College students struggle with religious affiliation

In the last 30 years, an increasing number of young adults who grew up in Christian homes and enrolled in college have disengaged with their childhood faith and no longer identify as Christians.

College is a time of growth and learning for many young adults. Often, students’ perspectives change as they hear from peers who are different from themselves and from professors who have had vast life experiences. College education strives to create a society that is built upon the pursuit of knowledge and an understanding of a world outside of a person’s hometown.

However, studies show that many young adults who grew up in Christian homes no longer identify with their childhood religions. College students who check the “no religious affiliation” box on surveys has tripled in the last 30 years. According to research done by Scientific American, the percentage rose from 10 percent in 1986 to 31 percent in 2016.

Anna Carlson, sophomore biology major, says that she thinks many young adults leave the church after feeling pressure to conform to the conservative culture of many American churches, leaving the youth feeling guilty when they adopt patterns of the cultures they live in. Carlson gave tattoos as an example.

“Many churches look down upon many trends, such as tattoos, that are popular among young adults which makes people feel unwelcome at church,” Carlson said. “Church should be a place where the broken and unsure can come and learn more about God and feel loved and encouraged, but many people feel like they need to be this perfect Christian before they can even just step into a church.”

The Southern Baptist Convention evaluated how many high school students who participated in youth group continue to attend church into their college years. The resulting data showed that 70 percent of these young adults no longer go to a church frequently after two years at a university.

Anna Noden, sophomore English education major, said that she still goes to church every Sunday, but this is mostly out of habit. She comments that many students at John Brown University frequent churches because of the influence of their peers and professors. Noden says that she is not surprised that many people leave church during college.

“I think young people may feel like church is not relevant to their lives, to their struggles. When pastors speak in general terms about loving God and others, but not about the agony of depression, or the pain of divorce, or the injustice of racial discrimination, or the torrential doubt that plagues some people, young people tune out,” Noden says.

Many college students are being educated about social issues around the world and then become frustrated at the minimal action of the church in these areas. Many churches focus on traditional values, while ignoring the difficult conversations in society’s dialogue.

“The church has neglected to constructively discuss the relevant issues in which academia is interested…. If students were able to discuss these issues in the church, they would not see them as threatening to their faith,” Noden said. “The church should encourage young people to pursue knowledge and truth, in all areas of study, because if they truly believe God is real, knowledge is not threatening, but enlightening.”