A recent article by The Barna Group talks about six reasons young Christians are leaving church behind. I noted how relevant these reasons are to LDS attrition rates among YSAs; these topics are frequent bloggernacle staples (indicating a widening generational cultural divide). First of all, here are some relevant facts about the rising generation that differ from previous generations:
- Life events such as marriage, career, and moving out are often delayed due to changes in cultural norms, a worsening economy and bleaker financial prospects.
- Constant access to and reliance on technology; technology shapes their worldview. (Anyone else think that picture of a tech-addled teen looks sinister like a heroin addict caught in the act?)
- Alienation from institutions, and a desire for personalization, uniqueness and self-expression rather than conformity and belonging.
- Skepticism toward authority.
Here are the reasons cited and (anecdotally) how they appear to relate to Mormonism and the bloggernacle discussion plus my own grade at how we are doing at bridging each gap:
- Overprotective. Gen X-ers, certainly more than their predecessors, chafe at the sheltering mentality pervasive in churches in which everything outside the church is demonized and to be avoided; this is especially difficult as the youth of today are much more keyed in to media and popular culture than in prior generations. Youth interviewed for the article perceived Christianity to be “stifling, fear-based, and risk-averse.”
- LDS Parallels: 1) as mentioned, Young Single Adults and members feel they are treated like children. 2) Some question the focus on blind obedience (including indoctrinating songs like “Follow the Prophet”) that seems to be the hallmark of faithfulness. 3) Elevating advice about earrings, tatoos and shirt color to commandment status runs contrary to the notion of “not being commanded in all things” or giving people correct principles and “letting them govern themselves” as JS taught. 4) The correlation committee in particular seems intent on promoting obedience, following leaders and black & white thinking over personal revelation, inquiry or independent thought (as evidenced by the manuals). On the upside, local ward cultures vary quite a bit, and the church is more diverse than it purports to be. Grade: C+
- Lack of spiritual experiences. A fourth of the youth from the article said that church services weren’t very focused on God and that they considered church attendance “boring.” Youth who have not had personal spiritual experiences are more likely to consider church irrelevant to their daily lives.
- LDS Parallels: On the upside, there is a lot of focus on gaining a personal testimony, daily prayer, serving a mission (at least for 49% of members) and application-based teaching, and we’ve also seen a big improvement in Christ-centered talks (rather than program-centered). On the downside, spirituality is sometimes confused with sentimentality. Individuals who have not had meaningful personal spiritual experiences struggle to fit in with a culture focused on testimony-bearing and certainty. This seems like overplaying a strength to the point that it becomes a weakness. Grade: A-
- Anti-science views. The feeling is that religions are for the overconfident and undereducated. A third in the article felt churches are antagonistic to science, and a fourth of young people were specifically turned off religion by their church’s anti-evolution stance. Schools: 1; Churches: 0.
- LDS Parallels: I recently posted on the topic of creationism being taught in seminary, despite the fact that the church does not have an anti-evolution stance and evolution is taught at BYU. The church also has difficulty distancing itself from anti-science statements of long-dead leaders, so these outdated statement proliferate. On the upside, the 2 Mormon GOP candidates are the only ones who aren’t burying their heads in the sand on science, and several prominent church leaders have been scientists. Grade: B+
- Sexual stance is unnavigable. Young people view the Christian stance on sexuality as too simplistic. 40% of Catholics in their 20s feel that the church’s teachings on sex and birth control are out of date (apparently Mormons agree since we no longer prohibit birth control). The other issues cited: 1) delayed marriage trend makes it harder to live a celibate life, 2) those who have not been celibate feel judged, and 3) sexuality is viewed more positively than in previous generations, as part of having a whole life. Interestingly, the study showed that as many young Christians are sexually active as non-Christians are. They’re just not happy about it.
- LDS Parallels: These are the same issues Mormon YSAs face. For some, it’s mitigated by a strong tendency to marry within the LDS faith, but for those who do not marry young for whatever reason, the pickings are slimmer. However, many never-married LDS seem to be committed to chastity at least in principle (not questioning its relevance entirely). And many who’ve “done the deed” return into full grace somewhat seamlessly, unless the wedding invitations have already gone out. The article didn’t mention homosexuality; accordingly, my grade does not include it either. (For gay members, I’d have to give an F on this one until there is a workable solution). Otherwise, Grade: B
- Exclusivity vs. diversity. Young people today are raised in a multi-cultural environment that values tolerance, diversity, open-mindedness and acceptance. More than ever before, they are surrounded by people of different races, faiths, and cultures. There is a tendency to downplay real differences. When churches focus on exclusivity claims, this creates discomfort for those raised to value diversity and seek common ground.
- LDS Parallels: On the upside, as a convert church that sends missionaries around the world, we constantly have an influx of diversity. On the downside, there is a lot of cultural conformity required for acceptance. Those in Utah or where the church is prominent may be more immune to this divide (and less exposed to diversity), but overall: Grade: C-
- Doubters not welcome. Young people in the article felt that church is not a safe place to express doubt and that their church’s response to doubts is trivial and inadequate. For some, doubts are linked to depression. Given #5 on this list, if doubters are not accepted, it can mean doubters feel marginalized, like outsiders in an exclusive club.
