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‘The Next Mormons’: Researcher’s book may explain why millennials are leaving LDS faith

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Faith among millennials in Latter-day Saint circles is declining, according to a new book written by Mormon researcher Dr. Jana Riess. 

“The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church” delves into faith questions faced by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It’s a deep-dive into views by younger Latter-day Saints on topics like the Word of Wisdom, Joseph Smith, LGBTQ issues, women’s equality, and Mormon orthodoxy. 

The book, backed by research, shows the generational divide between the beliefs of Millennials and their parents and grandparents. For example, of the 1,156 mostly-active members of the church surveyed for the book, Riess found 53 percent believe the LDS First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to be God’s prophets on the earth today. 67 percent of those surveyed from the Baby Boomer and Silent Generations believe that doctrine. 

Riess also found that while 75 percent of older Mormons are staying in the church, only 46 percent of millennials are being retained. 

“We could do a better job listening to young adults,” said Riess, a scholar of American religious studies and active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Ohio. Riess said her research led her to millennials who felt disenchanted with the LDS Church, some struggling with basic core doctrines like the Resurrection of Christ. 

Riess also found that Utah Mormons tend to be more active or devout than non-Utah Mormons and have fewer doubts about the church. 

Riess and her colleague Dr. Benjamin Knoll surveyed more than 1,100 members of the church nationwide for their research. 

“In the current Mormon sample of 1,156 respondents, 86 percent of those people say that they are very active or somewhat active in the church; more than half of them have a temple recommend,” Riess said of her sample. “This is a very active population of Mormons.”

Riess’ major takeaway from the research was that millennials are leaving the church at a faster rate than their parents or grandparents did. She cited issues with the church’s hard-line stance against same-sex marriage, women’s equality and focus on conformity and obedience as some of the top reasons why millennials are becoming disenchanted with the church. 

Still, those who remain active in the church among Latter-day Saint millennials are very devout, Riess added. For example, focus on conformity and obedience was only “very troubling” to about 26 percent of millennials surveyed, while 44 percent found that emphasis “not at all troubling,” according to the survey

The retention problem, she said, is not unique to the Latter-day Saint faith – but retention among Mormon millennials was lower than other religious groups, according to the General Social Survey (GSS), Latter-day Saints only retained 46 percent of millennials or members born since 1981. Baptists, Catholics, Jews, and Liberal and Sectarian Protestants all had higher retention rates among millennials. 

Riess believes it could be the question of whether top church leaders, many of whom are from the Silent or Baby Boomer Generations, are listening actively to the concerns and questions of LDS millennials. 

“We have systems in place – wonderful systems for mobilizing them to serve a mission or getting involved in a singles ward,” said Riess, “But we don’t really have great systems for listening to them on an institutional level about what they want; and realizing that what they want perhaps is not necessarily the same things that their grandparents wanted for them.”

Riess’s book is now available. More information on her research can be found here

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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