Will Asbury ‘revival’ get young people to return to church?

Worship service inside Hughes Auditorium at Asbury University.
Image courtesy: Asbury University

(NewsNation) — After thousands of people converged on Asbury University for nearly two weeks of nonstop worship, there’s renewed attention on young Americans’ participation in spiritual life as Christian faith communities look to reignite an enthusiasm that has faded in recent decades.

Since the early 1990s, the percentage of Americans who identify as “religiously unaffiliated” has skyrocketed. The number of people who consider themselves atheists, agnostics or “nothing in particular” is projected to grow in the coming years.

The shift away from organized religion has occurred across nearly every demographic subgroup but it’s been especially pronounced among young people.

“Generation Z is about 45 to 50% nonreligious now,” said Ryan Burge, a political scientist at Eastern Illinois University who studies religious trends. “It’s probably the least religious generation, at least in our lifetimes, over the last 100 years.”

As recently as the early 1990s, about 90% of U.S. adults identified as Christian. Today, just over 60% of U.S. adults say the same, according to Pew Research.

For that reason, bringing young people into the church has been a top priority for congregations.

Several groups are trying to meet young people where they are: on social media.

It’s now common to see Sunday worship services being live-streamed on YouTube and other digital platforms. Miami-based Vous Church, for example, has built a social media following in the hundreds of thousands.

Others are attracting young people with culturally specific outreach.

Iskali, a Catholic nonprofit based in Maywood, Illinois — near Chicago — provides leadership opportunities and mentorship for young Latinos.

When founder Vicente Del Real immigrated to the United States from Mexico in 2004, he noticed a lot of faith-based outreach was directed toward first-generation immigrants in Spanish. Now, he’s trying to address the needs of second and third-generation Americans.

“Spanish speakers that are bilingual, U.S. born, prefer to express themselves in English,” Del Real said. “When it comes to expressing their emotions, their thoughts or ideas, they are trained how to talk about this in English.”

Latinos are among the most religious demographic groups in the country and now account for the majority of young Catholic Mass-goers. They’re also the group leaving the church at the fastest rate, Del Real pointed out.

He believes young people want authenticity and a sense of belonging.

“I don’t think our approach is to tell people how to live their lives but to really share what God has done in ours and hopefully that resonates,” Del Real said.

As regular church attendance has fallen, Burge thinks those in younger generations who do remain are more likely to see their faith as a core part of their identity.

“You can’t be halfway if you’re a young evangelical today,” he said.

The revival at Asbury has already sparked similar bursts of spiritual energy at Samford University in Alabama, Cedarville University in Ohio, and Lee and Belmont universities in Tennessee.

Whether those revivals — which are traditionally Protestant movements — catch on among young Americans in other Christian denominations remains to be seen.


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