- LDS Parallels: On the downside, the church has a strong culture of how to express beliefs; expressing doubts in the church is discouraged and can be risky. Doubters often report encountering hostility. We would do a better job in focusing on seeking after truth rather than declaring that we corner the market on it. On the upside, members come to blogs to chat about their cognitive dissonance and cultural disconnect! Grade: D+
The article also suggested that churches err either in doing too much or too little to cater to the young people. What do you suggest to address these gaps? Do you disagree with my assessment of how we are doing? Do you think the church is getting better or worse at bridging the divide? Should it even try, or does that erode the “value proposition” of the church? How do we compare to Christianity in general on these generational issues? Discuss.
Hawk, are you saying that the Church’s approach to doubt is the major reason for disaffection among YSA?
I think there’s a big difference between expressing doubt/questions and expressing negative faith, statements of how one “just can’t believe” x,y or z.
Great post. I have a few thoughts.
#2 Disagree a little. I would give us a B-. Despite the fact that we push Christ-centered talks, prayer, and obtaining a testimony, note that we merely talk about these things. That is, church on Sunday is an exercise in learning what one should do. But we do very very little to make that happen through the primary vehicle that virtually all religions use to effect a spiritual experience – ritual. I think many other churches (Orthodox, and Catholic most notably) include deep rituals on a regular basis. Our only ritual on Sunday is the sacrament. I know that many “feel the spirit” on Sunday at church. But I’ll bet more members feel the spirit more in the temple. Why? Ritual, ritual, ritual!!!
#3 Disagree here a bit too. I would give us an A-. I think the church, the leaders, and the institutions of the church are FAR more progressive than the members. Note that your post involved a seminary teacher, a local leader, not a GA. So if we’re talking about the church, I give us an A-, if we’re talking about the members then I agree with you.
#4 Agreed. This is just a topic I’m convinced I’ll never understand in this life. The differences in generations is just staggering.
#5 I would say B-. Again, I guess if we’re talking about members, then you’re right, but I still think the church does more to be, and is more progressive than the members.
#6 Agree sadly. In my ward, my bishop has actually done a lot to address the topic of doubts. It’s the first time I’ve heard it even talked about in a formal teaching meeting by a leader. That’s progress. I think most members recognize there are doubts, and issues. But the feeling is that it’s fine to doubt as long as you’re on your way to reconciling yourself with the prophet. In other words, it’s okay to question, as long as you end up on the “right” side eventually. This is the real problem – what to do when you DON’T land on the “right” side. In that situation many are told to shape up and fly right, or that they’re on the road to apostasy or whatever. We acknowledge the presence of doubts in theory, but there’s no practical mechanism for dealing with them if you end up in disagreement. This really makes me sad 😦
I think #6 is the most problematic because a solution to 6 would facilitate improvement on the others. Unfortunately, I have no idea how to address it. I do think it undermines the value proposition of the church as it is currently viewed and understood by the leaders and members. I don’t think it HAS to be this way, but I think we stand to have other problems if we change it. Our church’s strictness is part of what gives it its converting power, unity, and strong sense of community.
Re Ben S
I think this underscores the problem. Expressing doubt/questions is just fine as long as you’re planning on eventually coming around to resolving those doubts in the correct way. But if you can’t, then you’re expressing “negative faith” and can no longer participate. Even if you’re kind, gentle, and loving in your disagreement. In other words, Mormons inherently want conformity of both action and belief. Of course Mormons know members have slightly different beliefs between themselves, but overall they’re in agreement. Hence it’s okay to question whether or not the brother of Jared was transfigured, but not okay to question the historicity of the BoM.
Certainly, there are those who express negative faith and are antagonistic to the church. In that case, I agree we they bring much of it on. But even gentle disagreement on a “sacred” topic will bring you scorn and ridicule at worst, and a lot of “hairy eyeballs” at best.
Are you talking about Gen-Xers, who were born in the 60’s and 70’s and are therefore at least 32, or Gen-Yers, who are in their late teens and twenties? (The Net Gen, or Gen-Z consists of people who are mostly still living at home.)
Because I’m confused.
Im not a gen-xer (mid 30s), but I agree with almost all the issues they raise. In fact I feel as though I was born a generation early. I have routinely been called into local leadership (by my wife) for disagreeing with the official teachings… And I am told each time to focus in following the prophet as the “most important” thing I can do. This has gone on through various leaders, in multiple states and, finally, its leading to divorce. I have been told that disagreement is tantamount to apostasy and that, as a result, makes me unworthy.
As to the grades, there are a few which are very, very generous. the discussion on Christ, locally, is nonexistent. I am never told to “follow Christ”, but routine told to follow the “prophet”. The testimonies I hear are much more focused in the church, the organization and the prophet than anything else… And its not even close…
Perhaps this can be explained away generationally, but with the church at least 1 generation behind, its going to take some time and, by then, they’ll have lost many, many members.
I think the focus on following the prophet is the current generations attempt to stop the losses, but its a fundamentally problematic approach for people who want more information or answers, rather than doing something simply because some leader said so.
