When Sonni Iron Horse was growing up, she went to church almost every Sunday with her family. Now a 23-year-old parent herself, Iron Horse admits that she rarely attends church on Sundays.

“It’s not always about going to church,” she said. “I still consider myself a spiritual person. I still believe in a higher power.”

Iron Horse said she considers herself a nondenominational/Pentecostal. She said her lack of attending church is partially because she just hasn’t found the right church in Rapid City since she moved from Scottsbluff, Neb., about a year and a half ago.

With a new baby keeping her up at night, she admits one of the biggest obstacles for her is that most church services are Sunday mornings, “I’m just not a morning person,” she said.

But raising her child with religious views is important to her, she said. “Now that I have a baby, I will probably start looking again.”

Like Iron Horse, most young adults today don’t pray, don’t worship and don’t read the Bible, a major study by a Christian research firm shows.

If the trends continue, “the Millennial Generation will see churches closing as quickly as GM dealerships,” said Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources. It surveyed 1,200 members of the 18- to 29-year-old Millennial Generation and found 72 percent say they’re “really more spiritual than religious.”

Sixty-five percent rarely or never attend worship services.

Among the 65 percent who call themselves Christian, “many are either mushy Christians or Christians in name only,” Rainer said. “Most are just indifferent. The more precisely you try to measure their Christianity, the fewer you find committed to the faith and able to demonstrate it in their lives.”

Shannon Hull, 27, of Rapid City said that she also grew up going to church every Sunday morning with her family. Sundays were days of church, a nice lunch and family activities at her home. The days of relaxing Sundays are long gone, she said.

“There are so many different things that are going on that I have a hard time fitting in church.”

“Our weekly schedule is just packed; sometimes, I’m grocery shopping at 10 at night just to squeeze in the time,” Hull said. “When Sunday rolls around, if we’re not off at a function, then we’re recuperating from Saturday’s activities. We’ve got things that have to get done at the house, and sometimes, Sunday seems like the only time to do them.”

She said although she considers herself spiritual, she isn’t necessarily religious. She doesn’t identify with any specific religious denomination.

“I don’t think I know enough to classify myself as one specific thing,” she said. “I just try to live my life well. I try to do the right thing, not harbor hatred and to be compassionate to those who need it. I don’t need a church to help me do those things.”

The report’s findings, which document a steady drift away from church life, dovetail with a LifeWay survey of teenagers in 2007 who drop out of church and a study in February by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, which compared the beliefs of Millennials with those of earlier generations of young people.

The 2007 LifeWay study found seven in 10 Protestants ages 18 to 30, both evangelical and mainline, who went to church regularly in high school said they quit attending by age 23, and 34 percent of those had not returned, even sporadically, by age 30.

The priority shift among those 18 to 30 has caused local churches to re-think the traditional Sunday morning service in order to attract this demographic. First Christian Church children’s minister Scott Hultgren said his church has noticed the decline in attendance by young adults.

“With so much online Christian music and para-church organizations, it’s easy to get your spiritual feeding without going to church,” he said. “But Biblically, it’s important to be a part of a church body.”

To combat the trend, the church has instituted several programs geared toward young adults and new families.

First Christian Church started by adding a Millennia-aged youth minister to work with teens, college students and the young adult groups. Like many churches, they have small groups geared to young adults and fellowship. Unlike other churches, however, they have taken it one step further and have started having nontraditional services at a nontraditional time -- Saturday nights.

“The Saturday night worship is more modern, with cutting-edge praise and worship music,” Hultgren said. “It is targeting the 18- to early 30-year-olds; the young adults and young families. We’re looking to give something to the young couples to keep them active.”

The Rev. Ted Huffman of the First Congregational United Church of Christ said the patterns in church attendance have definitely shifted. “Those over 60 think being active means attending church every Sunday. Those in their 20s think going once a month is attending regularly.”

