Monday, December 22, 2014

Where Are They Going?

In a previous post, I addressed the issue of how many youth the Church is losing using data from the National Survey of Youth and Religion (NSYR). The NSYR provides data on how many we keep but also what happens to those we lose.

I will present the data in chart form. The first column (A) is the percentage of LDS who change to that religion in their high school years (from Christian Smith et al., Soul Searching, 36). The second column (B) is the percentage of those who were LDS in high school who changed religion as young adults (from Christian Smith et al., Souls in Transition, 109). The third column (C) is the calculated percentage of those who were raised LDS and then changed by the time that they finished being college aged.

                                            A       B      C
LDS                                    86%  72%  62%
No Religion                       13    17      28
Conservative Protestant  1       3        4
Mainline Protestant          0       4        3
Black Protestant               0        3       3
Indeterminate                    0       1        1
Roman Catholic                0       0        0
Jewish                                0       0        0
Other Religions                 0       0        0

(Note that because of rounding errors the percentages in the last column add to 101%.)

One way of visualizing this data is to think of the deacon's quorum and Beehive class in a ward that comprises 25 youth. By the time that they have graduated from college we would expect that 15 would still be LDS, 1 would be, say, a Southern Baptist, 1 would be an Episcopalian, 1 would be a United Baptist, and 7 will have no religion.

The big threat to the youth in the Church is not Evangelicals but secularists. They account for more than twice as many losses as those to all other religions combined. We lose more youth to secularism during the college years (and the statistics include those who do not go to college) than we do in the high school years. Signs of secularization during the time when youth are attending the university should be of particular concern to church leaders.

Latter-day Saints are not the only religion losing youth to the secularists and so it is worth putting our statistics in context. Here are the calculated statistics (column C) for the Church compared to other religions:

Percentage of youth lost to secularism:
Indeterminate 53%
Other Religions 52%
Jewish 46%
Mainline Protestant 33%
Roman Catholic 29%
LDS 28%
Black Protestant 26%
Conservative Protestant 23%

So various denominations tend to lose a quarter, a third, or half of their youth to secularism. We are closer to losing a quarter but are on the high end of that.

These statistics need to be considered with those of my previous discussion about the comparative loss of youth generally. We lose more than twice as many to secularism as to all other religions combined. Sectarian losses are a lesser concern. While we do not want to be in the position of saying "not one soul will be lost" because we remember who made that boast, any individual loss will be keenly felt especially by those closest to the individual lost. Still, we need to realize whence the greater threat is coming. We also need to arm our youth against that threat.