Millennials around the world are leaving the respective religions that they grew up with in droves. The same is true in Utah with young people and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Because Utah holds such a large portion of the Latter-day Saint population, what will the future look like as more people decide to leave? In a short time surveying Salt Lake Community College students, it seems that finding young people who were raised in the church and have since left isn’t difficult at all. In fact, it seems to be a significant amount of students.
Lauren Bell, a student who left the church, says that she couldn’t be affiliated with it because it didn’t align with her values. She took the final step to get her name removed from the records after the church announced in 2015 that children of LGBT parents could not get baptized.
“I also thought the story of Joseph Smith didn’t line up and didn’t make sense to me … I did my research online on the background of the church and what they really value, and everything they say in their books, I just couldn’t stand by it and didn’t agree with it,” Bell says.
In 2014, Pew Research Center published a study and found that only 62% of people who grew up in the church remain active into their adulthood. However, a lot can happen in five years.
The General Social Survey has found a 46% retention rate in the church for those born after 1981 — aka millennials.
The amount of young people leaving The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints may be climbing. However, research is lacking for those born after 1996.
After doing small surveys at SLCC and asking 75 people aged 18 to 24, it could be hypothesized that the percentage of those leaving is even higher. Out of the 75 people surveyed, 53% did not identify with a religion. 45% of those that did not identify as religious said they were raised within the LDS faith.
Plenty are choosing to stay faithful despite the large masses deciding otherwise. Donovan Woolfe, a 20-year-old student, has decided to remain a part of the religion he grew up with and doesn’t foresee that changing.
“I just know it’s true, and it may not be popular but that doesn’t change things for me,” Woolfe says.
Pre-med student Kaylee Mitchell thinks that it may become a bit less prominent but will always be a large part of Utah’s culture because the younger generation is seeing and fulfilling the need to adapt and modernize the religion.
“There is kind of a new wave of Mormonism coming out, and people are starting to talk about the less comfortable topics, and realize that just because the church is true doesn’t mean that all it’s followers are perfect, and that’s okay,” Mitchell says.
Many young members of the church are trying to make changes to the culture so it can better adapt to modern times. The recent developments surrounding the Honor Code Office at Brigham Young University has been a prime example of this.
Since 2015, BYU and the Provo Police Department have been put under the microscope after it was revealed that the university had been using its Honor Code Office to investigate sexual assault victims and then punish them with suspension or expulsion. This victim shaming has caused public outcry from young Latter-day Saints to urge leaders and administrators to rethink their attitudes when it comes to such sensitive subjects and to become more forward thinking.
Even the church policies are changing to fit the modern mold more. At the 189th Annual General Conference this spring, the church announced that they will allow children of LGBT parents to get baptized — the complete reversal of the policy that was announced just a few years earlier.
Not all students who were raised in the church are necessarily thrilled about the inconsistencies that come from the leadership of the church, whether they be good or bad.
Student Trevor Smithing says the inconsistencies that the church demonstrates is the exact reason he can’t stand behind them anymore.
“The church has changed their mind too much about too many things. If something is true and God’s will, then why would it ever need to change? It’s just not logical,” Smithing says.
The future of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is certainly looking like it will be seeing more shifts both with its following and possibly with its policies and approach to younger generations. Only time will tell if it can actually influence future generation’s members to reverse the current trend of apostasy.