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Young people are finding community outside of organized religion

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Long shot from the back of a simple church looking down the center aisle with empty pews on both sides with hymnals in racks on the back of each pew.
Debby Hudson
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Young people are attending religious services in fewer numbers and seeking community elsewhere.

About 3 in 10 U.S. adults identify as atheists, agnostics or having no particular religious affiliation. That number is nearly double the percentage of 2007 and is higher for millennials and Gen Z.

Organized religion can offer built-in multi-generational community and connections with other people. Even so, younger segments of the American population are turning away.

Andrew Meyer, associate professor of Sport Foundations at Baylor University found in his research that they're finding other things to fill that void.

"We might leave a church or an organized religion but we seek meaning in other areas of our lives . . . . .for instance, through sport," Meyer said.

Children of the digital age may be leaving organized religion because they can find like-minded people through the internet.

Phil Zuckerman, professor of sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College, explained how 20 to 30 years ago a young person who may have felt alienated from or skeptical of religion basically felt alone and suffered in silence.

"Today that same teenager, they go home and get on the internet and they say 'Hey anybody else thinks speaking in tongues is weird' or whatever the issue is . . . then they instantly have community and that community breeds support, it breeds assurance and it creates a sense of 'Hey I'm not alone' and it snowballs."

There's less stigma today to being non-religious than in previous decades. Caller Jeff shared his experience of being actively involved in his church for 55 years, but on January 6, 2020 losing his religion.

"It just was one moment that I said I just cannot believe in what I sort of believed in for so long just because someone said its true."

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When I host Up To Date each morning at 9 a.m., my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. My email is steve@kcur.org.
Eleanor Nash is an intern for KCUR's Up To Date. You can reach her at enash@kcur.org
Reginald David is an assistant producer with Up To Date. You can reach him at reginalddavid@kcur.org.