I think jmb’s question is a fair one and bears expanding — are we talking about the church (as in the institution), the culture of Mormonism, or the members? Seems like you’re trying to do all three, and I’m not sure they’d get the same grade. And I think for the members, geography matters. Wasatch Front experience is very different from, say, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
1. “The correlation committee in particular seems intent on promoting obedience, following leaders and black & white thinking over personal revelation, inquiry or independent thought (as evidenced by the manuals).”
I would say as evidenced by how some treat the manuals.
2. “Youth who have not had personal spiritual experiences are more likely to consider church irrelevant to their daily lives.”
3. I agree with jmb here, though there are certainly still bits of confusion on this point in the correlated manuals.
4. Are you proposing a rewrite of the 10 commandments? Not clear what your solution is here.
5. “Those in Utah or where the church is prominent may be more immune to this divide” although they may be the greatest perpetrators from a cultural point of view.
6. I would say this is a very local issue, and how a person’s doubt is met depends on who is doing the meeting. When I taught a YSA institute class in my stake a few years ago, we had a standing “any question is ok” policy, and we got some really tough ones. But the students felt they could express whatever they felt. In the end, to John’s point, if we have a church that teaches that we are led by continuing revelation, it makes sense that we’d seek some confirmation of the divine call of that prophet who is to receive it. It is, however, terribly frustrating to struggle with a particular point of doctrine or direction absent the spiritual confirmation that encourages one to follow. And we would do well to welcome those who are so struggling.
Ditto on 5. I’m a gen-x guy and I’m now in my 40’s. (Which is amazingly shocking to me but not much I can do about it)
BTW – the photo of the teen was almost certainly set up to look like a junkie. The media needs controversy.
I do agree on some of your points. The doubters one is an especially interesting one? How do you socially deal with doubt in a lesson context allowing those with weak testimonies to be involved without perhaps weakening others? It’s a tricky question I don’t have an answer for.
I’d add in the social aspects. It’s sad but a sense of social connection is pretty important in religion. Even back on my mission in the late 80’s they were harping on making sure investigators got friends otherwise they were at high risk of falling away. I bet the majority of 29 and older single LDS fall away because they have no real social connection at Church.
That’s hard to do those, especially in a married ward with families of small kids. I swore I’d never be one of those home bodies after I had kids. Once I had them though I was so exhausted that I have to put forth a real effort just to spend the quality time with them let alone friendshipping others in the ward.
(BTW my Ditto on 5 was for Silver Rain’s comments)
jmb275: (3) Despite the fact that we push Christ-centered talks, prayer, and obtaining a testimony, note that we merely talk about these things. That is, church on Sunday is an exercise in learning what one should do. But we do very very little to make that happen through the primary vehicle that virtually all religions use to effect a spiritual experience – ritual.
I’m not sure I can agree with that on several levels. (None of which is to deny this is your experience)
Regarding talking about Christ I’ve heard this many times. I decided to start taking statistics in various wards. (I started this when a student and I’d heard this at BYU) When I started actually counting the amount of discussion of Christ it was huge. Nothing else came close. I’ve repeated this experiment time and time again in many different wards. I’ve yet to find a ward where things aren’t Christ-centered. Sure there will be the occasional speaker who does a poor job. And if your Sunday School class is on the OT you might not hear him mentioned as much there (although with both OT and D&C he’s surprisingly still a constant focus) Obviously I can’t extend from these tests (primarily conducted in Utah Valley and southern Alberta) to the Church as a whole. However since I was hearing the same thing here I think perhaps some people are so used to discourse about Christ they don’t notice it when it’s going on.
Regarding the point about ritual, one of the most important and spiritual rituals is what we have weekly in Sacrament Meeting. When I was single even if I was dirty coming back from a camping trip I’d hang out in jeans in the foyer to take the sacrament before running home. If you let it that’s an amazingly spiritual experience. Perhaps what we need are practical lessons of how to make taking the sacrament a better experience. (It’s trickier now that I have small kids and I’m spending most of Sacrament keeping them out of trouble – honestly I have a hard time even paying attention to what the speakers are saying)
An other important ritual is fast and testimony meeting. It’s not hard to draw the spirit in very strongly in such meetings. If you don’t like the testimonies being born get up like a missionary and bring in the spirit in your own testimony. Such things are catching. If you can bring in the spirit others will notice and it will affect how others bear their testimony. I think we sometimes sit waiting for change to happen when often it only takes one person setting an example to effect major change in a ward.
Original Article: The correlation committee in particular seems intent on promoting obedience, following leaders and black & white thinking over personal revelation, inquiry or independent thought (as evidenced by the manuals).
The manuals are pretty brief now and their emphasis is on using the scriptures as your manual. I just can’t agree with this characterization (having frequently been a teacher). It seems the manual committee is doing everything they can to get people to stop reading the manual and start being teachers. Ideally a teacher should be doing close readings, applying it to peoples lives (especially in practical ways), and bearing testimony. Now I’ll be the first to admit I often don’t like Sunday School. But honestly it’s more because of the teachers than the manual. I think that ideally there should be a teacher training class taught by an excellent teacher for people to learn how to teach in before becoming a gospel doctrine teacher. However honestly most teachers are doing the best they can. Some people are great teachers and some people aren’t. It’s especially hard if you’ve not been exposed to great teachers.
