Reviewed by Richard J. Reichert, DE PERE, WI, 54115.
In attempting to form an evaluative opinion of the work of Dean Hoge and his companions we need to answer three questions. First, does the object of the research and the authors' proposed purpose for undertaking it merit the attention of the audience for which it is intended, namely those in the Catholic church responsible for ministering to young adults? Second, was the methodology employed by Hoge and his companions in keeping with currently accepted standards for such research? Third, were the conclusions made by the authors adequately supported by the data they obtained?
It is the opinion of this reviewer that all three questions can be answered in the affirmative. In regard to the first question the authors state in their Introduction, "Effective ministry to young adults requires that everyone be acquainted with the needs and attitudes of this generation of Catholics. This is the main reason we undertook a study of young Catholic adults." (p. 1) It is easy to see why such knowledge of the needs and attitudes of young Catholic adults would be invaluable to those seeking to minister to them. By the authors' own admission there have been a number of similar studies in recent years and in Chapter 2 they review the findings of that research. This fact leads of necessity to a corollary question: does this current research add anything of substance to the earlier research? In this reviewer's opinion it does for several reasons. Given the dynamic nature of society in general and the age group under study in particular (young adult Catholics age 20-29 and 30-39), the findings of earlier studies can quickly become obsolete. Also this research is rather distinct from the earlier research in that the study group included a distinct sample of both Latino and the non-Latino populations in relatively equal numbers. This enabled the researchers to evaluate each group as a distinct entity and also observe similarities and differences in their responses that the earlier studies were unable to do with the same degree of accuracy.
In terms of the second question regarding methodology, the researchers employed a combination of a short interview survey of a carefully selected sampling of young adults throughout the nation and also a series of in-depth interviews with individuals. A common denominator in the selection of their sample was that all those surveyed/interviewed had been confirmed as Catholics at some point prior to adulthood. While the researchers admit this approach introduces a kind of bias, it actually served their purposes. Relatively speaking, in terms of their Catholicity and involvement with the Church the sample group all entered adulthood with somewhat similar backgrounds. Thus in attempting to measure their identity with and involvement in the Church at the present time, differences discerned through the research take on more meaning. The authors provide a detailed explanation of their methodology and their findings in two Appendices should the reader want to critique it further.
In regard to the third question, namely whether the findings the authors report are supported by their data, again this reviewer has no argument. They readily admit the instances where their data do not allow clear-cut inferences, for example. Likewise they identify various instances where the data led them to conclusions which they had not expected. For example they found a much higher incidence of similarity between Latinos and non-Latinos than they anticipated. Also their data led them to discredit certain popular presumptions (E.g. large numbers of young adult Latinos are leaving the Catholic Church and joining evangelical groups). They summarize their conclusions in Chapter 10 and list ten recommendations for Church leaders to consider as they develop ways to minister to this age group. None of these should come as a surprise to those who have been actively involved in ministering to this age group (E.g., III. Build Catholic Identity in a Positive Way. V. Build Better Community. VII. Better Marriage Preparation.) Nevertheless, they remain valuable in this reviewer's opinion because those who minister to young adult Catholics can pursue these and the other recommendations contained in the study with greater confidence that the validity of these strategies is now supported by solid research rather than ministerial "hunches".