And a Teen Shall Lead Them: The Relationship between Worship Experiences and Youth Religiosity in the Panel Study of American Religiosity and Ethnicity (PS-ARE)

By Gunnoe, Majorie Lindner; Beversluis, Claudia DeVries | Journal of Psychology and Christianity, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

And a Teen Shall Lead Them: The Relationship between Worship Experiences and Youth Religiosity in the Panel Study of American Religiosity and Ethnicity (PS-ARE)


Gunnoe, Majorie Lindner, Beversluis, Claudia DeVries, Journal of Psychology and Christianity


This research identified associations between 4 formal worship experiences and 10 measures of religiosity for 109 youth ages 12-18 participating in the Panel Study of American Religiosity and Ethnicity (PSARE). The 4 worship experiences included Belonging and Meaning-making (traditionally viewed as the two best predictors of adult religiosity) and 2 experiences more recendy identified as critical aspects of youths' socialization into religious communities: Openness to God's authority and youths' contribution to the community, assessed in this study by youths' Worship leading. The 10 measures of youth religiosity included: youths' assessment of their relationship with God, 5 aspects of religious identity (e.g., strength of commitment), and 4 religious behaviors (e.g., frequency of personal prayer). In multiple regression analyses, youths' relationship with God was best predicted by their reported Openness to God's authority. Religious identity and behaviors were consistently predicted by youths' experience leading worship. These associations support an Eriksonian model in which identity issues are central during adolescence and offer a concrete, easily-implemented method of facilitating religious identity and increasing religious behaviors by providing youth opportunities to lead worship.

Participation in a religious congregation has been linked to a variety of positive outcomes and to healthier identity development for youth (Roehlkepartain, King, Wagener & Benson, 2006). Central to most congregations is the act of wor- ship, but the processes by which participation in formal worship shapes youth development are not well documented. In their review on congre- gations and youth development, Roelkepartain and Patel (2006, p. 324) concluded that "little is known about how the dynamics of participation interact with and affect young people's spiritual development, or about the self-transcendent process that propels people's search for connectedness, meaning, purpose, and contribution."

The purposes of the present research were both theoretical and applied. Seeking to (a) advance our understanding of the role formal worship plays in religious socialization and (b) to assist worship coordinators in the intentional crafting of formative worship experiences, we identified 4 worship experiences promoted in the literature on religious socialization and used these experiences to predict 10 facets of youth religiosity in an ethnically-diverse national sample of youth. Given the paucity of prior research in this area, our theoretical constructs were intentionally broad. Worship experiences were defined as the thoughts and feelings of which youth were aware, and the behavior in which youth engaged, during formal worship (i.e., Sunday morning church or the equivalent). The term youth religiosity was used to encompass both institutional/formal expressions of youths' relating to the sacred (commonly accepted as "religiosity") as well as more subjective aspects of youths' experience with the sacred (sometimes distinguished as "spirituality" according to Hill and Pargament, 2003) because both are of interest to scientists and practitioners working with youth.

Although we employed regression analyses - which imply directional causality - we wish to stress from the outset that the relationships obtained are no doubt bi-directional (e.g., a youth with a strong stated commitment to her faith is asked to give her testimony during a formal worship service which further strengthens her stated commitment). The designation of formal worship experiences as predictors and all other religiosity variables as "outcomes" was a clean, analytical strategy in keeping with our applied goal of identifying for worship coordinators some points of entrance into the complex circular processes of religious socialization.

Worship Experiences as Predictors of Youth Religiosity

Belonging

In traditional sociological theories, the "twin pillars" of religion are a sense of belonging and a sense of meaning (Greeley, 1972). …

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