Faith of Generation Y

The Faith of Generation Y is a new book by Sylvia Collins-Mayo, Bob Mayo and Sally Nash, with Christopher Cocksworth (Church House Publishing, 2010, xii + 153pp., ISBN 978 0 7151 4206 6, £14.99). Generation Y was born from about 1982 onwards, in succession to Baby Boomers (born 1946-63) and Generation X (born 1964-81).

Collins-Mayo is a professional sociologist of religion, at Kingston University. But, as the name of its publisher might suggest, the volume is aimed mainly at a practitioner rather than academic audience – church leaders, youth workers, missioners and teachers. It seeks to capture the mindset of today’s young people and to spell out the implications (and opportunities) for contemporary Christian witness.

The book is divided into two not quite equal sections, sociological perspective (pp. 1-89) and theological reflection (pp. 91-136). The former derives from research conducted over the last five years with young people aged 8-23 (but mostly 11-18) in England who participated in 34 Christian (Protestant or non-denominational) youth and community outreach projects. Respondents comprised 297 who completed questionnaires and 107 who were interviewed. They included a balance of frequent and infrequent churchgoers, although the authors were particularly interested in the latter. 

The main empirical findings are set out, through a mixture of quantitative and, more especially, qualitative data, in chapters 3-5. These consider, in turn, young people’s faith and its relationship to Christianity (pp. 32-51); the processes of transmission of faith and the Christian memory (pp. 52-70); and the relevance of Christian faith to day-to-day life (pp. 71-82). Chapter 6 (pp. 83-9) summarizes the key points from the sociological research. There are six tables.

As the authors are the first to concede, their sample cannot necessarily be considered to be statistically representative of Christian youth work or young people as a whole. Therefore, from a BRIN perspective, the figures must be regarded as more indicative than conclusive. However, findings from other studies with a stronger quantitative methodological grounding are quoted throughout, including the work of Leslie Francis.

The headlines of the book will come as no great surprise. Young people have generally disengaged from Christianity and the Church (to which they are ‘benignly indifferent’), and their faith is mostly not of a religious nature, but ‘immanent’. Family, friends and self tend to provide the central axes of meaning, hope and purpose which enable the young to get on with the business of daily living. On the other hand, among the unchurched some evidence of lingering affiliation and belief was found and also for what Grace Davie has called ‘vicarious religion’.

The book is a sort of sequel to Making Sense of Generation Y: The World View of 15- to 25-Year-Olds by Sara Savage, Sylvia Collins-Mayo and Bob Mayo, with Graham Cray (Church House Publishing, 2006, ISBN 978 0 7151 4051 2), which was based on group interviews with 124 young people around England in youth clubs, colleges and universities.

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