Professor Russell Jeung Discusses Emerging Adults in Christianity and the Church

Ed Stetzer: On April 23 and 24, the Billy Graham Center Institute, in partnership with the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College, will be hosting the inaugural Wheaton Mission & Ministry Conference. Our launching theme is Emerging Adults: Formation for Mission. We will feature top researchers, scholars, and practitioners across a variety of disciplines speaking into this issue. You can learn more and register here. Below, I talk with one of our presenters: Dr. Russell Jeung, Chair and Professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University.


Ed: How would you describe the state of Christianity and the church among emerging adults—18 to 29-year-olds—today? What are their biggest questions, concerns, or motivations?

Russell: According to the Pew Research Center, over 50 percent of emerging adults identify as not religious. Three out of ten emerging adults are neither spiritual nor religious, and 22 percent are spiritual but not religious. That means that this generation is less likely to affiliate with established religious groupings than previous ones, even if they do have a sense of spirituality.

This trend towards non-religiosity and non-affiliation should be alarming to the Christian church, especially in terms of the corporate character of the faith. As Americans become hyper-individualized, it will see further declines in church participation and attendance, baptisms, member financial giving, and missions.

A key factor shaping this disaffiliation from Christianity is that emerging adults see that it has become too tied to partisan politics. Since this generation has high values for social justice, diversity, and environmental sustainability, they are looking for movements and groups that support these concerns in concrete ways.

Another trend affecting this group is technology and social media. Because they have more options than before that cater to their individual tastes and interests, they become more consumer-driven in how they spend their time. Churches must adapt and respond to this shift in order to draw in non-Christians and to serve their emerging adult membership.

Ed: In the upcoming book you did with Seanan Fong and Helen Jin Kim, Family Sacrifices, you address the complicated relationship between Chinese Americans and the growing category of religious “nones” in America. Talk a little about this research specifically as it relates to emerging adults and what you think are the most pressing issues.

Russell: Instead of focusing on the lack of affiliation and participation of religious nones among emerging adults, we need to identify the presence of enduring values that they continue to hold—what gives them ultimate meaning and a deep sense of belonging?

Surprisingly, we found that among our emerging adult sample that “being a good parent” was their highest goal in life, even when our respondents didn’t yet have their own children. Chinese Americans further elaborated that family sacrifice was the key narrative that made sense of their lives—from understanding their past, living in the present, and hoping for their future.

Thus, religious nones may not have clear belief systems about the truth or coherent worldviews, but they do hold to values and relationships that give them ultimate meaning. The Church needs to connect with these values and relationships and support them.

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Source: Christianity Today