The ability of Christian churches to retain young adults has been a hot topic in North America since 2006, when the Barna group raised alarm bells in the U.S. with data suggesting that six in ten church-going teens become spiritually disengaged after high school. This ominous statistic has also perplexed church men and women north of the 49th parallel. Could what Americans are discovering be happening here? Do Christian youth ministries lack substance? Do graduating high school seniors struggle to remain oriented to Jesus in a consuming society?
We started the research project that became Hemorrhaging Faith by doing face-to-face interviews which provided us with a candid ground-level look at what young adults perceive is going on in churches. Seventy young adults dared to invite us into their personal journeys. We listened carefully to their comments and transcribed all the interviews, including the French ones from Quebec.
From those interviews we created a list of questions for a survey to be done through the Angus Reid Forum. 2,866 young adults who spent time inside Protestant or Catholic churches as children, teens or young adults, were invited to participate in an electronic survey. A respectable 70% responded! This allowed us to probe their feelings on a number of important attitudinal statements about church and faith. For each statement, participants were asked to select whether they agreed strongly, agreed, disagreed or disagreed strongly.
We then did a regression analysis on their attitudes based on whether they now attend church or not. The data points to ground-breaking understandings about the factors involved in driving or destroying young adult church involvement today. These findings have relevance to all organizations, communities and institutions attempting to connect with young adults and walk alongside them as they try to live their best selves in a society focused on consuming.