Only a quarter of younger adults — known as Millennials — attend some form of religious service on a weekly basis, according to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, while just four in 10 believe religion is important in their lives.
By comparison, more than half of older adults — defined in the report as anyone born before 1981 — attend weekly religious services, and 64 percent find religion to be important.
Pew based its report on a recent survey of 35,000 adults of all ages, with about 77 percent of respondents identifying with some religious faith.
The report also compared the new data to a similar survey of U.S. religious practices Pew conducted eight years ago.
"The oldest Millennials, now in their late 20s and early 30s, are generally less observant than they were seven years ago," according to the authors of the report, which is available at www.pewforum.org/files/2015/11/201.11.03_RLS_II_full_report.pdf. "If these trends continue, American society is likely to grow less religious even if those who are adults today maintain their current levels of religious commitment."
The decline in traditional religious beliefs and practices coincides with changes in the religious composition of the U.S. public, according to the report. A growing share of Americans have no religious affiliation, including some who identify as atheists or agnostics, as well as many who describe their religion as "nothing in particular." This group of religiously unaffiliated Americans — whom the report refers to as the "Nones" — now account for 23 percent of the adult population, a 16 percent increase since 2007.
Adriana Hoppe, a mother of two young adults and owner of a translation business, said these trends cause her to worry about the nation.
"If the young generations grow up without God, they will have no hope, no happiness. They will be so empty," she said. "This would be so sad."
For Mauricio Riveros, chief innovation officer for The Pike Co., faith has been the most important factor not only in his personal, but in his professional development as well.
"How a person exercises our faith in our professional lives I believe is a personal decision," he said. "The best personal experience I have is in being able to share caring and enthusiasm for the people with whom I work, and developing these interpersonal relationships demonstrates the love of God in my own life."
Additionally, all types of successful entrepreneurship are based on working as a team in harmony, respect and confidence, Riveros added.
"Without a doubt, these are characteristics of a person of faith, because what we believe ties in directly with what we do," he added.
The influence of faith on how a person conducts business was studied in a 2010 report coauthored by sociologists D. Michael Lindsay and Bradley C. Smith from Rice and Princeton universities, respectively. Based on interviews with 360 American business leaders who were evangelical Christians, the authors determined that their subjects’ faith had an impact on the business decisions they made.
"Contrary to those who argue that religion serves a more therapeutic than directive role in the workplace, it (the research) shows that religious orthodoxy shapes work behaviors, orientations, and decision-making," stated the study, which is available at http://jaar.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2010/08/13/jaarel.lfq034.
Evangelical Christians comprise 26 percent of practicing U.S. Christians, and Catholics represent 23.9 percent, according to the Pew report. The business leaders interviewed by the Rice-Princeton researchers represented such national corporations as Pepsi, Mac Tools, Walmart International and the Arizona Cardinals.
Whatever faith one practices, instilling how that faith plays an important role in all dimensions of a person’s life — including business decisions — is the job of parents and begins at home, Hoppe added. She said she has shared her faith with her daughters, and together they have seen that faith has sustained them in happy times as well as in such difficult times as the loss of their grandparents.
"If we don’t go to Mass or if our kids don’t see us pray, they don’t learn to have faith," Hoppe said. "As a person of faith, I don’t think it is hard to uphold my beliefs in the business world. If you have a strong base in your beliefs, no one can take it away."
Yet the picture painted by statistics in the Pew report is likely different than the situation in the northeastern United States, as well as in states with large Latino populations that have remained largely Catholic, as is the case in Rochester, noted Bernard Grizard, director of Parish and Clergy Services for the Diocese of Rochester.
"It’s too hard to lump (everyone) together," he said. "Even with data, there are trends and numbers, but our (local) reality is different."
Another trend indirectly reflected in the Pew report’s findings is that people may not be joining parishes because of the mobility of families in this country, Grizard noted.
"It’s hard to attach yourself to a community if you’re moving every other year to a new place," he said.
The Pew data does point out an interesting societal phenomenon taking shape, however, as a growing number of people are calling themselves "spiritual" as opposed to adherents of any one religious denomination, Grizard said. About six in 10 adults say they regularly feel a deep sense of "spiritual peace and well-being," which is a 7-percent increase from 2007, the report found.
"I do see that through our parishes, through our different communities and different generations we work with as a whole. There is a definite spiritual thirst, a search, a hunger for spirituality more than belonging to a specific religious group, Catholics, among others," Grizard explained.
Grizard said he hears similar discussions taking place at gatherings with interfaith groups.
"There is an interest and thirst in experiencing the sacred within a multifaith setting … more interest now than 20 years ago," he said.
Yet this interest in spirituality, however, presents a dual-edged sword because it is focused on benefitting the individual vs. the good of the community, Grizard said.
"The growing importance of meeting the need of the individual — not so much valuing the community experience and the community role in society — that can also feed into these numbers and statistics," Grizard said.
Media in all its forms, but specifically social media, also contribute to this focus on the self and contributes to the "nones" phenomena. Grizard noted
"It is up to churches to raise awareness of these different vehicles and use them appropriately to develop a faith response, he said. "Our faith calls us to understand God’s presence in our midst. … ensure our Catholic values, our religious values are maintained and reaffirmed."
The report discussed another aspect of increasing secularization — the potential to lose one’s moral anchor in making decisions that affect not only oneself but one’s family, friends or business. Growing up without a faith foundation, Grizard noted, could lead a person to moral extremism where every situation is black or white, or becoming a relativist, for whom morality is fluid and exists in relation to other contexts.
"The Catholic Church always engages us, and especially leaders of communities, … to make the right moral decisions with whatever decision you are making," he added.
People of faith need to engage the growing number of "Nones" in dialogue about the "meaning of life," for which human beings have searched since the beginning of time, Grizard added.
Grizard also noted that the stability of people of faith demonstrated in the study offers hope for the future. Among the roughly three-quarters of U.S. adults who do claim a religion, the report found there was no discernible drop in most measures of religious commitment and that religiously affiliated Americans are, on average, even more devout than they were a few years ago.
"There is a religious soul in this country," he remarked.