Young South Koreans have been increasingly evading the clutches of religious institutions, a recent survey finds.
According to the government-run Statistics Korea, 46% of South Koreans, in general, identified as having no religion in 2014. The following year, the figure rose to a solid 56%.
Meanwhile, only 31% of citizens in their 20s identified as being religious in 2015 down from 46% a decade earlier, as per research company Gallup Korea.
What then, seems to lure South Korea youngsters away from religion? Experts, for one, argue that the country’s notorious education system and hypercompetitive job market are to blame.
“Young people nowadays are caught in this long cycle of studying hard to get into university, then having to get a good job. They also have technology and many options for leisure activities,” Andrew Eungi Kim, a professor at Korea University, told Al Jazeera. “All these things have brought young people away from churches.”
With rising unemployment in the country, young adults are also realizing that religions cannot bring food straight to the table. Reverend Nak-hyon Joseph Joo, vice dean at a church called Seoul Anglican Cathedral, acknowledged, “We can’t offer practical assistance when it comes to jobs or financial hardships. All we can do is provide emotional consolation and try to encourage harmony.”
In an effort to win the cohort, several churches are incorporating technology and redesigning their appearances as less hierarchical. The former strategy ties in with popular assumptions that smartphones are to blame for rising secularism. Some churches have even succumbed to the norm; SaRang Church, for instance, developed an app with a searchable Bible feature.
Approaching from a less hierarchical look may be about culling attendees to informal settings, like what Joo does. He organizes a monthly gathering at a coffee shop, where everyone is welcome to discuss beyond theology — whether personal, political and social issues.
Luckily, there are those who come at will. Kim Hyun-ah, a 27-year-old who put off a job search to attend a service at Seoul Anglican Cathedral, said, “I just come here because it’s an open-minded church. I like the atmosphere.”
Still, Kim knows her priority: “It’s good to come here sometimes, but finding a job is my real occupation. And going to church won’t help me with that.”
At this point, it appears South Korean churches will need to ramp up their efforts to attract young people, but such a task is incredibly difficult to accomplish, and local religious bodies can only agree.