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Disaffiliated Youth: A Study

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A recent study aims to help us understand why young people are choosing to disaffiliate from the organized church.

To download this summary, click here.

Introduction: This study, found in the book Going, Going, Gone, discovers reasons young people choose to disassociate themselves from the organized church.


This study focused on the Catholic church—young people are less and less engaged in the church. The researchers set out to find out what is causing this.

Disaffiliation: Young people who once self-identified as being Catholic and no longer self-identify as being Catholic. It’s another way of saying “people who leave the church with which they had at one time affiliated.”

Religious disaffiliation is happening across all religions, across all cultures, and across continents!

The study aimed to go beyond quantitative data to qualitative information. The researchers listened to life stories of young people across the US and put together common denominators from the stories.

The majority of disaffiliated youth chose to separate from institutional religion through a very thoughtful process. They were interested in conversation but felt like they were in a church that wasn’t willing to have a conversation with them.

  • Disaffiliation is a process that begins at a young age and continues to unfold over time.
  • The median age at which young people no longer identify with an institution is 13.
  • There is no one reason why young people leave the church.
  • There are thoughts and experiences that never get reconciled. They become a burden.
  • Finally, there’s one last straw, and at that point, they say, “I’m done!” They walk away from that burden.

Where is the hope?

  • These young people care about faith. They will describe it as they left religion to find places that would deepen their sense of faith and belief.
  • The Dinner Party (search on the Internet to read about this)
  • Institutional religion could come alongside some of these experiences and be part of them. Example, CrossFit.
  • There is power in listening to the stories of those who leave.

Thought Starters:

  • As I look around my church, who isn’t there anymore? When could I schedule a time to hear that person’s story?
  • How could I start a conversation about disaffiliation in my church?


  • Going, Going, Gone by Robert J. McCarty and John M. Vitek
  • Church Refugee: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith by Josh Packard
  • To Alter Your World: Partnering with God to Rebirth Our Community Michael Frost and Christiana Rice

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