“What is the purpose of life?”

A 2015 survey, held by the Angus Reid Institute, found the generation most preoccupied with this question is Millennials. Millennials also took the lead on concerns such as “What happens after death?” and “How Can I Experience Happiness?” However, most millennials are not turning to organized religion for the answers.

The millennial population, born between 1981-2000, is the largest since their predecessors, the Baby Boomers, says a 2012 demographics survey by Environics Analytics. Some Millennials, like John*, a 29-year-old clandestine Christian missionary in Turkey, says that is why the generation is being scrutinized with a magnifying glass over their current state of humanity.

“Most of us are born with a certain amount of cynicism, actually, and so I would call myself fairly cynical towards most political systems, religious systems, towards whatever,” says John. “I was desperately hungry for authenticity and I would say that that was true about most of the people that we worked with,” those being youth and young adults.

MillennialMissionaryGraphicClick to read three stories of missionary millennials who are going against the tide of a generation trending away from organized religion Photo courtesy of John* and Julia*

For John, acting out his faith alongside his wife, Julia, was his answer to the cynicism he was experiencing with world systems. They have asked their names not be used owing to past incidents of aggression against Christians in Turkey.

John and his wife are not, however, the common example. In the past 10 years or so Canada’s religious well-being has been lauded as sickly and elderly at best. Statistics Canada reported that as of 2005, just 21 per cent of Canadians aged 15 (now 25) and over, showed up to religious service a minimum of once a week, falling almost 10 per cent from 1985.

MillRelig Infograp DorozioSignificant statistics to do with how millennials to (or not to) embrace religion. Produced by Jennifer Dorozio

Tom Sherwood, professor at Carleton University and retired United Church minister and senior scholar, recently wrote the book Listening to the Echo, about the generation of millennials that are rejecting religious affiliation. Sherwood coined this group the ‘missing generation’ because according to his research, you will see the least amount of representation by this demographic in church, synagogue or temple.

“Generally [for millennials] the trends are away from the traditional religious organizations of the 20th Century,” says Sherwood. “Whether it’s the Catholic, Anglican or United Church or any of the mainline churches.” He says the dropout is quite cross-cultural, including Muslims, Sikhs and Jews.

John has seen this to be true through his years in young adult ministry. “A lot of the millennials I know are becoming totally uninterested with their spirituality, with their faith in Christ, and religion in general so they’re walking away.” He describes a polarization he’s seeing where people are either zealous for religion or rejecting it and very little people who are on the fence.

Sherwood says there are ups and downs in the trend, but generally speaking, fewer young adults are attending religious services. While this reality persists, some millennials are bucking the trend of rejecting religion

Sherwood calls these young missionaries, “quite exceptional” and “really unusual” considering the current overall millennial attitude towards religion.


The editor responsible for this article is Nora Cruickshank and can be contacted at ncruickshank@cjournal.ca

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