In Church circles these days, a great deal of energy is expended in trying to understand and reach out to younger people whose religious affiliation and participation has dropped markedly in comparison to previous generations.
Now, a new study suggests that older Americans are increasingly willing to make significant changes in their religious lives, with nearly a third changing their religious affiliation.
69 % of older adults changed some element of their response regarding religious affiliation during the course of the study, but once responses were classified more broadly by religious tradition, the proportion changing was 27 %. There were also significant changes between Protestant denominations, and between specific organizations within Protestant denominations.
The study suggests that older adults in mainline denominations (like the Episcopal Church) were more likely to make changes than Roman Catholics or members of traditionally African-American churches. The study also suggested that conservative Protestants were also more likely to change.
The study raises issues about the well-being of older Americans, as religious participation has been shown to be a significant contributor to their health and well-being.
In addition to their significance for societal change, these changes in religious organizational affiliation may also have important implications for individual well being by disrupting social support networks on one hand and by providing a better fit between individuals and group values on the other. Older adults are likely to especially susceptible to these impacts of religious change, because religious groups are thought to be especially salient sources of well being later in life.
The Anglican tradition has long sought to hold together a diversity of beliefs and practices, but this study suggests that many individuals are realigning their religious affiliation to be with people who are more like themselves, which may particularly affect the Episcopal Church.
Aside from asking how will this increasing religious mobility among older members and the reluctance of younger people to commit affect the church and what will our response be, a key question for Episcopalians should be; why are we more susceptible than others? Is there something inherent to our way of christian life that lowers commitment?