Congregational Involvement of Young Adults Who Grew Up in Protestant Churches
Dean R. Hoge, Benton Johnson, and Donald A. Luidens
An unprecedented period in the life of American Protestantism began in the mid-1960s. For the first time in their history, many major denominations in the United States stopped growing and began to decline; and all have been in decline since. Those with the most educated and most affluent congregants have experienced the greatest losses. Over the past thirty years, the Episcopal Church has lost 29% of its membership, the Presbyterian Church 26%, and the United Church of Christ 21%. Other denominations have also declined, albeit less steeply. What happened? Why now? What can be done to stop the losses?
In 1987, the Lilly Endowment sponsored a symposium on the mainline Protestant decline. By that time, research had produced an important finding: the decline was mainly attributable to a lack of young adults in the denominations. The children of church members, especially offspring born after World War II, were leading the exodus. The problem was not that the older members were walking away, but that large numbers of the young people were failing to replenish the ranks (see Hoge & Roozen, 1979).
At the 1987 meeting, the three authors of this chapter proposed an in-depth study of young adults who grew up in mainline denominations. Our idea was to search out people who were on the confirmation lists of churches in the 1960s and conduct an "alumni study" to see what their views of the church were today. We wanted to talk freely with them in order to explore attitudes about a variety of questions related to religion. The Lilly Endowment provided funding, and work began in 1989. This article discusses some of the findings of the study. 1