Survey: Black Millennials Skip Church as Early Adults More Than Whites - Word&Way

Survey: Black Millennials Skip Church as Early Adults More Than Whites

man praying
man praying

A young man prays during a 16th Street Baptist Church service on Dec. 10, 2017, in Birmingham, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

(RNS) — African-American young adults are more likely than their white counterparts to drop out of Protestant churches during their early adult years, new research shows.

Current church attendance graph

Current church attendance among all young adults who attended a Protestant church regularly 1+ years in high school. Graphic courtesy of LifeWay Research

But equal percentages of black and white young adults say they currently attend services regularly.

A new analysis of survey data released last week (March 13) by LifeWay Research of Nashville, Tenn., found that nearly three-quarters of black young adults said they stopped attending church regularly for at least a year between the ages of 18 and 22. By comparison, 65 percent of white young adults said they halted regular attendance during that period.

But 44 percent of white and black young adults who attended church regularly for more than a year in high school said they currently attended church at least twice a month. A quarter of white young adults said they did not currently attend church, compared to 19 percent of African-American young adults.

Reasons church dropouts graph

Reasons church dropouts say they stopped attending church. Graphic courtesy of LifeWay Research

The survey, which was conducted in 2017, sampled the views of U.S. Protestant adults between the ages of 23 and 30.

Despite the early-adult dropoff in attendance, a black church expert at LifeWay Christian Resources said many African-American students continue to feel they have a connection to a church they previously attended.

Mark Croston

Mark Croston. Photo courtesy of LifeWay Christian Resources

“Very often in African-American culture, we’re really, really tied to what we would call our home church, the church you grew up in,” said Mark Croston, a former pastor who works for the publishing division of the Southern Baptist Convention. “And so for many of our students, as they would move away to college, they would in their minds still be holding onto their relationship with their church back where they grew up.”

Croston said the survey shows that churches that do not have an active young adult ministry should consider having one.

The father of two adult children who are millennials said both expressed how important finding a congregation with a young adult ministry was to them as they looked for a new church after moving away from home. His daughter, he said, gave up on one congregation because it no longer offered a vibrant group that focused on young people.

“These are her words: ‘They don’t have anything there for me anymore,’” he recalled.

Current Spiritual Practices. Graphic courtesy of LifeWay Research

For both black and white young adults, college attendance or a move far from the church they had been attending were key factors in their halt in regular churchgoing. Among other reasons were disagreements with a church’s stance on social or political issues — which was cited by 28 percent of white young adults and 18 percent of black young adults.

The analysis focused on the race of the individuals surveyed and not the racial makeup of the congregations they may have attended.

It found that 72 percent of African-American young adults said they spend regular time in private prayer, compared to 58 percent of white young adults. Forty-seven percent of black young adults said they regularly read the Bible privately, compared to 33 percent of white young adults.

“The fact that they were still engaged in the disciplines of the faith, prayer and Bible reading, really says that something is really still going on in their lives,” said Croston.

The survey was sponsored by LifeWay Students, the arm of LifeWay Christian Resources focused on student ministry, and included only those who had attended a Protestant church twice a month or more for at least a year during high school.

The new analysis was based on a sample of 2,002 online interviews. The overall margin of error was plus or minus 2.4 percentage points.

Did you stop attending graph

“Did you stop attending church regularly (twice a month or more) for at least a year between the ages of 18 and 22?” Graphic courtesy of LifeWay Research

Written by

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.