The following is excerpted from the Institute of Family Studies. To read the full report, CLICK HERE.

Religiosity in America has been in steady decline for several decades. However, in recent years, the pace at which Americans are leaving church behind has dramatically accelerated, as documented in the new book, The Great Dechurchingby evangelical pastors Jim Davis and Michael Graham, and sociologist of religion Ryan Burge. The book is based on a unique set of surveys describing and categorizing the various groups that have left American churches in the last few decades. The causes of this wave of dechurching are much debated, but The Great Dechurching devotes the vast majority of its attention to the experiences of adults, or most individuals transitioning into adulthood. In almost every single vignette in the book, people who lost their faith lost it as adults. Although one chapter near the end discusses parenting and childhood, it mostly does so in the context of describing what happens when children leave home. To read The Great Dechurching, one might suppose that Christianity is declining in America because adults, after considering a range of different concerns, decided church just wasn’t for them.

But by basing their book on retrospective surveys of adults, Davis, Graham, and Burge overlook one essential descriptive fact about religion in America: most of the decline in religion is actually among children, and virtually all of it among people under age 22. Secularization, or what they call “dechurching,” is happening among children and then trickling upwards into the general population as those children age. This essential fact suggests that any story of secularization in America has to begin with home life: what changed for children born in the 1980s and 1990s that they never fully absorbed religious belief as children?

Religious Belief Among Children in the Long Run

Surveys of children are rare. But at least two large cross-sectional surveys of children have asked about religion: the Monitoring the Future survey series since the 1970s, and a 2019 Pew survey of adolescents. Looking at Monitoring the Future’s long running question about how important religion is to teens shows two things: first, that kids tend to downrate how important religion is to them throughout high school and, second, that children have grown a lot less religious in recent decades (see Figure 1).1

In every year since 1991, 12th graders were more likely to say religion was “not at all important” than 8th graders. Before 2010, 10th graders were very similar to 8th graders; but now, 10th graders are more similar to 12th graders. Lining up the data by birth cohorts instead of survey years, about 5-9% of kids shift into saying religion is “not at all important” to them between 8th and 10th grades. But even more striking, in 2021, almost a quarter of 8th graders said religion was of no importance to them.

To read the full report, CLICK HERE.