Introducing religion later in life could lead to a deeper connection between people and the religion they subscribe to.

Among the most defining aspects of many people’s lives is organized religion. According to the Pew Research Center, 77% of the adult population in the U.S. is affiliated with some form of organized religion. Whether these adults are active enough to attend religious services or not, many still turn to their religious beliefs, traditions and the rituals of their faith to inform the decisions they make and the actions they take in their daily lives. 

Religion has a larger effect on believer’s lives and the lives of their immediate families than one would think. Many children are sent to religious institutions from a young age, schools which center their education around the beliefs and teachings of a specific religion. Furthermore, many deeply religious households initiate their children into religion early on because they believe this will benefit their children in the afterlife. This puts further pressure on children to conform to certain standards as their fate beyond this world relies on strict adherence to the rules outlined for them. But, introducing religion into a child’s life before they’re able to grasp its significance doesn’t ensure they’ll grow up embracing the religion they were brought up with. For this reason, introducing organized religion to children should only occur once the young person is developmentally able to grasp the concept of religion and understand the beliefs of that faith.

Society might benefit from offering alternative introductions to organized religion, or at least presenting organized religion as a choice where it’s shown as a positive, life-enhancing addition instead of as essential for a happy life. Local churches and synagogues could hold orientation seminars where they could showcase the beliefs and practices of their religions and answer questions that newcomers may have. These seminars could cater to young people through community outreach fairs or festivals that could be run by pastors and parishioners who wish to spread their faith and welcome new faces into their churches. 

This progressive approach would be effective in multiple regards. First, children could learn about multiple religions instead of being bound to the one their family practices. This way, children could make their own educated decisions to either stick to their family’s religion or look further into religions that spark an interest rather than being pressured into a church that they may feel pressured to join even if it isn’t right for them. 

Perhaps the biggest benefit in this scenario is that if they don’t find a church they feel compelled to join, they don’t have to join one at all. When putting the choice into the youth’s hands, outside pressure and expectations vanish, and an honest, life-affirming choice can be made. If, at that point, a choice is made, it’ll most likely be a long-lasting one. This method is especially supported by a study conducted by the Pew Research Center that concluded that about 42% of Americans do not identify with the religion they were brought up as.

Now, the implementation of this program wouldn’t completely negate a family’s impact on their child’s choice, particularly in families where religion plays a central role. But instead of unilaterally initiating a young person into their religion, parents could illustrate their chosen religion through their actions. This is the best way to live one’s religion and pass it along to the next generation. It’ll also probably ensure that the choice becomes a life-decision and one that will most likely survive the college years. 

Pew Research Center found that 70% of the adult U.S. population identifies as some denomination of Christianity, and onenewsnow.com found that of this figure, 70% of those Christians drop the faith when they enter college. This is most likely because they never felt a genuine connection to the faith and felt pressure from family or friends to continue following the faith. These statistics could see a drastic decrease if the choice to enter into organized religion was presented earlier on.

Giving youth the freedom to enter into organized religion on their own time and by their own choice would see stronger believers entering into the church and thus see churches happier and more faith-filled than ever before.

Liz Riccio is a freshman media arts and design major. Contact Liz at riccioem@dukes.jmu.edu.