A recent study concludes children whose parents divorce when they are young are less likely to be religious later in life.
According to the study, two-thirds of young adults who grew up in a home with married parents are more religious than young adults who grew up in families with divorced parents.
In an op-ed in The Washington Post, study authors Elizabeth Marquardt and two fellows from the Center for Faith and Marriage say churches should work harder to address divorce and childbearing outside of wedlock.
“Churches have not done enough to confront the impact of family breakdown on the spiritual lives of young people," the researchers wrote. "We urge faith leaders to renew family ministries with an eye to all that we are learning about the religious lives of children of divorce."
Drawing a connection between high numbers of divorce and the future of the church, they warned: “How these younger generations approach questions of spiritual meaning and religious involvement will influence broader trends in the churches for years to come.”
The study echoes a general trend in church attendance overall. According to a Pew Research Study, more young people today consider themselves spiritual but not religious or as “noners”—those who have no religious affiliation. According to Pew, one third of U.S. adults under the age of 30 are noners.
Marquardt’s study urged churches to incorporate more social sciences and story-based liturgy in their services. Doing so will make churches seem more authentic, they wrote: “In other words, if we are real, they will come.”
But Greg Brown who pastors Western Heights Baptist Church in LaGrange, Ga., insists church attendance should not be the priority.
"Is ‘showing them that the church has something to offer’ the proper nomenclature here?," he wrote in an email to me. "Jargon like this is another painful reminder that the modern church has still not grasped the mission of going, serving, giving, loving for no other good that that single good alone."
Brown said his church has several "going out" ministries, including a marriage counseling service, crisis pregnancy support center, and a sports outreach program that helps young, fatherless athletes get recruited. Last year, his church sponsored 150 children to attend its WinShape for Communities Camp. "Few of those children come to church," he said. "But we share the gospel in this way...we have enriched these kids with social capital."