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Affiliative Faith

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A recent Pew Forum Report found that fewer than twenty percent of 18 to 29 year olds (Millennial Generation) are attending religious services regularly. Additionally, a full quarter of today’s young adults have no religious affiliation. That’s the lowest number of any American generation (both now and when they were the same age). We might conclude that the Millennial Generation is the least religious generation in America today.

But, there’s some irony to the story. Although they tend to spurn church services and denominational affiliation, they share similar religious beliefs as older generations did when they were the same age. For instance, their belief in God, prayer, and the afterlife are quite similar to their elders when they were young.

So, if Millennials share many similar religious beliefs with their church-attending elders, why are they shunning church affiliation and attendance as young adults?

I believe we’ve failed to make any real, meaningful, and deep connections with young adults when they were younger. As parish communities, we rarely foster an “affiliative” faith experience.

As children grow into young adults they begin to search and question whether the borrowed faith of their parents and church will be adopted as their own. Without a strong parish affiliation they are untethered. Affiliative faith is the faith of belonging. When a parish intentionally builds a vibrant faith community, where teens feel like they belong and are meaningfully connected, the better chance they will function in later life with the faith and values of that community.

Affiliative faith is the faith of the heart. Strong emotional connections are made when one experiences the presence of Jesus in the liturgies, religious education gatherings, and in strong relational bonds with people of faith. When young people begin to question and wrestle with making this faith their own, they draw back upon this positive and compelling experience. Their experience must be real and meaningful—giving them something significant to come back to or they won’t come back.

The growth of affiliative faith begins by making connections with families at their beginning stages, for instance during marriage preparation or baptism. We not only need to make a connection from families to pastoral leaders, but from families to families. We need to transition from church as Sunday event to church as living community.

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[…] As for the church, we need to recognize that Affiliative faith is the dominant style of faith for most teens. Affiliative faith is the faith of belonging. When a parish intentionally builds a vibrant faith community, where teens feel like they belong and are meaningfully connected, the better chance they will function in life with the faith and values of that community. As important as faith content is to developing committed Catholics, it can be done in vain if it is not accompanied within a real and meaningful experience of Christian community. (For more on Affiliative faith) […]