3 Books for Ministry to Emerging Adults and “Guys”

If you care about ministering to emerging adults (18-24 year olds), or guys (16-26 year old males), then the following books should prove helpful to you in understanding their world. These books are filled with the best and newest sociological research on the topics. They are not “how to” books on ministering to young adults. Rather, they are descriptive and will give you the lay of the land.

Book #1: Souls in Transition

Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults by Christian Smith and Patricia Snell

This book is top-notch research that tells the definitive story of the religious and spiritual lives of emerging adults, ages 18 to 24, in the United States. It describes the major influences on their developing spiritual lives and reveals how the religious beliefs and practices of teenagers are strengthened, challenged, and often changed as they move into adulthood. Many of their findings are surprising. First, parents are the single most important influence on the religious outcomes of young adults. Second, participation in evangelization, missions, and youth groups does not predict a high level of religious vitality just a few years later. Third, the common wisdom that religiosity declines sharply during the young adult years is shown to be greatly exaggerated. What many will find particularly helpful is how Smith and Snell describe the broader cultural world of today’s emerging adults, how that culture shapes their religious outlooks, and what the consequences are for religious faith and practice in America more generally.

Book #2: Guyland

Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men by Michael S. Kimmel

This book is about “guys.” Guys are initiated into guyland sometime around high school and hopefully exit in their mid-20s. Kimmel paints a vivid picture of this depressing place populated by “almost-men.” Young men are doing things very differently today than they have in the past. Guys are delaying the milestones of adulthood for a longer period of time, such as moving out of their parents’ home, getting jobs, buying homes, marrying, and having children. They are rejecting the traditional notions of mature masculinity by opting for vanity and narcissism. They follow Hugh Hefner’s model of a life based on unrealistic and childish male wish fulfillment. Guyland celebrates and sustains guys’ failure to launch into the adult responsibilities of work and family. Kimmel powerfully drives home the point that guyland defines “being a man” through consumption rather than production: video games, pornography, bars, parties, sports, the media, and other things. Guyland is filled with many of the most toxic elements of our culture: violence, hazing, drinking, drugs, pornography, emotionally detached intimacy, sexual harassment, and degradation of women. It is clear why guyland is detrimental to both women and men. But Kimmel is hopeful. He discusses possibilities for change, addressing the importance of actively involved parents beyond their children’s high school years. He also provides stories of hope and bravery of individuals and institutions that have sought to address the problems associated with guyland.

Book #3: After the Baby Boomers

After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings are Shaping the Future of American Religion by Robert Wuthnow

Wuthnow offers a broad description of this demographic: “Young adults are marrying later, having fewer children and having them later, moving more often, going to college in higher numbers, living with more immigrant neighbors and therefore more ethnic and religious diversity, and living in the suburbs even more than their baby boomer parents.” This plays out in the fact that 46 percent of those in their early forties attend church weekly while only 29 percent of people in their twenties do. The biggest single social factor related to declining church attendance among younger adults is the postponement of marriage and children. Wuthnow explains: “Being married or unmarried has a stronger effect on church attendance than anything else. Children also make some difference. This means that the postponement of marriage and children continues to suppress church attendance at least until adults are in their early forties.” While those in their early forties go to church more often, young adults in their twenties talk about religion with their friends more than any other demographic. Furthermore, Wuthnow reports that “core beliefs have remained remarkably pervasive and stable” over the past 30 years. This means younger adults are interested in spirituality and are sympathetic to essential Christian doctrine.