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The Relative Influence of Youth and Adult Experiences on Personal Spirituality and Church Involvement

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We surveyed 206 young adults who had grown up in middle-class churches in three denominations—Baptist, Catholic, and Methodist—who were first studied at age 16 in 1976. The goal was to assess the relative strength of youth and adult influences on their personal religious and institutional church involvement at age 38. The determinants of these two outcomes at 38 varied widely. For personal spirituality such as private prayer, attending Bible classes, and reading religious material, we found strong youth and adult determinants such as the denomination of one's youth, church youth group participation, having an experience since high school that changed their feelings about the church, and attending church with one's spouse. For church involvement, however, all but one of the determinants occurred after age 16, mainly the experiences of being inactive in church after high school, switching denominations, having children, and going to church with one's spouse. Social learning theory was the best theory for explaining these findings.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: President of the Center for Social Research in Maryland and Administrator, Religious Services, Oregon Department of Corrections 2: Catholic University of America 3: Wesley Theological Seminary

Publication date: 2002-12-01

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