the church. However, I think boomers are actually threatened by religious discussion, which may suggest that current emergent adults might be more open to talking about religion, their just now going to bring it up.
I’ll tell you that moms and dads expect that the church will be the moral training ground for their children.



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RJS

posted January 18, 2010 at 9:59 am


Steve,
I think we get the elementary school comment because so many churches are stuck in this mode. What kinds of comments do you see among the students at the University? Is there any real understanding of the depth of the faith and any way to take the faith of childhood and defend it?



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Scot McKnight

posted January 18, 2010 at 10:05 am


RJS, that category was about where emerging adults see their real place to belong, and it is not in their religious place.
Deets, Smith and Snell aren’t studying the older group so we’d have to go elsewhere.



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RJS

posted January 18, 2010 at 10:12 am


Does the book suggest where they do see their place of belonging?
I don’t see “religion” or even church as a real place of belonging either, and church, where our Christian faith should be lived, is not something that can be depended on — all this despite the fact that I am well past emerging adulthood.
Children and youth “belong” and we make sure that they have a place.
In college ministry we try to foster the sense of a place to belong.
Afterward … nothing.



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RJS

posted January 18, 2010 at 10:16 am


Afterward … the desire for a place to belong is a selfish, immature, inward focused, club mentality we should out grow to become a truly missional community.
There is a certain amount of irony, cynicism, and truth to that statement.



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Scot McKnight

posted January 18, 2010 at 10:18 am


RJS: Smith: “They belong when they hang out with friends, at college, at a job they like, maybe visiting family” (152).



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Debbie

posted January 18, 2010 at 10:34 am


Deets,
Agreed, current emerging adults are more than willing to discuss religion but they typically won’t bring it up. I think in part because many expect the discussion to turn judgmental. Or they consider the religion of their younger youth to be close minded. I?ve heard some say too much talk, not enough action.
All points on the list are good ones to explore, but I lean towards ?Religion is not the place of real belonging.?
Baby boomers and their parents found community and comfort in churches. Emerging adults tend to view churches quite differently, certainly not a place they can really belong. But emerging adults crave authentic community, as did their parents, and seek to find community where they can.
This is a very simplistic overview of the issue, with impacting elements beyond the scope of this post. But I believe at the very core of the house church movement is the desire for community without the perceived judgmental walls of the church.
Scott?. The Souls in Transition series is meaty, and people may well hesitate to post given the level of substance within the comments. Don?t worry? people are reading and talking!



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Deets

posted January 18, 2010 at 11:20 am


RJS belonging is one thing, but purpose is another. Do emergent adults feel that they have purpose or that church brings purpose. I wonder if our typical style of youth ministry does a good job of making young adults to feel like they can belong to a peer group, but that they don’t have purpose in a church beyond that group. It seems that in the 18 to 25 life stage there are a lot of options for meeting up with peers. Church groups become less important for that ‘selfish’ need.
Have Smith and Snell addressed the issue of purpose?



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Sean

posted January 18, 2010 at 11:42 am


Scot,
Do Smith & Snell address how evangelicals might build bridges and provide welcoming places for people who hold beliefs like those listed?



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Scot McKnight

posted January 18, 2010 at 12:15 pm


Sean … no, that’s not their concern at all.



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Debbie

posted January 18, 2010 at 12:45 pm


While it makes sense to me that purpose is first, then community and belonging; I think the reality for most emerging adults is they seek community first.
I disagree with the statement there are lots of options for 18-25 year olds to meet up. Outside of the stereotypical coffee houses and bar scenes. Some would say cyberspace is community. Cyberspace does have a community element that only heightens the community desire. The shake-your-hand, eyeball-to-eyeball type of community. We are not built for virtual community.
I realize I am excluding community found in universities and in the work place. Commonality does promote identification, and can lead to a sense of belonging.
Belonging is essential. Many emerging adults do not see religion or churches, and by extension church folk as inviting.