Of course I thought I was a pretty good Gospel Doctrine teacher and now I’m doing primary and completely out of my element. It’s amazingly difficult so I completely sympathize with those who struggle teaching adults. (Often people find kids easier than adults whereas I’m the opposite – I’m down to bribing with chocolate bars)
I think #5 makes a valid point about this being Gen Z or Y, yet as Gen X I identified with quite a few points.
Aaron R – I don’t think how we deal with doubt is necessarily the biggest issue, just one we do poorly. Having said that, I’m not sure the point of church is to share faith-demoting stories. There is also question in my mind about the article’s conclusion. Do people leave because doubters aren’t welcome or because of the doubts?
On the chastity issue, I think we are doing our best by being accepting of repentant people. However, singles struggle to fit into such a marriage focused church. As to homosexuality, we simply don’t have a workable solution for them at all.
Awesome post, atrocious grade inflation. 😉
LDS and single? KSL’s recently served up a handy list o’ tips:
1. Pray every day.
2. Keep a schedule.
3. Use hobbies and interests to fill your life.
4. Get help.
5. Keep a social life.
6. Start journaling.
I heard about that list while listening to a quirky Mormon podcast called This Week in Mormons. Their latest episode includes a rant that’s awfully relevant to this discussion.
Chino, (11) I think the problem for single members is that (5) can be tricky if you don’t have a lot in common with the people in your ward. Frankly (5) becomes more difficult the older you get and it’s very easy to instead socialize with non-members (who are very plentiful peers unlike Mormons) and then start doing stuff you wouldn’t otherwise have done.
I do think (3) is pretty important and I’m constantly shocked how many people don’t have hobbies or interests. They end up looking to others to entertain them and when it doesn’t happen… It’s easy in your early 20’s to always be doing stuff. Once the social pool dries up you have to have real interests. There simply will be fewer opportunities but also because the superficial stuff of interest when you were a freshman just isn’t.
I think a related problem is that Bishops and company often think of being single in their early 20’s and don’t realize being single at 29 or 35 is just a radically different situation.
Clark, I was mostly hoping for your insights re (4). Ha!
Seriously, though, who could disagree with your last graf? Not me.
@ #6 John
Wow. As far as your family situation is concerned, I feel for you. I hope things work out for the best, and I hope you find happiness in your personal life.
I agree with you on your comments. It kills me when I sit through a three hour block and not hear anything about Christ (or hear very little). Especially when the lessons/talks move towards stupid obedience topics (FtP–number of earrings) or towards a LDS pep rally (we are the best).
Hawk, fair enough. I’m not convinced we do all that badly, or at least, any worse on doubts than on chastity. I have never heard of anyone (in the UK at least) that has felt shunned because of lack of belief.
A recent book on this called ‘Souls in Transition’ argued that chastity is a big issue for most religions. Once a teenager/YSA goes down this road they immediately feel alienated from the community and have to face high-costs in returning (esp. in Mormonism w/ confession). I agree that we are doing our best here, but I suspect that this is a far bigger problem than doubt per se. Further, I think that doubt hits later in general the group of active people who are left, who are married and have kids (30+?). Further, in the UK, I would argue that the Word of Wisdom is a big deal as well. Social interaction centres, to a large extent, around alcohol and this invariable creates social identity and cohesion problems which ever way you slice it.
“Expressing doubt/questions is just fine as long as you’re planning on eventually coming around to resolving those doubts in the correct way. But if you can’t, then you’re expressing “negative faith” and can no longer participate. ”
If you’ve firmly decided that central aspects of the faith are wrong, and express that in derogatory ways in public, then in a very important way, you’re already marking yourself off as an outsider.
I’m fine with people questioning the historicity of the Book of Mormon as long as its actual *questioning*. When it comes to bearing non-testimony or a declaration of firm non-belief (or mocking questions asking how any reasonable person can believe X), that’s a different thing entirely.
Re Clark #9
I said our only ritual on Sunday is sacrament and you proceeded to tell me how to make sacrament better. I am addressing an issue of quantity, and you responded addressing quality. If you’ve ever been to a worship service in the Orthodox church, the contrast is very stark. Their entire service (2 hours) is ritual. No preaching, no learning, just ritual. My claim is that the partaking of sacrament (a 15 minute exercise out of a 3 hour block, that’s 8.3% of the time) is insufficient for having the deep spiritual experiences that are needed for many (most?). I suppose some people can do it in that 15 minutes, but it’s pretty hard when you’re battling three small children and worried about what the old lady behind you is thinking as she mutters under her breath when your kids scream!!
But you are right about F&T meeting. That is ritualistic, though not nearly as powerful as the endowment ceremony. If I had my way, I would bring the endowment ceremony in some condensed form to one of the hours in the 3 hour block, and do away with SS entirely. I think that would be a good balance of ritual and learning.
@ #8 Clark:
I think your concern is misplaced. If you focus on Christ’s message (the message of loving one another and being good to everyone), and if you emphasize living a good life, I believe that you will attract people regardless (of literal belief).
