Data shows that Americans’ trust in institutions, including organized religion, is at an all-time low. What are the implications for churches and faith in America? And, how can churches rebuild lost trust?

In Today’s Conversation hosted by NAE President Walter Kim, Ryan Burge, assistant professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University, shares his research on the rise and fall of institutions in America. Together they also explore what leaders can do to usher in institutional renewal, particularly through faithful Christian presence and serving the least of these.

You’ll also learn:

  • When institutional mistrust and cynicism began to take root;
  • How humility, transparency and communication combat cynical attitudes;
  • What guidance the Bible offers in this moment; and
  • How churches and other institutions can labor toward renewal.

Read a Portion of the Transcript

Walter: There’s other data that indicates that in past generations there was a decline [in religious attendance] as people were post-college or achieving independence, but there was a return when families started to be constituted, kids came into the picture and there was a desire for more formation. Yet, it seems like both the decline is precipitous and more than the normal decline we have had in the past, and the context is perhaps more complicated than it had been. Are folks going to be returning or not?

Ryan: The answer is no, and there’s no way to sugarcoat that. It’s called the life-cycle theory, which I’ve written about, where you start out really religious when you’re a kid because your parents make you go to church, and you become less religious in your late teens and early twenties because while in college. Then, you move into your late twenties and early thirties and you get married, have kids and get settled down and you want your kids to have the same sort of moral compass that you had, so you go back to church. That worked with the Boomers … but we are not seeing that with the Millennials and Generation Z.

Data shows that every birth cohort — or five-year birth window — is more likely to be nonreligious today than it was 14 or 15 years ago. So, every group is leaving religion, even among conservatives and Republicans, the group that’s typically tied to religion. They are becoming less religious at the same time. It’s everyone. Everyone is less religious today than they were 15 or 20 years ago.

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Today’s Conversation is brought to you by Christianity Today.