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Brian in NZ

posted January 18, 2010 at 1:25 pm


@RJS #11
You said: the desire for a place to belong is a selfish, immature, inward focused, club mentality
Are you saying that a mature Christian does not need, or should not want a place to belong (or other people in their lives)?



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RJS

posted January 18, 2010 at 1:34 pm


No Brian in NZ, that is not what I am saying. Not at all. I think that we all need to belong and that belonging is part of what the Christian community should provide.
But in the “speak” of some of the emerging/missional church my rather cynical comment is a message that comes through.
The message is essentially that much that contributes to this sense of belonging for a substantive number of people is inwardly focused wasteful excess that detracts from the mission of the church.
So what is the role of church and should “belonging” be part of it?



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RJS

posted January 18, 2010 at 1:55 pm


Brian,
I’ve gone off topic of this post – but perhaps can bring it back a bit. I find it interesting that emerging adults as a group find belonging elsewhere.
Try a hypothesis —
Belonging is an important part of the church as the people of God. Those emerging adults who stay in the church find a place to belong, and this contributes to growth in the faith.
Because belonging is an important part of church for everyone – not just emerging adults – this is at the root of many conflicts within the church even the seemingly petty ones (those about programs and style).
Now … what should church be, how much really should be about belonging, and what is the mission of the community?



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Deets

posted January 18, 2010 at 2:59 pm


Debbie,
I think purpose speaks more to commitment. Sure emergents are looking for relationships, but they seem to struggle with commitment to those relationships. Do Smith and Snell speak to this point at all? Particularly, I think I read somewhere that they say that emergents attend church with less frequency.
As for options for meeting people, I can’t imagine a period in life when people have more opportunities to socialize with peers than the 10 to 25 years. Coffee houses, bars, parties, friends houses, etc. all meet that need for people in this group. College campuses are notoriously social. The internet also provides more ways they can meet peers.
There are opportunities for emergents to meet people. I’m sure those other environments don’t foster commitment any more than the College and Career group at church. Probably less. But still, the The C&C group is all about relationship, what is there to make us think we are developing a more committed church going generation?



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EricG

posted January 18, 2010 at 3:24 pm


On the comment that “Religion is not the place of real belonging,” and RJS’s related comment: It is my sense that for many in that age group, a sense of belonging comes from an actual shared, greater purpose. So its not entirely selfish. For example, the younger folks at my (secular) office organized an event where they went to a soup kitchen together (us not-so-young folks were not invited!), and bonded through it. It is also my sense that some in the younger generation perceive that this shared purpose is lacking in their local congregation. Instead, church is just a place where people get together to be taught doctrine and sing a couple of times a week, to many of them. Its ironic (and sad), to me.
Scot (or someone else reading the book): What does “A family’s faith evokes a sense of dependence; therefore, not good” mean?



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Debbie

posted January 18, 2010 at 4:12 pm


#21 Deets & #22 EricG
Good points on shared commitment and purpose. Most of the emerging adults I know are far more community minded, activist focused, and daily engaged in their commitments than what I was at that age. The 20/30 something crowd is leading in many areas. Speaks well of their generation, not so well of mine. That would be baby boomers by the way.
All too often I hear, and read how young adults (emerging adults in this conversation) are spoiled, have no motivation, addicted to video games etc. I strongly disagree. The 18-25 crowd and the 20/30 something crowd are demonstrating a strong work ethic, commitment to family (parentally engaged), and lifestyle engagement to social justice issues. Studies have shown those in this age group are motivated more by lifestyle and choices, than by money.
What does that mean to the church? about belonging? (RJS #20) Churches would do well to reevaluate programs, and be willing to engage in causes more in line with what emerging adults find important. Ultimately this means the church will get its hands dirty. Emerging adults find causes such as local child prostitution, homelessness, feeding the hungry in our back yards, and being green to be worthy causes. I am saying nothing new here.



