A new survey of teens and young adults found that religious institutions don't make a difference when it comes to combating a serious problem afflicting their generation — namely isolation and loneliness.
One in three report they feel completely alone much of the time, according to a recent survey by the Springtide Research Institute. Nearly 40% say they have no one to talk to and feel left out.
Attending religious services offered no protective barriers, the study found. When young adults living alone during the coronavirus were asked which trusted adults were checking in on them, only 1% said it was someone from their religious home.
The findings surprised researchers.
"What we really expected is that this would be a story of young people who didn't have a connection [to religious institutions] and those who did," said Josh Packard, executive director of the Springtide Institute, part of the Lasallian Education and Research Initiative based in Winona.
"We'd ask, 'Where do you feel a sense of belonging?' " Packard said. "They would respond with who they felt that with, not where. So it wasn't a matter of connecting with one type of program or another. It was being connected to trusting adults."
The survey results were outlined in the report, "Belonging: Connecting America's Loneliest Generation." It is based on surveys last fall of a nationally representative sample of 1,000 young people between the ages of 13 and 25. Thirty-five of them participated in extensive interviews on the phone or in person. The survey was based on interviews across denominations and faiths. A third, shorter survey was conducted in March to gauge the impact of the coronavirus.
Over 37% of young people surveyed who attend religious groups reported they have "no one to talk to," according to the survey. And more than one in 10 who attend religious groups said they felt "left out all of the time."
"Where we expected to find a buffer between the young person and the rising tide of isolation, we found only more loneliness," the report says.
The major takeaway for religious groups, as well as schools, nonprofits and other groups that work with young people is that it's not so much the program that makes a young person feel a sense of belonging, but rather whether they feel noticed and known.
"Participation is not belonging," the report notes.
The survey found that the more trusted adults that young people have in their lives the less isolated they feel. If faith groups want to change their lives, the adults need to know their names and get to know them so that "sense of belonging" grows.
Packard calls it "feeling noticed, feeling named, feeling known."
"Our hope is this will be picked up and read widely by youth ministers, pastors, parish organizations," Packard said.