As millennials move away from religion, Catholic Church hopes to turn the tide
They are called the nonreligious – a diverse group of atheists, agnostics, spirituals and those who do not have a specific organized religion in particular. And over the years, that population has continued to grow, with millennials increasingly driving the growth.
“I think a lot of us find connections in spirituality in ways that would seem quite strange to our parents, but to us, we feel more relevant and more authentic,” said Jill Filipovic, columnist and author of delivered. OK Boomer, let’s talk: how my generation was left behind.
A millennial herself, Filipovic considers herself part of this growing trend.
“I am not formally affiliated with any of these religious beliefs. I would qualify as non-religious even though I am culturally Christian,” Filipovic said.
The Pew Research Center found that only 27% of millennials report attending church services every week, compared to 38% of baby boomers. And only about half of millennials – adults born between 1981 and 1996 – say they believe in God with absolute certainty, and only 1 in 10 millennials say religion is very important in their lives.
“Millennials, as I said, are relatively progressive people, and the Catholic Church is a formal patriarchy. It is an organization in which women are formally prohibited from holding positions of power,” said Filipovic.
The Pew Research Center says non-clerics grow faster among Democrats than Republicans, although their ranks are growing in both partisan coalitions.
But although less religious, millennials are still likely to engage in spiritual practices.
“It doesn’t surprise me to see spirituality rise; it’s such a key part of the human condition to want to understand why I’m here, what my purpose is.”
The trends are not going unnoticed by religious institutions like the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego, which established young adult ministry to connect young adults to the Catholic Church.
“This is where we start to cultivate relationships and bring us all the baggage, bring us all the things you have questions about, and let’s talk about it,” said Patrick Rivera, director of Young Adult Ministries.
Rivera says that before the pandemic, they were hosting social events that didn’t necessarily feel religious.
“We have Theology on Tap, where we’ll go to a bar or church hall, bring our own drums and speakers and live musicians, and have a theological discussion,” Rivera said.
He says the effort was kind of a rebranding of the church.
“One of the hardest parts for me over the last few years has been the rise of different scandals and things that have happened,” Rivera said.
Through conversations and social events, he says they strive to connect with marginalized groups like the LGBTQ community, who have always felt left out of the church.
“This is the problem that we want to try to solve. No matter how you enter the faith or the community, the community is always there and longs to accept you as you are,” Rivera said. “The LGBT community is definitely an area where we are looking to try and repair some of the damage that we have seen the church done to the previous generation.”
A young adult ministry coordinator, Daniel Godinez, was 27 when he reconnected with the Catholic Church.
“I didn’t have the right friendships, I didn’t have the right relationships, it all came down to a moment of emptiness in my life,” Godinez said.
Despite a great job and friends, he says the pleasures in life don’t satisfy him. In 2012, an old friend invited him to a church retreat, which Godinez believes God called him home.
“It was absolutely difficult, not having the support of your friends as you go through this transition process, I think that is probably the most difficult thing you can encounter at this point in life. “said Godinez.
Godinez is now the Young Adult Ministry Coordinator at Most Precious Blood in Chula Vista and married to a woman he met through the church.
Rivera says COVID-19 has impacted the church’s ability to reach new people; rather than large gatherings, they must rely on small events to continue their awareness. However, Rivera says it gave them more opportunities to focus on the small-scale one-on-one relationship model.
“He’s one person for both of us,” Rivera said.