He said that getting in touch with young adults is important, and since young adults use social networking so much, the church has added that aspect to its repertoire of spiritual offerings. They have a Twitter site, and beginning this summer, they have a new staff member launch a Facebook site. 

“Any way we can reach out and touch someone, we’ll try,” Huffman said. “That community has its own value. I’m not sure if it strengthens the relationship, but it’s still worth doing.”

Huffman said although his church has added more contemporary music to its services, it probably won’t add any generation-specific services to its lineup any time soon.

“We work awfully hard to embrace diversity,” he said. “We want to be counter cultural. Our intention is not to create a service for one group, but to integrate them all.”

The Sioux Falls Argus Leader contributed to this report.

(12) comments


Among the 65 percent who call themselves Christian, “many are either mushy Christians or Christians in name only,” Rainer said. “Most are just indifferent.

Indifferent?? don't you mean tolerant Rainer?


196th, I seriously doubt anyone called you "impure" for not going to church. You just DID call churchgoers foolish tho.


It is true that religion has turned into a sex garden and a money pot and many many people see that. Me, I do not go to the church and that is my business. If you go, that is your business. Just don't tell me how impure I am for not going and I will not tell you how foolish you are for going...


Interesting article...does anyone know if this was written about local churches? I ask because we've experienced just the opposite with our church here in Rapid City?


Oldsarge said:
"The more science continues to explore deep space for what really happened, then the less need for human religion on planet Earth."
How so? Nothing observed contradicts "God created".
I would say that the more science explores living cells, the more proof there is for a creator.


i doubt this is much of a trend. 20-soemthings stop going to church, especially if they have moved from somewhere else, and start going again when they have kids, so "the kids get religion".


Oh, my goddess!

Churches are vehicles for making money tax-free, nothing more. Show me a pastor/preacher/priest/imam/shaman without a need for food or reproduction and ip will show you wealth beyond Tadasana.


The extremeism that we see in politics is very strong in church as well. Republicans can be seen as not devout enough if they are not tea partiers, but many Republicans are turned off by the tea party's overly strong attititudes. That exact situation is what has pushed many people, including us, away from church. We are good folks, hard working, kids get good grades, etc. We are believers. But, we felt pushed away by those who thought we were not devout enough--not willing to put enough effort and money into their cause. We also were turned off by being told who and how to vote for. Christians are not all the same, we have different needs and goals, but we still all believe in the same God (I hope). Many churches say they are inclusive, with a come-as-u-are invitation, but then we are expected to conform to their attitudes. Just because I am Christian does not mean that I am a pro-gun,pro-war Republican, who is anti-immigration, anti-gay, anti-minority person with only WASP beliefs. The young are rejecting this limited point of view, which is why they are rejecting many churches. I am sure there are congregations out there who are not like this, but they are hard to find, and hard to tell from the outside. We want to go to church again, but we do not want to be judged. We just want to belong.


You can find everything you need inside yourself, we come with a written program that's works just fine up until the time you have zealots selling religion. Religion is a business that functions as a syndicate, and they're taking you for a ride. Ignorance is bliss.


Jesus Christ, the man these "christian" churchs profess to follow, went to where the people were. He wasn't a paid preacher. He didn't preach a fluid ministry that changed every so often to mimic the philosophies that happened to be in voque at the time. He forcfully spoke out aganst the religious leaders who were making a mockery of their religion by using it to extort money from the flocks, (sound familiar) or preaching a rebellion against the government (sound familiar) He taught that there was one way...God's way. Everything he stood for is in complete cantradiction to the modern, warm and fuzzy, secular, PC churchs today. So why should it be any surprise they cannot hold on to members or grow their membership when as Jesus himself said about the religious leaders that they are hypocrites, and blind guides?

USDS pointer

I remember right after 9/11 reading about how church attendence had really gone up. I guess if everything is going good in ones life church/God isn't a priority or a necessity.


The more science continues to explore deep space for what really happened, then the less need for human religion on planet Earth.

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