The millennials — those born after 1980 who began to reach adulthood around the year 2000 — are less likely to claim a religion than their parents and grandparents were at the same age, a new report says.
The Pew Research Center report released this week on millennials and faith found that one in four, or 25 percent, do not identify with a denomination or faith. They describe themselves as either atheistic, agnostic or "nothing in particular."
Among Generation X, whose younger members were young adults in the late 1990s, one in five, or 20 percent, were unaffiliated.
For baby boomers, who were young adults in the late 1970s, that figure was about one in eight, or 13 percent.
Older Americans are more religious, according to the report, which is based on several sources of data, including surveys commissioned by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
The report states that 85 percent of Americans now 30 and older affiliate with a faith — 14 percent say they are unaffiliated and 1 percent weren't sure.
Millennials who are affiliated attend religious services less often than their elders — 33 percent attend weekly compared with 41 percent of adults 30 and older, the Pew report notes. And millennials are far less likely — 45 percent — to say religion is "very important in their lives," compared with almost 60 percent of their elders.
Nondenominational Christian Pastor Sarah Bowling, herself a Gen-Xer, said she observed firsthand the millennials' diminished trust and investment in all institutions, including religion, when she ran the ministry for 18- to 25-year-olds at Orchard Road Christian Center in Greenwood Village.
"I love that age. I love the way they think, the way they question," Bowling said. "They have so many epiphany moments."
Yet, she said, their commitment to church was often short-lived.
"They would get excited about it but not maintain the interest," Bowling said. "They would move on to the next exciting thing. The word 'duty' was real anathema to them."
Yet in many other ways, the 20-somethings are as traditional in religious beliefs and practices as older Americans, the report concludes. About 64 percent say they are absolutely certain of God's existence, compared with 73 percent of their elders.
Millennials are as likely to believe in life after death (75 percent of them versus 74 percent of the 30-plus). The millennials are as likely to believe in heaven (74 percent each group) and in miracles (78 percent, compared with 79 percent).
And there is one thing in which the millennials' belief is stronger: About 62 percent believe in hell, compared with 59 percent of older Americans.
That might be one reason why millennials pray more often — 45 percent pray daily, compared with 41 percent of baby boomers and 40 percent of Gen-Xers when they were in their 20s.
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