My wife and I sat up until 4 a.m. one morning talking about faith and Mormonism. Her general message to me was “JS may not be a literal prophet, and the temple may be a Masonic ceremony, and the BoM may be ‘Inspired Fiction’, but it doesn’t matter. Because all of these things bring my focus towards Jesus Christ and his message.”
In many ways, I think a changed approach would be better. NOMs would no longer struggle with the hypocrisy of the messenger. TBMs might become less self-righteous (and more accepting/forgiving). All members better prepared to extend a hand of friendship and love. And our LDS Meetinghouses would become a place of humble worship.
Re Ben S
So wait, you’re grouping two things together that I explicitly tried to pull apart. If I’ve decided central aspects of the faith are wrong, and explicitly say that, even if it’s not derogatory, then you’re saying I should leave? Or what? Even if I declare non-belief, if I do it in a kind, gentle, and uncertain way, why should I be asked to leave? You’re coupling the declaration (automatically assumed to be derogatory) and the non-belief. That’s the problem. Non-belief is automatically taken to be derogatory and inappropriate.
In other words, is it my questioning that’s the problem, or is it my derogatory declarations of such? If merely the latter, then why is it bad to express that non-belief if done in an appropriate way? If I can’t express it at all, then you’re essentially telling me it’s fine to question as long as I shut up about it. Your emphasis on *questioning* again underscores the point that one needs to be moving toward belief. It’s not okay to openly not believe. Maybe that’s the way it has to be, I dunno.
@ 17 jmb275:
In my stake, our SP decided to in-act a new policy. The doors to the chapel are now shut (and locked) shortly after sacrament meeting starts (sacrament meeting is the first meeting in our block). And the sacrament is NOT brought out of the chapel (to anyone who is late and in the foyer). The doors are not re-opened until after the sacrament has been passed.
Bottom line: If you are late, you don’t even get to participate in the sacrament.
I appreciated this fresh General Conference advice from L. Tom Perry for members regarding how to interact with others:
“Share something about your religious beliefs, but also ask them about their beliefs.”
W&T operates more in line with the spirit of that admonition than most faithful LDS blogs I’ve seen, and I’d humbly suggest that it’s a useful guideline for the bricks-and-mortar church. I was enrolled at BYU when my doubts kicked in and I suspect I might’ve made a few different (i.e., better) choices if I hadn’t been made to feel that nobody could be bothered to hear me out before upbraiding me.
Dang, dude, that sucks! Sounds you’ve just got crummy local leaders. That’s most unfortunate. I’d simply attend a different ward/stake (if it was convenient). Our current SP is pretty rigid, but not nearly that bad.
Re Paul #7
Actually, you’d be surprised (unless you live here, in which case we should do lunch). Some of the cultural nonsense isn’t here, but because it’s a big protestant area, there’s lot of LDS pep rally style lessons. Reasoning about why we have it right and everyone else doesn’t. I also happen to have a pretty obnoxious home teacher who it feels like just stepped out of Saturday’s Warrior. But otherwise, I have liked the situation in Ann Arbor (also grew up in SLC so I know both situations).
John, if your wife divorces you over your doubt, she may want to remarry you within a year or two. Although I hope it does not come to divorce at all, of course.
The singles program sucks and people in a similar position would often rather have a Mormon-friendly spouse who they already know and love than a non-member, or to wade through the mire of the singles program for years .
I’ve seen this happen more than once, and I speak from experience. In any case, I wish you both the best as you work through this. 🙂
I’m not sure why this post reminds me of Joseph Campbell’s “Heart of Darkness” and the movie “Apocolypse Now”. Perhaps it’s the idea that rather than being a new, better faith, more true than the other Christian religions, the LDS church isn’t so different from them after all.
I can’t speak for other gen x’ers…I think the post and examples are fairly accurate. I do think American society does trend to the “what’s in it for me”. Many people lament this as a bad thing, but I don’t know that it is. Doing something just because that’s the way your parents did it, if there is no personal satisfaction involved…it’s no longer enough for many people of my generation.
I also wonder if the whole thing is deeply personal and individual. If one organization keeps trying to create the same types of people…it just doesn’t work. Not everyone is vanilla or chocolate.
I feel like we shouldn’t assume that the Church needs to change in order to appeal to more people in all cases. Part of the point of having a church is to change people. (Sometimes it is good for the Church to change, though, obviously.) For example, I don’t think that the Church should downplay its special place among religions (that would be an absolutely dreadful thing to do, in my opinion).
jmb275: I keep seeing people reference Ann Arbor on the bloggernacle, and I keep wondering if I know them.
jmb, I’m just to the east in Plymouth. Had a very good friend who I worked with a number of years ago who was a bishop the AA stake, and I worked with your former SP in my assignment on seminaries and institute for our stake. (BTW, I think my ward is probabably very much like Wasatch Front wards in many ways since many of our members are transplants; good news is that our ward does seem very open to all comers.)
OK, I think I’ll throw up a few controversial points and see what happens. I can agree with the points in the original article about why some young people are disengaged from Church and religious things. but, we need to explore the underlying why. Here are a few of my thoughts.
