Book Review: "Got Religion?" by Naomi Schaefer Riley

Got Religion? How Churches, Mosques and Synagogues Can Bring Young People Back
Naomi Schaefer Riley
Templeton Press
300 Conshohoken State Road, Suite 500
West Conshohoken, PA 19428
ISBN: 978-1-59947-391-8; $19.96; May 20, 2014
Reviewed by Rev. Dr. Michael Philliber for Deus Mistereatur

Perceptive and Personable – 4 stars out of 5

Where have the college and post college crowd gone? This question engages my cerebral energies often, because I work with the teenagers of our church who are about to head to college, and co-pastor a congregation that has a noticeable number of middle aged men and women. So, where have the college and post college crowds gone? Naomi Schaefer Riley, an accomplished author who is also a weekly columnist for the New York Post and a former Wall Street Journal editor, delves into this difficulty and how to interest them, in her newest 174 page hardback, “Got Religion? How Churches, Mosques and Synagogues Can Bring Young People Back.” This easy-to-read volume walks through the storied approaches of diverse groups attempting to touch the twenty and thritysomethings in their world.

In “Got Religion?” we are privileged to listen, with the author, to the anecdotes and narratives, feats and failures, of Presbyterian, Muslim, Jewish, Mormon and Black Baptist institutional leaders who are succeeding in reaching the college and post college crowd in some way. But we are also favored to hear the yearnings and longings, along with the turn-ons and turn-offs, of the younger people who have become involved in these establishments. The importance of community and neighborhood, the “sense of belonging” (142), rings out clearly in many of the accounts, and sundry ways. Similarly, that this is a generation “particularly suspicious of bureaucracy and slick advertising” (13) that is looking for authenticity in both leadership and laity, surfaces often. Likewise there are also indications that “service – serious, long-term sacrifice requiring service” (144) is alluring to this age group. Based on these traits, Riley also points up the importance of making a place for the twenty and thirtysomethings in leadership, that they are “often inclined to take” the responsibilities offered to them (154).

In working through “Got Religion?” various emotions and cogitations were triggered in me. Everything from sheer frustration over the obvious and subtle self-centeredness exhibited in some of the statements from this younger group, to gloomy disappointment at the misunderstandings they voiced. And yet, their stories and concerns have prompted me to reconsider what can be done in our particular setting as suburban church where parishioners are splattered hither, thither and yon. Riley’s work has given me reason to pause, ponder and pray.

“Got Religion?” will challenge several of your personal prejudices and preconceptions, and confirm others. Nevertheless I doubt it will be possible to examine this book and remain unaffected by it. Riley’s material would make an ideal read for congregational leadership, Christian educators, service agencies, and denominational committees concerned with attracting this age group. I readily recommend the book.

(Thanks to Templeton Press for the free copy of the book made available for this review. Feel free to repost or republish this review. But as always, please give credit where credit is due. Mike)

You can obtain the book here.


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