Santa Ana College student Barbara Jaime, 19, grew up surrounded by religious images in her home. A painting of The Last Supper hung above her dining room table, while a colorful woodcarving of Our Lady of Guadalupe looked down from the wall above her bed.
Jaime grew up Catholic and went to Mass every Sunday, but as she aged, she started to distance herself from her religion. She became more spiritual and less religious.
“I used to go to church every Sunday and I loved it. It gave me security and I felt nice after Mass, but school and work got in the way,” Jaime said. “I didn’t have the time to go, and let’s face it [Masses] are not all that fun, so I simply stopped going. At first I felt guilty but now I don’t.”
This disconnect from religion is becoming common among Americans, according to recent studies conducted by the Pew Research Center. A 2014 Pew survey on the country’s religious landscape, conducted as a follow up to a 2007 study, found that the number of adults who say they believe in God, pray daily and attend church regularly is declining, especially among Millennials, generally defined as those between 18 and 34.
The study also showed that the number of Americans who say that God exists also dropped from 71 percent in 2007 to 63 percent in 2014, and that the number of Americans who say that religion is “not at all important” to them rose by eight percent from 2007 to 2014. The same study showed that the newer generation is less likely to identify with Christianity and is more religiously unaffiliated.
If these trends continue, according to the study, American society is likely to grow less religious over time.
Jennifer Rodriguez, 18, is not affiliated with any religion. Rodriguez grew up with a Catholic mother and an atheist father. The Fullerton resident chose to be an atheist like her father because his beliefs made more sense to her than her mothers’.
“There is so much bad in this world and so many bad things that happen. If there was a God why would He let these things happen?” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez has to see things to believe them. She has not seen God, nor anything demonic, so she believes in neither. She also does not believe in heaven or hell, and that frightens her.
“When someone dies, religious people believe they’ll see them in heaven and that’s an amazing thing to hold on to and hope that you’ll see them again,” Rodriguez said. “But as an atheist we believe that after you die that’s it, and that is one thing that scares me. ”
Rodriguez said that one day she may become religious but as of now, she can’t say that there is a God.
Millennials’ exposure to new ideas may be contributing to a shift in their views on religion. A 2014 Pew study titled “Millennials in Adulthood” found that Millennials are America’s most racially diverse generation, they hold more liberal views than previous generations and are largely unattached to organized politics and religion.
Racial diversity plays a key role in Millennials’ political liberalism, the study says.
But even as widespread shifts are taking place in society, not all Millennials are staying away from organized religion. There are still many church youth groups looking to connect with young people in a way that they can understand, and some Millennials who attend church on a regular basis say it helps them deal with everyday life.
Jack Groger, now at Sanctify Christian Church in Orange, has been a pastor for 10 years and has seen a decline in the number of Millennials attending church. Groger said it has a lot to do with the way some people teach Biblical scripture.
“Young people are turned off by falsehood and many doubt the authenticity of scripture,” said Groger, of Anaheim Hills.
He also said that many Millennials get bored in traditional church services where they have to dress up, silence their phones, and listen to church leaders who they can’t identify with. He thinks that using real life scenarios to bring Biblical scripture to life is a successful way to get more young people to church.
“I am not only a pastor, I am also a fireman and I am very transparent. I share my struggles and just connect with them and create an experience and make each person get something out of attending church,” Groger said.
Marisol Hermosillo, 29, attends Saint Anthony Claret Church in Anaheim every Sunday and prays on a daily basis. She enjoys having a strong bond with God and her Catholic faith.
“I love going to church,” the Orange resident said. “It makes me feel really nice after I leave Mass. I also like the security of knowing that I have someone watching over me at all times.”
Katia Oliden rediscovered religion. Oliden belongs to a group of students that hosts informal Bible studies at Santa Ana College and other campuses across the county. She did not believe in God when she was younger, but after attending Bible study, her life changed.
“I used to be very hateful to God and then I was invited to Bible study by my sister,” Oliden said.
Oliden is now on the path to being baptized and teaches Biblical scripture to non-believers and people who are also experiencing tough times.
“God is our creator and Jesus Christ is our savior and over time, mankind has forgotten this,” she said. “The club helps us to fulfill the great commission Jesus Christ has given us: to make disciples.”