A Publication of WTVP

MIA in the pews

by Katie Faley | Illustration by Missy Shepler |
20-something Oct 23 hi-res glow

Young people don’t have the same sense of belonging as their folks, and it’s most evident at church

When my parents were in their 20s, if it wasn’t a bowling league night, it was their fraternal organization meeting night. And if it wasn’t a fish fry at their church, it was their card club night.

Things are different now. As young people, we don’t belong to things the way our parents did.

While technology has helped us connect in a lot of ways, religion just isn’t one of the things that can be replicated online.

Sure, you can watch worship online, connect with people of the same religion, get email newsletters from religious groups and follow faith influencers on social media. But one of the main points of many religions is to find meaning and communion, not something the internet is known for.

Life as a religious anomaly

I realize I have a sort of unique perspective as a 20-something because I do consider myself religious.

I’m a practicing Roman Catholic. I was born and raised Catholic. I went to Catholic school for kindergarten through 12th grade. The friends I made — and still have today — are also Catholic.

‘young people aged 18-39 are 17% less likely to be affiliated with a religion than people 40 and older’ — Pew Research study

Even though I was raised Catholic, I choose each day as an adult to remain in the faith of my childhood. I have studied the Catholic faith, even going so far as to get a master’s degree in it. I can confidently say that I am not blindly following what I have always known because it’s comfortable. I think critically, continue to study the history of my faith and others, and I make an informed decision on the religion that I choose to practice.

But I have also been at many Masses where I’m the only one under the age of 70. I know this isn’t just a Catholic thing. Young people just aren’t as religiously affiliated as they used to be. According to a Pew Research study, young people aged 18-39 are 17% less likely to be affiliated with a religion than people 40 and older.

Where did the 20-somethings go?

Of the 20-somethings I’ve talked to, there are some dominant reasons why they choose to not participate in religion.

It’s boring. Within just the last two decades, there have been so many industrial and technological advancements that our tolerance and appreciation for tradition and ritual have greatly diminished. So, when something like a religious service looks and feels like an hour (or more) of sitting, standing and repeating the same words over and over again, it can feel boring.

We’re used to things being exciting, vibrant, loud and constantly changing. Church just isn’t “cool,” according to many young people. And even when church tries to be cool, it can come off as fake and hollow, the opposite of what religion is supposed to be.

Institutions are seen as bad. For many young people, church is merely an institution, much like school and the government. They see the church as a place where there are certain requirements and big expenses.

They’ve been hurt by religion. When we’ve been hurt by something or someone, we often tend to distance ourselves from them. There’s no excuse for people within any religious institution to hurt others. But luckily, I believe we’re at a moment in history where we’re demanding more transparency and change so that people can’t use religion to hurt others.

They feel less inclined to belong to a religious group and more inclined to individual spirituality. Being spiritual is more important for young people than being a part of a particular belief group. There’s been a societal shift toward individualism. These days, it’s all about having the most unique qualifications, discovering what makes you different and connecting with as many people as possible. For former generations, there was more of a focus on finding how you fit in, attaining the qualifications that were expected of you, and staying involved in the local neighborhood.

There are certain aspects of religion that can adapt to the times. But there are still certain things that cannot be changed to fit our society’s current narrative. The thing about religion is that it’s supposed to be so meaningful that it transcends society. And I think we’re learning that technology and industry can’t give us the kind of meaning and belonging that fulfill us.


Psychologically speaking, a sense of belonging is a basic human need. A study published by the National Library of Medicine described belonging as “the subjective feeling of deep connection with social groups, physical places, and individual and collective experiences.” Religion was that outlet of belonging for so many generations.

Unsurprisingly, my generation has a low sense of belonging compared to previous generations. Studies have shown that young people who have not achieved a healthy attachment have lower self-esteem and a more negative worldview.

Is religion the answer? The answer is a very personal one. But I do know people need hope. We need goodness. We need peace. And we need to belong.

What I’ve found in being part of a religion is that it’s like being a part of a family. As long as you’ve got a good one, it’s the best thing in the world. It’s sometimes a little messy and weird, but the family traditions are meaningful and there’s always someone there to support you. And while you might not always get along, there’s always love.

Katie Faley

Katie Faley

is a Peoria native — Notre Dame High, Class of 2013 — who moved away following college, earned a master’s degree in theology from the University of Notre Dame, and returned with a fuller appreciation of her hometown. She works at OSF HealthCare