First, the Barna Group looks at the unchurched, and identifies many of them as "post-Christian". THese aren't people who don't understand church, but those who have been there and find it wanting. (This reminds me of an early conversation here, where one of our commenters earnestly tried to educate me on the tenets of Christianity, as though if I just learned about it, I could be saved. I had to tell her more than once that I had been there, done that, with a robust Catholic education. It wasn't ignorance that made me an atheist.)
They identify 5 trends, including secularization and resistance to the idea of church. And, notably, skepticism about church generally:
When the unchurched were asked to describe what they believe are the positive and negative contributions of Christianity in America, almost half (49%) could not identify a single favorable impact of the Christian community....When "Christian" becomes synonymous with "right wing politics", there's a problem.
We see the additional frustration with the identification of faith with sex in another study, this one of young Catholics who leave.
Only 7 percent of these young adults who might have turned out Catholic can be called “practicing” Catholics—if “practicing” is tightly defined as attending Mass weekly, saying that faith is extremely or very important, and praying at least a few times a week. About 27 percent are at the other end of the spectrum, classified as “disengaged,” meaning that they never attend Mass and feel religion is unimportant.....[T]he most obvious factor identified in both the interviews and the survey data in Young Catholic America seems to be disaffection from Catholic sexual teaching, dramatically so with respect to both premarital sex and birth control.Pew Research tells us that those who identify are Catholic are overwhelmingly pro marriage-equality and LGBT rights. Indeed, even a majority of Catholics in their 50s support the freedom to marry.
Meanwhile, Millenials with faith are challenging it--outside the box, you might say. Less driven by rigid identity, more flexible.
We are far more likely to admit publically when we doubt certain long-held Christian beliefs. We are more likely to crowd-source our faith. We are more likely to evaluate what in our doctrine reflects more privilege than faithfulness.
This is not a sign that we have abandoned orthodoxy. It is a sign that we have abandoned certain presuppositions that limited the definition of Christian orthodoxy for too long. The demand for purity in faith looks more like a desire to conform to the image of Jesus — and not the image of a predominately white, male, middle-class denominational line.