In Europe, Young Adults Really Are Losing Their Religion

By Curtis Rittenour
Posted March 26, 2018

Roughly 70 percent of the United Kingdom’s young adults (ages 16 to 29) say they are not affiliated with any religion, according to a recent survey from St. Mary’s University in the Twickenham suburb of London.

In the Czech Republic, that number soars to 91 percent, according to the same survey, spearheaded by Stephen Bullivant, a professor of theology and the sociology of religion at the school. In Estonia, the percentage of non-affiliated is at 80 percent; in Sweden, 75 percent of young adults claim no affiliation; and 72 percent of young Dutch adults say they have no faith identity.

It seems the old R.E.M. pop song “Losing My Religion” is no longer just the stuff of music nostalgia. It’s happening all across Europe—almost.

“Despite widely reported religious decline in Ireland, 54 [percent] of young adults there identify as Catholics,” the school reported. “A quarter of young Irish Catholics attend Mass weekly, and over 40 [percent] say they pray weekly. These rates are among the highest in Europe.”

While praising the Irish statistics, Bullivant noted the contrast across the continent: “The differences in the religiousness—or, as dominates in many countries, non-religiousness—of 16- to 29-year-olds in our sample of European countries is genuinely remarkable. There are, moreover, some genuine surprises in the data,” he said. “Countries that had, until quite recently, traditionally strong religious cultures—Lithuania, Belgium, [the] Netherlands, [and] Austria—look to be in serious trouble, in terms of the coming generations.”

The Guardian newspaper, which covers American and international news for global online audiences, introduced the results with a blunt sentence noting the survey “starkly” illustrates “Europe’s march towards a post-Christian society.” It also notes that the seven percent of young British adults who claim affiliation with the Anglican Church risk being “overtaken” by young British Muslims, who comprise six percent of that age group.

The paper quoted a somber statement from Bullivant: “Christianity as a default, as a norm, is gone, and probably gone for good—or at least for the next 100 years,” he said.

This decline in faith is stunning for a continent where Christianity first spread, going back to Paul’s missionary journeys and continuing through the Protestant Reformation. Germany, where Martin Luther’s disputations ignited the Reformation five hundred years ago, is in the middle of the pack concerning its young-adult population’s faithfulness: 47 percent claim the Christian faith, while 45 percent say they have no affiliation.

Such numbers are stunning given the roots of faith in each of these nations. Clearly, the last hundred years of global conflict, disillusionment, and modernist teachings have done much to push young people away from faith—especially since, as Bullivant told The Guardian, modern European parents are, by and large, not transmitting their faith to their children.

In Luke 18:8, Jesus asks, “When the Son of man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” It seems like a good question to raise now, given the lack of faith found in the young adults—arguably the future leaders of Europe.

It will be interesting to follow these 16- to 29-year-olds as they move through their adult years and see how many discover faith. Click here for Pastor Doug Batchelor's article “Finding the Missing Peace,” which explains why people are unhappy without knowing God and how a relationship with Jesus can meet their spiritual needs.

Written by Mark A. Kellner

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