I do not need carefully conducted surveys to tell me that many college-age and young adults are neither attending nor joining faith communities. More and more students tell me they consider themselves spiritual but not religious, frequently asserting they believe in God and pray even as they do not consider worshiping with others to be necessary.
And more and more parents share with me their sorrow that their grown children have not followed their example of becoming members of a faith community.
Those who study societal trends cite many reasons for this generational drop-off of interest in worship. In his fascinating book “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital,” Robert Putnam views this trend in religious behavior as part of a larger tendency of recent generations to join fewer formal groups.
A related factor might be the tendency of recent generations to create their own circle of close friends or to prefer virtual social media communities.
Despite the validity of these sociological reasons for nonparticipation in faith communities, religious parents often feel judged by their grown children’s choice not to follow their example. Did we do something wrong? Why did our children, once they had the choice, not choose to include worship in their lives?
One factor in this generation not picking up the habit of worship is that our children may judge being in a faith community as just that — a habit. Perhaps our generation as parents attends church, synagogue, mosque, gurdwara and temple because, well, because we just do.
When was the last time our children heard that we feel fed in worship? Have we ever told them that we can’t wait until we can be with others in worship? Have they ever observed us going early to services as we would to an athletic event or concert, or have they seen us rush to our places of worship at the last minute or even tend to go late?
Have our children ever heard us say that we are going to make an effort to live out what our scriptures or the sermon challenged us with that week? In other words, have we ever shared how much worship and being in a faith community matter to us?
Nothing would alienate our grown children more than if we suddenly made those claims about worship when, in fact, worship is simply a habit in our lives. However, if being a member of a faith community is simply “habit,” then we should not be surprised when the habits of one generation are dropped easily by the next.
No parent expects her/his children to forgo eating, sleeping, laughing or conversing.
These are not “habits,” but rather “needs” for living.
If worship and being with others of faith are deep needs in our lives, only then will the next generation ponder what we most want them to ponder — is worship with others something that I need in my life?
David Carlson is a professor of philosophy and religion at Franklin College and the author of “Peace Be with You: Monastic Wisdom for a Terror-Filled World.” Send comments to [email protected].