Thinking global, living local: Voices in a globalized world

The Real Future of Religion: Millennials and Religion

Written by on .

This post was produced for the Global Economic Symposium 2013 to accompany a session on “Can Religion Help Solve Global Problems?” Read more at

In my first post leading up to the Global Economic Symposium, I discussed religious institutions and their potential to serve as gathering places around common morals, as discussion hubs for moving forward goals for a better future.

This week, I’ll write about that future.

Future isn’t made up of time; instead, the future is filled with people. And the next generation of people is quickly approaching.

Will this next generation, the so-called Millennials, carry traditional religious institutions into the future? Will Millennials shape them to be more progressive, attend services in dwindling numbers, or leave old houses of worship on the auction block? It would take huge swaths of the faithful to sustain the religious community and its buildings and practices as they exist today. Those aspects of traditional religion cannot exist independent of human involvement.

Although religious populations are growing in large parts of the world, the Western world, namely Europe and North America, are indeed seeing declining numbers of religious young folks.

These numbers matter if religion is to continue playing a large role in Western society. In America, Millennials make up the biggest generation in history, not to mention the most connected, diverse, and unpredictable.

It seems obvious to me—this next generation is going to change the Church and other religious institutions more than it has been changed in a while.

We’ll see a decline in religious motives publicly used to promote or tear apart legislation, a shift toward the theoretical and written intent that Church stay separate from matters of State.

But we’ll see the opposite as well, a move of the religious away from the less-holy governmental realm, a move to keep things secular for the purity of both sides. Thanks to the Millennial penchant for service and vague but growing search for a sense of importance, religious groups may enjoy greater emphasis on service to others as people find local groups, including the well-established service missions of religious organizations, more effective in helping others.

We’ll see greater focus on religious groups practicing what they preach—engaging in missions of social justice and fulfilling basic human needs in the ongoing moral effort to promote true, blind equality.

These institutions will be smaller, more diverse in number and locale, and hopefully, more honest with the community. Scandals like the Catholic Church’s decades of child abuse are not tolerated by religious or a-religious Millennials. For that church in particular, moving forward will require a level of openness and transparency that matches the earnestness of the ever-connected Gen Y.

But the mission will remain among religious institutions for a shared set of goals for peace and equality, including among the growing faith communities like the “nones,” a large and historical group of faith (faith not in a specific God).

Throughout history, those of faith and those without have carried the torch of these humanitarian values against the aggressions of power and greed. That part won’t change with this new age cohort. The institutions might, but they have the potential to serve as more genuine stewards of human morality if they grow with the changing society and retain their human-focused intent. Inshah’Allah.

Jamie Stark Twitter: JamieStarkJamie

Jamie Stark is an American freelancer and blogger, currently working in South and Central America. He has written on everything from the future of religion to unusual politicians to new entrepreneurism. He researches and writes about the next generation of leaders in his collaborative blog,