This research explores the experiences and attitudes of young adults who are exceptions to the norm — namely, those who are actively participating in congregational life. Congregations with significant programs for young adults in the 20s and 30s are valuable sites for investigation to qualitatively examine the changing nature of religious identity. To explore the intergenerational transmission of faith, we analyzed both individuals within an institutional context and the institutions themselves.
Hired multifaith team of researchers, Tobin Belzer, Nadia Roumani, Richard Flory to undertake interviews in three cities across the nation. Over the course of one year, the research team visited congregations in Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, New York, and Washington, D.C. The intent was to focus on urban areas where large populations of each religious faith are strongly represented. The team identified congregations through exploratory conversations with young adults, religious leaders and professionals working in religious institutions in each city. Within each religious tradition, congregations were chosen to represent the broad theological spectrum, from conservative to progressive. Each congregation was also identified because of the intergenerational participation of its members. The team spent several weeks collecting data at each congregation. Overall approximately 100 interviews were conducted with congregational leaders, lay leaders, and young adults in 15 congregations. In many instances, the entire research team undertook the congregational visits and interviews.
Their findings were compiled into a multimedia presentation that included clips of the interviews and specific recommendations for congregational action to better engage young people in religious life. This research was initially presented at the October 2004 conference on religion & young, and at a series of invited presentations across the country.