“When you love something so much, you talk about it. You can’t contain it. If you find something that you think is the greatest thing in the world, what teenager is quiet? There are none.” When I encountered that quote, my outlook on youth ministry changed. It was the day I realized that something was missing in our parishes. It was why, despite hundreds of thousands of Catholic teenagers attending youth groups, camps, and conferences every year, young people were still leaving the Church, some as young as ten years old.[i]
As those of us in the pews are getting older, more teenagers are becoming disaffiliated from religion. But this doesn’t mean that they aren’t religious or spiritual. Springtide Research Institute has interviewed and listened to teenagers (“Gen Z”) for several years. They are quick to point out that while many teenagers are no longer choosing to affiliate with a particular religion, teens are still very religious and spiritual. Furthermore, affiliation or disaffiliation doesn’t tell the whole story. Of “affiliated” Catholic teenagers, 49 percent say they have “little or no trust in organized religion.”[ii]
Almost half. That means that out of all those teenagers going to youth groups, sitting in religious education classes, and spending a week at camp—the ones who identify as Catholic—almost half of them don’t really trust the Church. It makes sense, then, why they choose to leave as time goes on. Why would you stay within an institution you don’t trust, especially one that is increasingly countercultural?
There is also a cost to being religious; we forgo certain things, do other things, and identify who we are through outward signs and behaviors. As secular culture becomes more antagonistic to religion, it forces teenagers who were raised Catholic but are perhaps lukewarm in their faith to make a decision: all in or all out. It is too costly to be a marginal Catholic; why deal with the persecution when you haven’t really bought into the faith in the first place?