Most American "Millenials" – those born between 1980 and 1991 – don't pray regularly. Few read their Bibles or other religious texts, and many don't attend church on a weekly basis, according to a LifeWay Research study. ...Isn't that a great term? Mushy Christians! They want to be Christians, probably because of family, a sense of nostalgia or social pressure, but when it comes time to be a Christian ... they get mushy.
Sixty-five percent of Millennials called themselves a Christian in the study that was conducted on 1,200 young Americans in August 2009. But Rainer estimates that 85 percent of young people are lost.
"Many are either mushy Christians or Christians in name only," [Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources] told USA Today. "Most are just indifferent. The more precisely you try to measure their Christianity, the fewer you find committed to the faith."
We're in a "second generation" effect. It's exactly like what happens to immigrant families' language. The first generation learns to speak English when they come to America, but at home they still speak their native Polish, Spanish, Russian and so forth. They have kids, the kids become truly bilingual, but English is their primary tongue. And when they have kids, they speak English in the home. The grandchildren, who never hear the old language except when they go to Grandma and Grandpa's house, never learn the family's native tongue.
I see this same effect happening to Christianity in America. The "mushy Christians" that Thom Ranier is lamenting are the "second generation Christians." They learned Christianity from their parents, they still call themselves Christians, but they don't attend church. They don't read the Bible, they pick and choose which of the tenets of Christianity to follow, and they don't teach it to their children. Just like the immigrant families that lose their native tongue in three generations, these "second generation Christians" are not committed. They speak the language, but they're not passing it on.
Christianity and all religions require indoctrination at an early age. People can be converted later in life, but the simple fact is that most people only belong to a particular denomination because they were indoctrinated as children. Without that early exposure to religion most people will naturally gravitate to something between indifference and agnosticism. That's especially true of the evangelical churches that believe things that can't possibly be true, like creationism. If you want your kids to believe that stuff, you've got to inoculate them with your religion early and thoroughly because they're going to have to resist a lot of common sense.
BTW, there's an entire chapter of The Religion Virus devoted to this very topic: why the religious indoctrination of children is so critical to religion's survival. It's the core of what makes us human: our ability to pass knowledge from generation to generation with high fidelity via language. Language is what makes us truly human, different from all other animal species, but it is also what makes religion possible. Children are genetically programmed to soak up language and ideas, and then "lock it in place."
I've written about Christianity's demise several times (Is Christianity Dying? and Is Christianity Dying? Interesting New Data...), and this report provides even more evidence.
I believe we are in the last religious generation in America's history, and Mushy Christianity is just a symptom.