Do you see dwindling attendance at your church, mosque, synagogue, temple and other places of worship? If you do, you are not alone. A growing number of Americans are leaving the religion of their parents, according to many studies. How can we prevent this trend? Well we can’t prevent it unless we know why they are leaving. So let’s get down to it.
Not only the number of church and mosque goers is dwindling, but as to who is not in the audience strikes me even more. During my presentations, panel discussions and attendance at various religious services, I often find myself asking the question: where are the young people in this community? No offense against this age group (and I am one of them myself) but why does everyone in attendance look over 50 years of age?
It does not matter whether I am at a mosque, church or synagogue. I observe the same thing over and over again. Sure some mosques may be seeing higher numbers but that is likely because more Muslims moved to the neighborhood. The percentage of the mosque goers is shrinking.
So the million-dollar question is: why are they leaving?
Is there anyone to blame? If so, who? The religious leaders and clergy who are out of touch? The politicians who use religion to their advantage? The haters who use their displaced religiosity to express their hate?
Many surveys and polls have attempted to find out why.
Why are the Christians leaving the Church?
A survey of over 2200 adults in the USA conducted by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) in August 2016, in partnership with Religion News Service (RNS) showed why people are leaving the church.
Nones do not generally leave religion due to negative experiences. Sixty percent said they simply “stopped believing” in their childhood religion, while 32 percent cited their family’s lack of religious commitment. Less than a third — 29 percent — said negative religious teachings about gays and lesbians was important to why they left their childhood religion and only 19 percent cited the clergy sex-abuse crisis.
Gloomier still for religion is this — nones now make up 25 percent of the American population, making them the single largest “faith group” in the U.S., ahead of Catholics (21 percent) and white evangelicals (16 percent).
But contrary to what you may assume from the data, majority of the nones still believe in God. 22% said that God is a “person,” while 37 percent see God as “an impersonal force.” One in five nones say a belief in God is “necessary” to morality.It is just that they stopped believing in organized religion.
Brandon Vogt, a Catholic blogger and best selling author is equally as concerned. In his blog post on this subject, he summarized some key findings of various polls and surveys.
- 10% of American adults are now former Catholics
- When Catholics leave the Church, they become:
- 49% – “None” (aka “unaffiliated” or “no religion”)
- 25% – Evangelical Protestant
- 13% – Mainline Protestant
- 13% – Other (Mormon, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jewish, Muslim)
- 79% of former Catholics leave the Church before age 23(Pew)
As to why they are the leaving:
- Pew Survey – “Faith in Flux” (2009) –percentage of former Catholics who said reason(s) below played a role in their departure
- 71% – Just gradually drifted away from the religion
- 65% – Stopped believing in the religion’s teachings
- 43% – Spiritual needs not being met
- 29% – Unhappy with teachings about the Bible
- 26% – Dissatisfaction with atmosphere at worship services
- 18% – Dissatisfaction with clergy at congregation
- 10% – Found a religion they liked more
- Diocese of Springfield Exit Surveys (2014)– percentage of former Catholics who said reason(s) below played a role in their departure
- 68% – Spiritual needs not met
- 67% – Lost interest over time
- 56% – Too many money requests
- 48% – No longer believe
- 47% – Dissatisfaction with atmosphere
- 38% – Too ritualistic
- 36% – Too formal
- 36% – Music not enjoyable
- 66% of “nones” agree that “religion causes more problems than it solves”
Why are Muslims leaving the Mosques?
Muslims may not have exactly the same problems as Catholics, but they face similar issues nonetheless. There is a growing body of believers who call themselves ‘Unmosqued’.
It is important to point out that being “unmosqued’ does not mean they are becoming ‘nones necessarily. In fact a Pew survey showed that Muslim Millennials are as likely as older Muslim adults to say religion is “very important” in their lives and that they attend religious services at least weekly. This differs from the generational dynamic in some larger U.S. religious groups. Among Catholics, mainline Protestants and members of the historically black Protestant tradition, for example, Millennials are significantly less likely than their respective elders to say religion is very important to them, or that they attend religious services weekly.
The question is: why are they then leaving the mosques?
UnMosqued is a documentary film that highlights the reasons why folks have become disenchanted with what they see in mosques. During the making of the documentary, they made several observations.
- It is clear that many youth who are likely to be second or even third generation Americans have felt judged or unwelcome at a mosque.
- One clear factor is the cultural divide that pervades the American Mosque landscape.
- Millennials and GenXers are much less likely to be affiliated with their mosque after they graduate from college than their parents.
- Young Muslims typically have vibrant, awesome MSA(Muslim Student Association) experiences in college, where they experience inclusion, acceptance regardless of religiosity level, etc. They are often shocked when they graduate and enter a mosque and get a very different, sour experience. At this point, many of them disengage from the mosque and find other creative outlets to express and grow their spirituality and closeness to God.
Are Jews leaving the Synagogues too?
The problem is not unique to Christians and Muslims. Jews are also facing the same issues. A Pew study conducted in 2013 had similar finds.
American Jews overwhelmingly say they are proud to be Jewish and have a strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people, according to a major new survey by the Pew Research Center. But the survey also suggests that Jewish identity is changing in America, where one-in-five Jews (22%) now describe themselves as having no religion.
The information on the reason for the Jews for leaving the Synagogues is not as well studied and some have pointed to the financial model of the membership of the synagogues- ‘What’s driving Jews away from the Synagogues?’ Others have pointed to the orthodoxy and thus the rise in Reform Judaism movement. According to the Pew study quoted above, One-third (35%) of all U.S. Jews identify with the Reform movement, while 18% identify with Conservative Judaism and 10% with Orthodox Judaism.
From the these polls, it becomes clear that there is a big need for the way the “religious people” and especially the religious leaders/clergy conduct themselves.
So where do we go from here?
More importantly, my own experience and interactions with the youth confirms what these polls suggest: We need to make our places of worship are more welcoming, more inclusive and non-judgmental. We must focus on what’s good about our religion, rather than what’s bad about others’. We have got to make the religious beliefs relevant to today’s life, and not just treat religion as an abstract concept. We need to put the spiritual growth of the young people (and adults) over the financial growth of institution. Let’s bring spirituality back in our places of worship.
Rather than trying to find faults with each other, perhaps we should work on addressing the common challenges we face, and strive to promote our common values to build better communities.Only then will we have some hope of stopping the mass exodus.
Is your mosque, church or synagogue ready to make the change?