1. Work – As a baby boomer, my parents tried to get me things they didn’t have because they had depression era parents. As a result, while I learned to work, I never thought I worked hard enough. That is a problem with younger generations, They do not, in general, like or know how to work. They have had much handed to them. As a result, they cannot read, write or engage in a conversation about important stuff. This may be an over-exaggeration, but I’ve found that most younger folks do not like to work hard at anything. Faith and religion are hard work sometimes. And many times I do not see much effort being made.
2. Over-Stimulation – As a result of MTV and the follow on technologies, many younger folks are in constant need of stimulation. Whether it is music, video games, texting, whatever. It is hard to hear the still, small voice, when you are looking for an atomic bomb to go off. Church, by comparison is boring.
3. Social skills – Because of new methods of communication, personal relationships are not so easy to maintain if it doesn’t have 182 characters in it. I think many young folks do not know how to have a personal, lasting relationship with others. So social interactions, at Church are not so easy.
4. Media influence. ’nuff said. Generally negative and geared toward personal pleasure and self-indulgence more than anything else. Characters portrayed are also generally negative stereotypes. Eat, drink and be merry is the theme.
Hey jmb275, I think that you and my family live in the same stake (Ann Arbor). I did too until I went off to BYU a few months ago. You don’t happen to be in the 1st ward do you?
Jeff, I think you’re close on most of your points.
As for work, my kids (Gen Y’s, most of them) are split — some are very productive, others not so much. Same parents.
I agree on the other items, and would add another: my kids have grown up (either in spite of me or because of me) uber tolerant. Not just tolerant that other ideas exist (which is my view), but really that (for some of them) there are no right and wrong choices. They are part of that group who are challenged to make moral choices (or even to identify them) that Pr Monson talked about.
This attitude is a clear rejection (by the ones who have it) of their parents’ view. Interestingly, as they age, they seem to be grasping somewhat for some answers, though they are not looking at religion to provide them.
My 2 cents:
1) Overprotective: Regarding YSA-aged people, I agree that this is a very big issue. We have generational opinions about things like earrings, tattoos and shirt color elevated to quasi-doctrinal status. The LDS fraternities/sororities were just eliminated at the University of Utah because stewardship of the activities for the college kids should fall under the bishops of the student wards. They are told when to date, whether to group date or to single date, etc. I would grade this as D+.
2. Lack of spiritual experiences: I think there is a lot of talk about this – ie. testimonies, prayer, missions, etc. I think the Church genuinely tries to create these. Whether it succeeds or not is debatable, but for effort I’d agree with the A-
3. Anti-science views: Biology teachers at BYU notwithstanding, I think this is quite prevalent in the LDS Church. Many of the leaders were raised in the Smith/McConkie era which was fairly antagonistic towards science. While not overtly taught (mostly not discussed), I would grade this lower for the Church as a whole. C+
4. Sexual stance: Some things are fairly unchangeable – ie. adultery is adultery, etc. But I think the Church causes a lot of sexual issues. I do think expecting YSA to avoid making out or many other things far short of actual sex is impractical. And the whole issue with masturbation and the “little factory” has certainly caused a lot of guilt in 95+% of the population. Also, I do think they equate someone who might happen to look at porn once a month or quarter with being “addicted” to porn. So, on a practical basis, I would give a C+
5. Exclusivity: In a pickle here. The “one true Church” doesn’t leave much wiggle room for tolerance. The concept is nice but as far as relating to the ever increasing tolerance of the rising generations, C
6. Doubters not welcome: No wiggle room here either. If someone questions things, the fault can NEVER be the Church but instead lies with the person. And even with simple non-doctrinal things such as someone deciding to have two sets of earrings – they are ostracized as not “following the prophet”. Grade D-
I like this trait as it pertains to other people who are different. Though I have one son is not very tolerant of others and he didn’t learn that at home!
However, as you said, it can also be a stumbling block as well when it comes to being tolerant of bad behavior to the point of joining in on it to be accepted.
We should totally do lunch! If you’re interested I’ll send you an email (given that you use a valid email on this site to comment). I’ll be in Livonia next Monday if you’re at all interested. Cheeburger Cheeburger is pretty dang good! I’m in the Chelsea ward, but live in Dexter. Our Bishop is a really great guy. Our SP is definitely a good man, I firmly believe that. He’s a former mission pres. (as you likely knew) and as a result he treats us a lot like missionaries. We also have a lot of transplants so that’s another reason it feels like a Wasatch Front ward in some ways. I REALLY liked my ward in Livermore, CA where we lived before. Felt very different from a Wasatch Front ward.
The longer they stay in the virtual world, the harder it will be for them to deal with the real world.
Find an outdoor activity and get your kids out of the house.
aerin said something that I agree is the real core problem: “If one organization keeps trying to create the same types of people…it just doesn’t work. Not everyone is vanilla or chocolate.”
For generations Boomer and later, individuality is tantamount. Yet those of the silent generation think conformity is a virtue in and of itself. It is inextricably tied up in their core values due to their life events: Great Depression, WW2, New Deal. But succeeding generations have had very different experiences than that generation (unjust wars, untrustworthy government, increasing racial diversity, terrorism, technology), and those experiences lead to different values, including non-conformity.
