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Church membership declines amid changing faiths, times

Survey: Generations see church membership differently
Posted at 2:54 PM, Nov 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-23 14:54:24-05

BOCA RATON, Fla. — Faith is changing, at least according to some numbers. A Gallup survey shows church membership dropped below a majority for the first time.

In 2020, 47% of U.S. adults were members of a church, synagogue or mosque. It's a statistic that now has leaders in different religions taking action.

"It's a really big issue," said Rabbi David Steinhardt, a senior rabbi at B'Nai Torah Congregation in Boca Raton.

"Among our youth, especially GenZ, there are trends of distrust in institutions," said the Rev. Daniel Daza-Jaller, a Catholic priest.

Both Daza-Jaller and Steinhardt represent different faiths, but they are in the midst of the same challenge.

Rev. Daniel Daza-Jaller says there is more distrust in religious institutions
The Rev. Daniel Daza-Jaller, a Catholic priest, says there's more distrust in religious institutions, especially among the GenZ crowd.

"There's going to be a reformation, as it were," said Steinhardt. "We're going to change the way we do religion."

"Moving people from a purely obligation-based religion of 'I go to mass because I have to go to mass' or 'I am going to hell,' whatever it may be, to moving them towards a new relationship-based faith," said Daza-Jaller.

Gallup attributed the decline in membership to an increase in lack of religious affiliation.

"Pope Benedict used to say that he thought the church was going to get smaller but stronger," said Daza-Jaller.

The survey also cites a decline in formal church membership for those who do have a religious preference.

"One has to do with the rapid societal change and how difficult it is for religion to change," said Steinhardt.

Rabbi David Steinhardt knows about decline among churchgoers
Rabbi David Steinhardt believes a reformation is coming as it relates to religion.

The survey said it aligns with age.

"The impact of technology, changes in family, changes in gender identification," said Steinhardt.

According to the survey, 66% of adults born before 1946 are members, 58% of baby boomers, 50% of GenX and 36% of millennials.

"I actually come here just about every single day," said Robin Schwartz, a member of B'Nai Torah Congregation. "It's something we grapple with all the time. It really is a dilemma because, on the one hand, I want to know that my children and my grandchildren are carrying on the joy of the traditions," she said, acknowledging times are different.

Robin Schwartz wants to know that her grandchildren are carrying on traditions of Judaism
Robin Schwartz, a member of B'Nai Torah Congregation, says she wants her grandchildren to carry on the joys of the traditions of Judaism like she did as a child.

"Our grandparents who traveled here and escaped Europe, when they came here, they brought with them their love of their family and their love of their Judaism and their traditions, so me growing up, I was able to connect with that."

Yolanda and Rogelio Ulibarri try to go to mass everyday.

"Every generation is different, but they are not better or worse," said Rogelio Ulibarri. "It's simply different."

Yolanda Ulibarri thinks COVID-19 has played a part in this.

Yolanda and Rogelio Ulibarri try to go to Catholic mass every day
Yolanda and Rogelio Ulibarri say they try to go to Catholic mass every day.

"A lot of people got complacent and watching it on TV, but it is so important and that's how you make community," said Yolanda Ulibarri.

Some younger people agree that the world is a different place.

"Are we practicing? I would say no, probably not practicing in the traditional sense," said Stephanie Hochberger.

"I just think it is a changed definition of what practicing is," said husband Eric Hochberger.

The couple said faith is evolving as families change, and their synagogue is adapting.

"I think we work more hours collectively than previous generations," said Eric Hochberger. "It's tougher to find the free time."

"We are raising our children in a Jewish household," said Stephanie Hochberger. "I think we don't feel the pressure or the stress to say prayers on a weekly basis."

"I think as long as religion is adapting to keep up with changing needs of younger families, I think they will survive," said her husband.

Stephanie and Eric Hochberger hold hands with daughter as they leave B'Nai Jewish Congregation
Stephanie and Eric Hochberger hold hands with their daughter as they leave B'Nai Jewish Congregation in Boca Raton. They say they are raising their children in a Jewish household, but they may not be practicing their faith in a traditional sense.

Jaimie Kuriakose described herself as a young, devout Catholic. She believes change is on the horizon.

"We've seen the obligations, we've seen the practices, the rituals, but we never understood the deeper meanings of things," said Kuriakose.

"When you look at the 2,000 years of the Catholic Church, there definitely have been ebbs and flows," said Daza-Jaller.

"The changes for me present great challenges and, in fact, opportunities," said Steinhardt.