Date of Award

7-23-2013

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Sociology

First Advisor

John A. Anderson, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Valerie J. Gunter, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Barbara J. Denison, Ph.D.

Abstract

Many main stream religious denominations are alarmed about the constant decreasing of membership in their congregations. Small rural churches are experiencing a shift in attendance in which the members of the congregation are getting older and no new members are being received. Strategies to reach out to a younger generation seem to fail and discerning the strategies to be used to accomplish the goal is a complex paradigm. The purpose of this study was to identify the attributes that contribute to the lack of young adults' participation in small churches in rural areas in Pennsylvania. The developments of strategies to reach young adults depend on the way leaders view the concepts of spirituality and religiosity. Church leaders are developing programs and strategies based on the necessity to fulfill the spiritual needs of young adults. The spiritual needs are being defined by older adults without the input of the young ones. The failure of outreach efforts is reflecting the call for an understanding of the young adults' spirituality. Through interviews I was able to gain a better understanding of the differences and similarities between church leaders and young adults in the meanings of being spiritual and being religious. The findings indicated that it is hard to clearly define the two concepts by individuals. The spiritual needs of young adults are more individualistic but at the same time relational. They also want to be active in holding events that can benefit others. The research revealed that the young adults are being spiritual but not in the same way that the older generation defines "being spiritual." The majority of the young adults interviewed recognize the difference between being spiritual and being religious. This understanding of the two concepts leads the young adults to be somewhat clear in their spiritual needs and what they need to do to fulfill those needs.

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