There is something to these arguments. Scholars like Wright and Stark expose the folly of breathless predictions of Christianity’s imminent demise. The North American church does not teeter on the brink of extinction. But, in my view, the crisis of people leaving the faith has taken on new gravity.
First, young adults today are dropping religion at a greater rate than young adults of yesteryear—”five to six times the historic rate,” say Putnam and Campbell.
Second, the life-phase argument may no longer pertain. Young adulthood is not what it used to be. For one, it’s much longer. Marriage, career, children—the primary sociological forces that drive adults back to religious commitment—are now delayed until the late 20s, even into the 30s. Returning to the fold after a two- or three-year hiatus is one thing. Coming back after more than a decade is considerably more unlikely.
Third, a tectonic shift has occurred in the broader culture. Past generations may have rebelled for a season, but they still inhabited a predominantly Judeo-Christian culture. For those reared in pluralistic, post-Christian America, the cultural gravity that has pulled previous generations back to the faith has weakened or dissipated altogether.