LONDON – Most young people consider Christianity irrelevant to their lives but they are not as hostile towards religion as their parents’ generation, researchers in the Church of England have found.
The researchers surveyed 300 young people from Generation Y – those born after 1982 – who had attended a Christian youth or community project. The five-year study looked at their faith in relation to Christianity and the impact of Christian youth and community work on their faith development.
It found that young people were more likely to put their faith in friends, their family or themselves than in God.
Sylvia Collins-Mayo, a sociologist of religion and one of the researchers behind the study, said: “For the majority, religion and spirituality was irrelevant for day-to-day living; our young people were not looking for answers to ultimate questions and showed little sign of ‘pick and mix’ spirituality.”
She said that young people only sought a religious perspective on “rare occasions” and that when they did, they often "made do" with a “very faded, inherited cultural memory of Christianity in the absence of anything else.”
This tended to be in times of difficulty, for example, after suffering a bereavement or illness in the family.
“In this respect they would sometimes pray in their bedrooms,” she said. “What is salutary for the Church is that generally young people seemed quite content with this situation, happy to get by with what little they knew about the Christian faith.”
The findings suggested that while Christian youth projects were an important source of support for young Christians, they had little impact on the faith of the non-churchgoers who took part in them.
Among the infrequent churchgoers, 28 percent said belonging to a Christian youth group had made them think more about the purpose of life. Thirty per cent said it had made them think more about God, 26 percent about Jesus, and 54 percent about what was right and wrong.
Infrequent churchgoers tended to be uncertain about the nature of God, with 23 percent saying they believed God was someone they could know personally, 22 percent saying they believed in some sort of higher power or life force but not a personal God, and 12% saying that they did not think there was any sort of God, higher power or life force. Forty-three per cent said they did not know what to think about God.
“The Christian youth and community projects were an important source of Christian faith support for the minority of young people who were already actively involved in Church," Collins-Mayo said. “For the majority, however, the Christian dimension of the projects had little impact on them beyond keeping the plausibility of Christian belief and practices alive.”
The results of the study have been published in a new book, The Faith of Generation Y. Collins-Mayo said that while Generation Y is largely unfamiliar with formal religion, it still takes a keen interest in ethical issues.
“The young people drew moral guidance from family as friends, but they also recognized the potential of religion, including Christianity, to provide them with guidelines for living,” she said.
The researchers say that the common assumption that teenagers are alienated from their parents and hostile towards religion is a hangover from the Sixties and Seventies and no longer applicable to today’s young people.
The book states: “Generation Y have less cultural hang ups about the Church than did their predecessors … The challenge to the Church is to provide them with the opportunities to explore and to learn about a narrative of belief of which they know little.”
The Faith of Generation Y is joint authored by Sylvia Collins-Mayo, West London priest Bob Mayo, and the director of the Midlands Centre for Youth Ministry, Sally Nash.