““If one organization keeps trying to create the same types of people…it just doesn’t work. Not everyone is vanilla or chocolate.” ”
“What manner of men [and women] ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am” (3 Nephi 27:27; emphasis added). The first-person present tense of the verb be is I Am. He invites us to take upon us His name and His nature.
To become as He is, we must also do the things He did: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do” (3 Nephi 27:21; emphasis added). What Manner of Men and Women Ought Ye to Be? Lynn G. Robbins Of the Seventy April 2011
But how do you grade the church on being meaningful in their lives? If it fills an authentic need, resonates with what gives their lives dimension they are not going to fall away regardless of whether 1, 4 or 24 earrings or purple striped shirts are the accepted norm and if they’ve never even heard of the internet.
The Gospel is supposed to be ageless and enduring and to be the answer to the searching of the human heart. No?
alice – I think the second point the article pointed out was related to that: did young people have spiritual experiences? I think the church does a pretty good job, at least effort-wise, to line this up. Certainly better than average for churches. But I would also say that we are becoming very secular (another point of the fuller article). Young people don’t seek for things they aren’t missing.
“Where there is no vision, the people perish” Proverbs 29:18
Any generation will rise up and respond to an electrifying vision/revelation that comes through the ministering of angels.
IMO, because the heavens have been brass for some time, we are left to focus on Management/policies/cultivating images/PR instead of substance (more spent in advertising then direct humanitarian relief)/ sentimentalism instead of courageous standing against the forces of evil (imperial war/Mammon) ; petty fights over words–“marriage”/”Mormon” versus full name church; trying to define Christianity rather then living it literally as was done in the primitive church; and then playing the martyr card over the slightest offense rather then engaging in the radical christianity that causes real persecution–denouncing american imperialism and rejecting all forms of mammon/corporatism/american exceptionalism, and breaking out the granaries for direct human relief rather then building malls and monuments to our vanity.
If the leaders and the church were really intent on emulating the Kingdom of God rather then managing a “church” and/or their corporate holdings then this generation like any generation would rise up off the couch and engage. Until then we will continue to manage the slow decline.
It is easy to pick on the youth/technology/etc. but give them/us a vision of Zion mediated by a communion with the heavens–a real zion and not a mirage and they/we will put down the mindless distractions.
Are you suggesting, hawkgrrrl, that spirituality is a taught and not an innate need? I am trying to interpret what you mean by “becoming very secular” and not seeking “for things they aren’t missing”.
If it’s an innate need that HF sent us into this world with and the church is doing a good job of supplying what’s needed there won’t be the sort of disaffection rate that evangelical churches are experiencing in their young members.
alice – good question. I think I was just taking it for granted that there is a nurture component that causes spiritual longing – certainly nurture tells you where to look to find it. But perhaps you are right that it is innate. I think it depends how broadly you define spiritual longing. For example, there are many LDS people who are not spiritual (seeking the divine, looking for greater meaning), yet who are very religious (obedient, conformist)and even rise to leadership positions. Conversely, I would say there is a nurture component to the learned skepticism of religion and the rise of secular perspective over spirituality.
jmb, please email me. We’ll set something up. 🙂
40 HG: I believe that the “need” to seek spiritual things is a significant factor. My parents and I were converts to the church. My children were reared in the church. They did not have the same milestone experiences I had along our family’s conversion path (coming to a testimony as a family, a family baptism, a family sealing, and all the sacrifice that went with it).
Some of them (particularly my oldest boys) found solace in the teen years with a very different group of comforters than I did as a youth. (My boys chose friends who were decidely on a different path from For The Strength Of Youth.) Once they started down that path, they did not seen the need to return to other spiritual things.
For others, secular or material strength keeps them from a spiritual path. Others find their spiritual needs met in a different way than through organized religion (or our organized religion).
I don’t believe this means the church necessarily needs to deviate from its course of teaching the gospel and administering ordinances; indeed it should not. But I think the fundamental question you raise in the OP is how to help the most people take advantage of the gospel and its ordinances.
I think you are correct. I see similiar things in my kids who have strayed from the path. I also think it is hard to pull oneself back from a life outside the Church. Al the reasons you gave it up are usual still there in one form or another.
And then there is the pride thing….
I think I have a follow on post to this based on two things I heard in Conference that got me thinking. We’ll see on Friday, I guess…
This is confusing. GenX is currently age 40-34. GenY is 34-25 and Millenials are the typical modern YSA scene. Did Gallup talk about genX or teens?
The reasons for inactivity are as varied as the number of “in-actives”. “There’s a million stories in the Naked City…” (no pun intended).
“Fault”, if finger-pointing serves any purpose, lies all around.
1. More divorce and broken homes, even among active LDS and those originally sealed in the Temple. Supposedly the LDS divorce rate amongst the 50 and under crowd in the USA isn’t statistically distinct from Americans in general. That’s bound to produce cynicism in not only the divorced but their offspring.
2. Unprecedented exposure of the youth to electronic and media stimuli. The Church was ALWAYS a tad boring, but it was never meant to be “entertaining”. I didn’t grow up in the Church but I remember that Sunday nights when I was a wee lad it was always Ed Sullivan. The bar has been considerably raised to get a youngster’s attention. Never mind the video games, internet, mobile networking, etc etc etc.
