If you want to rile up church leaders, drag out dubious statistics about how many Christians fall away from the faith after high school. We fear for our youth, that they'll rebel against what their parents and churches taught when they leave home and the youth group.
But what if we're wrong? What if our particular fears about "emerging adulthood," the period between the ages of 18 and 29, are unfounded? The National Study of Youth and Religion provides us with a treasure trove of valuable information based on interviews with thousands of emerging American adults. Noted sociologist Christian Smith has teamed with Patricia Snell to analyze the data and publish Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults, a follow up to the groundbreaking 2005 book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers.
Emerging adults serve out of concern for the common good.
College campuses are wallpapered with fliers promoting service opportunities. Churches send their youth on local and foreign mission projects. Political analysts credit youth volunteers and voters with helping to elect President Obama in 2008.
It's mostly a mirage.
According to Smith and Snell, emerging adults are far less likely than their parents or grandparents to volunteer or contribute to charitable causes. They share no qualms about materialism and long to someday live the American dream with a large salary and large home.
"Few emerging adults are involved in community organizations or other social change-oriented groups or movements," Smith and Snell observe. "Not many care to know much of substance about political issues and world events. Few are intellectually engaged in any of the major cultural and ethical debates ...