Sociology, Department of


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Copyright © 2005 by the National Study of Youth and Religion, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


This report examines the religious beliefs and practices of American Protestant teenagers using new, nationally representative survey data from the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR). The NSYR is a major study of the religious and spiritual lives of contemporary American teens, which recently produced a book on its major findings entitled, Soul Searching: the Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (by Christian Smith with Melinda Lundquist Denton, Oxford University Press, 2005). In addition to broadly describing the religious outlook of Protestant teenagers today — and as a more detailed, descriptive follow-up to that book — this report highlights several positive and negative experiences and evaluations of teenagers in different Protestant denominations and groupings of denominations. In brief, this report presents the following findings in these areas of interest:

♦ Religious Participation: Protestant teenagers are relatively active in religious organizations and activities, both within and beyond their churches. About one-half of all Protestant teens attend church weekly, participate in Sunday school or in a religious youth group, pray and attend a religious summer camp or retreat, though less than one-third read the Bible each week. This also means, however, that substantial numbers of Protestant teens are not actively participating in their religious traditions. Teens from conservative denominations such as Southern Baptist Convention and Assemblies of God are especially likely to regularly attend church and participate in other religious activities.

♦ Theological Beliefs: Protestant teenagers are likely to hold many traditional Christian religious beliefs. The majority of Protestant teens say they believe in God, the afterlife, angels, demons, miracles, judgment day and they view God as a personal being involved in the lives of people today. Sizable numbers of Protestant teens, on the other hand, do not hold these traditional Christian religious beliefs. Teens from conservative and black Protestant denominations are more likely than mainline Protestant teens to hold these religious beliefs.

♦ Importance of Faith: The majority of Protestant teenagers report that their religious faith is very important in their lives. Most of them also say that their families talk about religion together, that they have shared their faith with someone not of their faith and that they have had a powerful worship experience. A large minority of all Protestant teenagers, and in the case of some denominations a majority of teenagers, do not report that religious faith is very important in their lives. Teens from conservative and black Protestant denominations are particularly likely to report that faith is important in their lives.

♦ Evaluations of Churches: The majority of Protestant teenagers express relatively positive views of their churches and fellow church members. They typically report that they would continue to attend church if it were totally up to them, that they would attend a similar church if given the choice and that their current church is generally warm and welcoming. Protestant adolescents, however, do have some reservations about and problems with their churches and fellow church attendees, as spelled out in the following pages, particularly with other teenage attendees.

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