3. Uneven Church discipline for the errant. Some members practically get away with “moider” and others are dragged in front of a disciplinary council for breaking wind at an inopportune moment. Never mind all the horror stories. You have some errant members, having gotten off scot-free, behaving like “Christians” as far as their morals go. Other members, once errant, fear that the heavy hand of Church discipline will be lowered on them, and so they slink away in fear.
4. Certainly the “Brethren” are highly loving, intelligent, and experienced men who serve the Lord with all their might, and have great track records all to back it up. But hey, they are still…”HEW-MON”, and the male half to boot (IMO, the Priesthood being given only to men is so the Lord can show that He can figuratively whoop Satan’s hiney with one hand tied behind his back). Some of the things that get said in Conference inspire, well, they usually do. Some times I just grin and bear it. Not everyone has a sense of humor, and they get “offended” and/or confused.
5. No one said it was going to get EASIER the closer we get to the Second Coming. As Elder Packer pointed out, it’s not necessarily just down the road, but, every day IS a day closer. Whether THAT day will be in your lifetime or mine is a fit subject for another thread. Think of Al Pacino’s soliloquy in “The Devil’s Advocate”…”We’re coming out! Guns blazing!”. If enough of the Savior’s disciples fell away to the point where he asked (I wonder why) the very Apostles, “Will ye also go away?” John 6:66, 67), then why should we be immune? (D&C 122:8).
6. This may be an application of future shock. The rather elderly heirarchy has a greater difficulty adjusting to modern challenges. It’s not that sin isn’t still sin, and is there truly anything “new” under the sun? (Ecclesiastes 1:9), but today’s “youth” (Gen X is as old as 46!) faces challenges that the current leadership never grew up with!
Matt W – the Gen X thing is referenced in the comments. My bad. Article was mostly about teens. However, the observations probably apply to those of us who are internet-using Gen Xers also.
I think Ron Madson makes an excellent point – and very well articulated. First, I just don’t see the correlation that increased technology = greater religious disinterest. Would we note the same thing when society adopted indoor plumbing and electricity? The technology is a means, but what it carries is a big issue – information. We live in the information age, which opens people up a broader spectrum of ideas and even culture, thereby limiting the direct influence of the immediate geographical culture. For organizations like the Church, that thrived on this type of cultural assimilation, this is a threat – but it’s not the “technology”, per se.
I think the biggest issue is just as Ron put it. What did we hear at conference that would be any different from the type of message that would be delivered in any church of about any denomination? The routine activities of the Church corporate are frankly petty and uninspiring. We speak idealistically about the value of having Prophets and revelations only in general terms, because the specifics are less than inspiring. The Wards generally focus on callings and activity, and try pre-occupy an already overwhelmed with satisfying wants and responsibilities. The local strategy has not made any meaningful strides in improving the quality of Church membership, but simply competes on the mass of things they can at the members to pre-occupy them.
In short, if the Church wants to inspire, maybe they should focus on their message. However, and frankly, if there really is no power in the priesthood or spirit (which is suspect is correct) – they won’t be able to pull it off without reinventing themselves even more. Expect the Church to either mainstream more, or to whither.
I don’t think that any of these reasons are the ‘real’ reason for breaking with any church. I think the main value of a religion is to assuage psychic (spiritual and emotional) pain. All people have events in their lives that cause this pain. Those who leave a church have found a different way to assuage psychic pain.
The key, IMO, is straddling the line well. A church has to have standards, but not make hedges about the law. It has to claim to be the best without implying any other church is not as good. It has to welcome repentant sinners with open arms without endorsing sin. It has to steer clear of the borders of science without necessarily having expertise and without alienating the ignorant faithful (although I’m OK with alienating the ignorant – unfortunately, there are a lot of them). It has to be sex positive without being hedonistic. It has to provide spiritual experiences and then allow room for people to doubt them. This is a tall order. I think most of our criticisms on these matters are when the church leans too far in one direction. It’s a matter of finding & maintaining balance.
#49 – “It’s a matter of finding & maintaining balance” – That’s what Mr. Myagi (the late Pat Morita) advised “Daniel-San”..then he goes after the girl (a very young and fetching Elisabeth Shue) in a mint ’41 Plymouth.
In many cases, “balance” is not a matter of choosing “good vs. evil”, it’s choosing alternatives that each have their valid merits. E.G, “Mercy vs Justice”, which of itself can be a whopper of a thread…
#45- I agree. i was born and raised in the Church, seminary grad, RM and then Temple wed but now divorced. My son really doesn’t like Church because it’s boring and he doesn’t care much for things that aren’t entertaining to him. He is okay in school but he could focus more but Church is a hassle for everyone involved and he doesn’t get an ounce of support from his ex mormon Mom.
Boy, am I glad I can differentiate between the Church and its members (including myself)! I’m pretty orthodox doctrinally, but I think I can be that way and still be cognizant of the issues that many of my brothers and sisters face (SSA, for example) and I tire of those who prefer to hide their heads in the sand and pretend that we’re all alike or at least should be.
Mormons are a constant source of wonder and amazement as a sociological phenomenon. 😉