Millennials have spoken, and they don’t much care for organized religion. New research from the Pew Research Center confirms that a trend that has been obvious for several years has picked up speed: Millennials’ favorable view of churches and religious organizations fell from 73 percent to 55 percent in just five years, one of the sharpest declines ever. While the views of Gen-Xers, Boomers, and Silents (85 percent of those over 65) have grown modestly more positive about churches and organized religion over the past five years, rising between 2 and 7 percent, the positive views of Millennials nose-dived 18 percent. Just over half of Millennials now believe that churches have a positive impact on the country. Not surprisingly, they are more unlikely to be religious than any other age demographic in the country.
What is also surprising about this latest Pew study is that Millennials have grown more negative about the national news media, a trait that they share with all the other demographic age groups. The opinion of all four demographic groups is more negative today about the news media than it was five years ago. But while the positive outlook of age groups other than Millennials regarding the national news media fell only slightly (between 1 and 4 percentage points) the positive view of the news media by Millennials fell from 40 percent to 27 percent, when asked if the national news media are having a positive impact on the way things are going in the country.
Here’s another surprising finding regarding Millennials: overall, they are more positive about the nation’s key institutions than others in the U.S., except when it comes to religious institutions. No one in the country has a dimmer view about churches and organized religion than Millennials. Pew surveyed people in the U.S. regarding all kinds of institutions. The list of categories includes labor unions, colleges and universities, small business, the energy industry, technology companies, the entertainment industry, large corporations, and banks and financial institutions, along with national news media and churches/religious organizations. Overall, the institution best regarded by all age groups was small business. The entertainment industry was a close second in universal disdain, right behind the national news media. But in every category except organized religion, the Millennials were the most positive of all the other age groups. This means that Millennials are the most upbeat people in the country when it comes to their views of key institutions, but their trust in churches and organized religion is the lowest among the country’s population.
Why do just a bit under half of Millennials have such negative views of organized religion, particularly in light of the fact that they are more positive than most when it comes to other institutions? The study doesn’t get into the reasons why Millennials believe what they report, but here are some other survey data to think about. In 2014 and 2015, the Barna Group surveyed the same demographic groups about their views of Pope Francis. When asked if the pope had improved one’s view of the Catholic Church, of all the age groups Millennials reported the biggest positive change: thanks to the pope, their view of one of the world’s oldest organized religions improved, from 27 percent to 49 percent (it actually went down for Boomers and Silents).
Go figure.Michael J. Crosbie is the Editor-in-Chief of Faith & Form and can be reached by email at [email protected]