A new kind of worship: millennials redefine religion


The Kent Stater Students gather in Bowman Hall Sunday morning, Dec. 6, 2015, before service.

Rachel Duthie

Jake Ball feels off about the idea of going to church on Sunday mornings.

The freshman digital media production major regularly attended church with his grandparents when he was younger. When his grandmother passed away when he was in middle school, Ball stopped going altogether.

“I would say I’m still a Christian, but loosely,” Ball said. “I still believe in the concept of heaven and hell, but I don’t pray often. I live by morals.”

Ball is one of millions of millennials who have shown a disinterest in organized religion, instead shifting toward personal, day-to-day spirituality.

A study conducted by the Pew Research Center shows that millennials are considerably less religious than previous generations. According to the data, Americans ages 18 to 29 attend religious services less often than their older peers, and fewer are interested in spirituality in general.

Jennifer Basich, a senior special education major, is the president of Cru, a Christian student organization that holds Bible studies and weekly meetings.

“I notice a solid amount of people seeking some spiritual life, but overall I would say I do not see a lot fully pursuing and committing to one,” Basich said. “Millennials are entering a phase in their lives where they are really figuring things out, and that includes religion, whether they realize it or not.”

While hot topic issues such as gay marriage and abortion rights are key factors for young people determining their faith, this shift is largely generational.

Compared to their elders today, millennials are much less likely to be affiliated with any religious tradition or domination. Only 27 percent of millennials attend religious services weekly, a contrast from the 38 percent of baby boomers and 51 percent of silent and greatest generation members who do.

“When millennials think of religion, they think of their parents,” Jason Slack, a pastor for H2O Kent State, said. “They think of waking up early to dress up and all the things the Bible tells you not to do.”

However, membership is not a problem at H2O Church, a Christian organization largely marketed toward college students. In fact, it’s growing, Slack said, and most students come to the organization to make friends and develop a community.

Spirituality is not completely lost among millennials. 76 percent of younger Americans feel a strong sense of gratitude or thankfulness weekly.

Activities like practicing self-care, going on long walks and journaling are now considered a millennial “religion.”

“Students want to think of their God in terms of a relationship, and less of a judge who tells you what you can and cannot do,” Slack said. “It’s not necessarily less interest in spirituality, but less interest in religion.”

It’s a shift Basich believes is good for millennials.

“When people hear the word ‘religion,’ they associate it with the doing of good deeds, following rules well, basically a big to-do list,” she said. “But, when people hear the word ‘spirituality,’ they think more of a connection. That’s what is important.”

As for making religion more attractive, even former church-goer Ball doesn’t know the answer.

“I’m not sure, really,” Ball said.”Making it less like church, essentially, (and) more like a youth group. That’s what students want.”

Rachel Duthie is the student life reporter, contact her at [email protected].