STUDY: Navigating unprecedented uncertainty, Gen Z isn’t turning to religious groups

A new installment of the largest available dataset on young people and spirituality shows that young people don’t think religious groups care about their values

MINNEAPOLIS, MN — On October 25, Springtide Research Institute released The State of Religion & Young People 2021, the result of a year of research into the beliefs, practices, values, and relationships of young people ages 13-25 (Gen Z).

The study, which included 10,274 surveys and 65 interviews, found that young people don’t think religious communities care about hot-button social issues as much as they do.

Young people aren’t turning to religious institutions

This past year brought unprecedented challenges and uncertainty for young people. Although the majority of young people consider themselves at least slightly religious (71%) or spiritual (78%), most aren’t turning to religious institutions in times of difficulty.

  • Only 16% of young people report turning to “someone from [their] faith community” when feeling overwhelmed or unsure about something, the same percentage as those who turned to “no one.” Of those who identify as “very religious,” less than half (40%) found connecting with their faith community to be helpful during challenging or uncertain times.
  • 54% report “Religious communities try to fix my problem, instead of just being there for me,” while 45% report that they don’t feel safe within religious institutions. Nearly four in ten (39%) report that they’ve been harmed by religion or a religious leader in the past. More than half of young people (55%) don’t feel free to be who they are at religious gatherings.
  • Sizable numbers of religious young people told Springtide they’re not part of a religious community, including 32% of young Protestants, 44% of young Catholics, 44% of young Jews, 44% of young Hindus, 45% of young Latter-Day Saints, and 54% of young Buddhists. Only 23% of young people say they attend religious services on a weekly basis or more.
  • The disconnect goes both ways. Only 10% of young people say a faith leader reached out to them personally during the first year of the pandemic.

Young people are no longer religious in the traditional sense
As young people distance themselves from formal religious groups, a portrait emerges of a new type of faith, one that is not bound to one tradition or institution but is “unbundled.” Faith unbundled describes the way young people increasingly construct their faith by combining elements from a variety of religious and non-religious sources, rather than receiving all these things from a single, intact system or tradition.

  • Young people are more likely to engage with art as a spiritual practice (53%) than prayer (45%)
  • Young people are more likely to engage in yoga and martial arts as a spiritual practice (40%) than attend a religious group (25%)
  • Young people are more likely to practice being in nature (45%) or meditation (29%) as spiritual practices than study a religious text (28%)

“It is abundantly clear from these data that the goal is to stay in the conversation with young people for as long as possible. They are exploring everything, asking questions constantly and looking for guidance, but they’re not going to accept a pre-made faith or religious system,” says Dr. Josh Packard, Executive Director of Springtide.

“It’s no surprise that young people resist a fixed definition about what it means to be religious today. Just as gender expressions, sexualities, and racial identities are now understood on a richer spectrum and grounded in intersectionality, young Americans are reimagining religiosity, spirituality, or faith as something that opposes a stark ‘in’ or ‘out,’ ‘this’ or ‘that’ way of compartmentalizing,” says Casper te Kuile, author of The Power of Ritual from the forward.

Religious young people are faring better than the nonreligious
Whatever young people are doing in this unbundled approach to faith seems to be working for their well-being. Across the board, young people who identify as religious are more likely to say they’re “flourishing a lot” in their well-being and relationships than those who are not religious.

About Springtide
Springtide Research Institute is a non-profit sociological research institute that maintains the largest dataset on young people and spirituality in America. Amplifying young people’s lived experiences through unbiased research and evidence-based actionable insights, we seek to help those who care about young people, care better.


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