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Alex A

posted January 18, 2010 at 5:05 pm


Thanks Scot for these posts on Souls in Transition and everyone’s interesting comments!
When I read it last Autumn, I had also just finished Lost and Found, by Ed Stetzer. That book uses research (interviews with about 1,000 unchurched young adults – by which he means 20somethings) to create four types within that group, which he bases around their previous exposure to and attitude towards church. He also studies churches that are reaching that age group, looking at things like building community, worship, being cross-generational, leadership styles, teaching, etc. So for those looking for some more specific ideas of what to do in response, this is a useful (and shorter!) read alongside the more extensive research in Souls in Transition.
Hope this helps – apologies if someone has already posted this info!



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Darren King

posted January 18, 2010 at 9:50 pm


Thought I’d re-post something I added as a comment for discussion of this book elsewhere:
The challenge with these kinds of surveys is that the language so often determines the results. That?s true both in terms of how the original interviewers craft the questions, and then in how those questions are interpreted by those being interviewed. I sometimes wonder about the validity of comparing the answers to certain questions over time, when the very interpretation of what those questions mean has shifted.
This leads me to something I really wonder about above all else: spirituality vs. religion. No doubt in times and generations past, people saw these terms as somewhat synonymous. In other words, in previous generations, for most people religion WAS spirituality.
That?s clearly not the case anymore. So I wonder, as we talk about the failing belief in God, what meaning are we (and young people) ascribing to God? And I wonder if that?s being simultaneously replaced with a growing belief in some ?transcendent universe? or ?life force??
And maybe, despite initial appearances, those two aren?t so far apart after all. Again, a lot of it comes down to our definitions.



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Scot McKnight

posted January 18, 2010 at 10:50 pm


Darren, I’m not into statistics but have learned to trust those who know them well. While, yes, I can understand your point, esp about changes of meanings over time, I find Smith and Snell, not to mention the incredibly detailed chp later by another person, Smith is well-regarded by those who know how to deal with stats and questionnaires like those used in this book. The authors know your general concerns and they have questions that have been tested in order to produce reliable and valid.



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Darren King

posted January 18, 2010 at 11:38 pm


Fair enough, Scot. So here’s a totally unscientific observation from just one person: me. It seems to me that young people are more “spiritual” than they were in, say, the 1980s. And when I say “spiritual”, I mean they believe that there is more to reality than the observable material universe. In the 1980s it seemed like a lot of people thought that science had pretty much served up a working, materialist model of the universe – and that all that was left was fine-tuning of that model. Today better science tells us there is PLENTY we don’t really know. And part in parcel with this shift has arisen, it seems to me (again, at least anecdotally), a sense that the spiritual world/dimension is real, even if the construct that’s commonly believed in doesn’t exactly resemble the typical Christian (or Muslim, or Jewish) construct.
I’m curious what do people think?



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Andy W.

posted January 19, 2010 at 8:35 am


I saw this article from the Univ. of Chicago and thought it might add to the conversation. Speaks to what Darren #27 says.
http://news.uchicago.edu/news.php?asset_id=1748



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RJS

posted January 19, 2010 at 9:06 am


Darren and Andy,
I think you are right about spiritual but not religious. But this also makes the modernistic rational approach that permeates much of conservative protestantism an anachronism (evangelicalism, fundamentalism and things related and between). The questions being defended and the lines being drawn are no longer at the front … they are either insignificant side skirmishes, or relate to points no longer in contention (and occasionally rejected).
The focus must turn to where the issues are – how does spiritualism turn to faith in Jesus Christ as risen Lord and redeemer, how does concern with justice, mercy, and compassion turn to faith in the redemption and coming kingdom of God?
I actually think that the future looks brighter than the past – because the questions are central not peripheral to orthodox Christian faith.



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Andy W.

posted January 19, 2010 at 10:37 am


RJS,
I agree fully with your comment. Well Said!



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