Across the spectrum of faith, northwest suburban religious leaders say they've seen in their congregations an alarming trend: more gray hair.
In response to the aging demographics, pastors, priests and rabbis in Lake Zurich, Grayslake and across the region have ramped up efforts to attract young families to the folds of their respective religious communities.
"A lot of young people aren't finding substantive answers, and churches aren't meeting those needs," said Pastor Camden Bucey of Hope Orthodox Presbyterian Church, a small Grayslake congregation with about 35 members. "In that regard, they're not seeking out church."
But there doesn't appear to be a one-size-fits-all solution, they say, and approaches vary from increasing digital presences to getting out into the community.
Their efforts seek to turn the tide against a national trend that shows an increasing number of people disengaged from organized religion.
About one-fifth of Americans, or 46 million people, have no religious affiliation – a number that has risen steadily over the years, according to a 2012 report from the Pew Research Center Religion & Public Life Project.
More than one-third of adults younger than 30 said they have no religious affiliation, according to the report.
But the Rev. Steve Grunow, a priest and CEO of Word on Fire—a Skokie-based Catholic evangelical group—said it's an oversimplification to say Americans are losing their religion.
"I don't think that's the case," Grunow said. "What you see is a disassociation from particular religious traditions."
Some of that can be explained by the cycles of life, Grunow said. People who grow up in the religion of their parents may drift away as they get older, only to return years later with families of their own.
Howard Rood, president of Congregation Or Tikvah in Grayslake, said he believes the decision to turn away from religion has a great deal to do with societal factors.
"When you look at the cost of religious education and people putting in more hours [at work], the time for religious activities isn't as much as it used to be," said Rood, who has been president of the conservative synagogue for three years.
The small congregation of about 35 families—which Rood said is the only synagogue in Grayslake—runs on volunteers. Congregation Or Tikvah doesn't have the financial backing of bigger synagogues in larger towns, he said.
"We put the people first before the pocketbook," he said. "With young families especially, financially, that's a concern."
Emphasizing how religion can be applied to everyday life can help reach more people, leaders say.
Dave Thompson, pastor at The Chapel's Lake Zurich campus, which sees about 350 people each Sunday, said his church is trying to modernize the Bible's teachings to draw a new crowd. The Chapel, with eight locations in the Chicago area, is a non-denominational Christian church.
"We teach the Bible in such a way that is relevant to people's lives," he said.
At the Prairie Circle Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Grayslake, Rich Fendrych, secretary for the board of trustees and webmaster, said a progressive approach to religion could appeal to a younger generation with evolving values.
Fendrych described Unitarian Universalism as a religion that accepts those of differing values, beliefs, genders and sexual orientation.
While the church tends not to do "outward evangelizing," as he described it, the congregation has reached out to families looking for a more liberal belief system or those who have left other organized religions.