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st-aldates.jpgIn chapter 6 of After the Baby Boomers, Robert Wuthnow discusses “spirituality” and how spiritual practices shape the lives of the younger generation. Wuthnow defines spirituality as “the shorthand term we use in our society to talk about a person’s relationship with God.” Spirituality manifests itself in what people do, “especially those activities through which they attempt to relate to God or follow God.”

What kinds of choices are young people making regarding their spiritual lives?

Church Shopping and Church Hopping

First, Wuthnow examines the difference between Church Shopping and Church Hopping. Church shopping takes place when someone is looking for a religious congregation to join. Church hopping involves going from one congregation to another, without a commitment to settle into a single church.

Most people “shop” for a place of worship if they have changed residencies. Other factors that increase the likelihood of church shopping are the social class of the parents and the education level of the shopper. Wuthnow’s conclusion? “People with more resources and greater opportunities are the ones most likely to engage in church shopping.”

Church hopping involves “staying in the market.” The same factors that lead to church shopping also lead to church hopping, but church hopping is more common among single people and those without children. It is a function of being unsettled. Often, church hopping is a matter of expedience (visiting relatives, to see friends, etc.).

Social Networks

Are young adults finding the majority of their friends in church? Statistics show that young adults are more likely to have few or no friends in their congregations. What influences this fact? Movement. If a person has grown up in one community and one church, that person is more likely to have friends in church.

Surprisingly, the vast majority of young adults claim to have discussions about religion with their friends at least once or twice a year. Almost half of all young adults talk about religion at least once a week! In fact, the proportion of people who talk about religion with their friends is highest among adults in their twenties. No one can assume that religion is a “private matter” anymore.

Because reading is lowest among young adults, it seems that religious ideas are circulating by word of mouth – not through books and sermons. Young people are influencing each other more than they are being shaped by the beliefs of religious institutions. In other words, young adults are looking to each other for spiritual guidance.


Young adults speak of religious convictions in a language of opinion and feeling, not dogmatic fact. Young adults are more likely to agree that they should “spread their faith” than that they should “convert others.” Young adults see themselves spreading the faith by living according to the Golden Rule.

Evangelicals (especially young ones), however, are more likely to believe in conversion. The statistics show evangelicals actively proselytizing friends, family members, and co-workers. But careful consideration of the statistics shows that these evangelicals are not witnessing so much to people from other religions, but from other denominations. The people they evangelize are nominal Christians – “people who do not go to church.”

Converts to evangelicalism are surprisingly less likely to actively evangelize than those who grew up going to evangelical churches.

Spiritual Seeking and Practices 

Young adults seek for spiritual answers in a multiplicity of venues. Some seek to find answers by taking an intellectual route. Others seek answers through the use of dreams, symbols, and rituals. Of course, many point to Christianity as providing answers to the tough questions of human existence, although more and more are turning to Eastern religions. Traditional boundaries have been transcended.

Spiritual practices are neglected among most young adults. Prayer is less common among young people. Few young adults read their Bibles daily. Listening to music seems to have replaced these disciplines as a “spiritual activity.” For those who do pray, ambience is important. Many report the importance of praying with candles, paintings, etc.

Young adults are more likely to see spirituality and art as interrelated. But this does not translate into fans of Christian contemporary music.

The idea that young adults are “spiritual, but not religious” is not correct. Young adults do emphasize personal experience over church doctrines. But those who are involved in religious congregations are more likely to indicate an interest in spirituality. It is inaccurate to generalize by saying that young adults are spiritual, but not religious.

Tomorrow, we look at faith and family.

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2 thoughts on “After the Boomers 6: Personal Spirituality”

  1. Nathanael says:

    This statement surprised me: “Are young adults finding the majority of their friends in church? Statistics show that young adults are more likely to have few or no friends in their congregations.”

    My closest friends, those I cry and laugh and grow and fail and receive forgiveness from and worship with and love are my brothers and sisters in Christ. We have a tight-knit community. And I met my wife at church! HALLELUJAH!

    Loving this series, brother.

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Trevin Wax

​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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