Mormons aren’t the only ones asking that type of question. Church attendance and religious belief percentages for Millennials, as opposed to other generational cohorts, are plunging for all denominations. There is a nice Q&A with a sociologist over at the Pew Center that lays out some of the facts. He suggests this is a long-term problem:
There used to be this view that there was a religious life cycle, that when you got older and married and had kids you got more active in organized religion. But that doesn’t seem to be happening. In the past 20 years, we really haven’t seen a lot of evidence of that cycle continuing.
What this means, in simpler terms, is that fewer young Mormons will remain active in the Church and fewer of those who become inactive will return to activity. While a few may find rehabilitated religious belief in another Christian denomination or in another faith tradition altogether, many seem inclined to leave organized religion behind and either cobble together an eclectic do-it-yourself belief system (the “spiritual but not religious” types) or become happily undefined (the “nones”).
There are two issues here for the Church. One is the socialization and retention issue, turning LDS kids and youth into LDS missionaries and then young LDS married couples likely to parent the next LDS generation. The Deseret News ran an interview with Adam Miller, an LDS philosophy professor in Texas who is one of the bright lights in the blossoming Mormon Studies field. He is the author of Letters to a Young Mormon, a short book directed to Millennials and parents of Millennials. The interview notes that a second edition of the book, with two new chapters, will be available today, Jan. 1 2018. From the interview:
I don’t know that ‘Letters to a Young Mormon’ is exactly the right thing for everyone all the time to read or to hear, but I do hope that it can be the kind of thing that can be helpful to a certain kind of person who finds themselves in a certain kind of place.
I think that certain kind of person is a Millennial and that certain kind of place is the Millennial mindset that questions organized religion like it questions organized anything.
Also at the Deseret News, Miller published an op-ed a couple of weeks ago, “Listening is the first step in speaking to Mormon millennials.” Maybe that’s a first step that parents sometimes forget. And leaders. Maybe all Mormons just aren’t very good at listening. He hits the second issue for the Church, albeit indirectly: missionary work. If we can’t reach Mormon Millennials, how can we possibly reach non-Mormon Millennials? “Which church is right?” is not a message that resonates with Millennials. “We have priesthood authority and you don’t” is another non-starter. Here is Miller’s view, from the op-ed:
This isn’t just a matter for missionaries. This is a generational problem. The question isn’t just: how do we talk to those that don’t share our faith? The more basic and urgent problem may be: how do we talk to young Mormons that do?
A last item is the recent “YSA Face to Face with Elder Oaks and Elder Ballard.” This is an official outreach to Mormon Millennials — the Church is at least trying. I confess I haven’t listened to the broadcast. There is a transcript floating around somewhere as well. Cody here at W&T did an analysis of the questions that YSAs submitted. I almost think the questions are more interesting than the answers (which apparently didn’t really answer anything). Rational Faiths posted a rather negative review of the event. The SL Trib ran a rather negative opinion piece reviewing the event as well. If anyone has a link to a positive review of the discussion, please post it in the comments.
So what’s the bottom line? The Church seems to recognize the need to change the message to reach Millennials, but I’m not sure an F2F with speakers three generations removed from Millennials is the right format. Unofficial outreach by Miller and others like Terryl Givens and Patrick Mason are helpful but likely reach a much smaller audience than official avenues like F2F or General Conference. Maybe the one-size-fits-all approach that has heretofore been the LDS approach needs to change. The traditional path of Scouting, seminary, a mission, and temple marriage doesn’t work for an increasing chunk of LDS youth, it seems. Maybe the Church needs to think about messages like “a mission is not for every LDS youth” or “temple marriage is great, but civil marriage is pretty good too, and we can even work with a deferred-marriage relationship.” The Church has to find a way to normalize alternative paths to lifelong activity in the Church.
Anyone else have insight into the Millennial problem or some success stories to share? Or is Mormonism truly becoming irrelevant to Millennials?