Document Type


Publication Date

August 2017


Recent academic and popular literature has postulated a “story of diminishment” when speaking of the religious practice of young adults in the United States. The current paper looks at the impact of volunteer service on the likelihood that young adults will remain connected to organized religion through an analysis of two studies of young adults between the ages of 18 and 35 who had previously participated in volunteer programs that were sponsored by various Catholic organizations in the Vincentian tradition. The first study, conducted between February and May of 2014 by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) and commissioned by DePaul University’s office of Mission and Values (OMV), was an online survey with 72 closed-ended and four open-ended questions. The second study conducted in November 2014 by CARA included a series of four follow-up focus groups that explored more deeply some of the key findings from the online survey. The findings indicate that former volunteers have higher rates of religious retention, prayer and religious participation, and report a strong influence of living in community with other volunteers, and the influence of religion in daily life. Participants had remained more closely tied to the Catholic Church than most of their age peers, persisting in their search for a spiritual home in spite of disappointments and obstacles. Extended volunteer experiences in service and/or social change ministries organized by Catholic religious orders and other denominational organizations can have a significant and transformative impact on the continued religious affiliation and practice of those who participate in them, an impact which endures beyond the volunteers’ time of participation in them.