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.