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What Do Young Adults Really Mean When They Say They Are Christians?

Most Americans say they are Christians, but few follow that up with deep, heart-level, life-directing commitments. This is true of all generations, and it remains true of young adults in the U.S., two-thirds of whom identify as Christian.

18–35-Year-Olds Rate the Church’s Reputation for Justice

Caring for the poor and vulnerable is a defining characteristic of being a Christ-follower, according not only to scripture but also to many Christian 18–35-year-olds (43%) in The Connected Generation study, a recent international Barna project produced in partnership with World Vision. If this is a primary sign that someone is a Christian, what kind of impression are faithful 18–35-year-olds leaving around the world?

What Young Adults Say Is Missing from Church

Just over half of 18–35-year-old Christians surveyed for The Connected Generation study (54%) attend church at least once a month, including one-third (33%) who are in the pews once a week or more. Three in 10 (30%) attend less frequently. A small group of Christians (10%) says they used to go to church, but no longer do. Despite their fairly consistent presence in the pews, almost half of Christians (44%) say that attending church is not an essential part of their faith. But even if belonging to a community of worship isn’t always seen as essential, young Christians who attend church point to many reasons their participation may be fruitful, most of which pertain to personal spiritual development.

82% of Young Adults Say Society Is in a Leadership Crisis

In The Connected Generation, a recent Barna study conducted in partnership with World Vision, data show that young adults face some unique headwinds on their road to becoming effective leaders. When we take time to listen—an essential practice for connecting with 18–35-year-olds—we hear a sense of unease about the future and uncertainty about the kind of leaders that could make a difference. Part of it is the underlying sense of anxiety that permeates many societies today. For good reason, the connected generation perceives deep, wide, systemic problems facing the world’s future.

Digital Babylon: Our Accelerated, Complex Culture

In his 2011 book You Lost Me, Barna president David Kinnaman identified three trends shaping our culture: access (which, thanks to WiFi everywhere, is exponentially more amplified today), alienation (from institutions and traditions that give structure and meaning to our lives) and authority (which, like institutions and traditions, is increasingly viewed with suspicion). In the years since that book released, Kinnaman and the Barna team have adopted a phrase to describe our accelerated, complex culture that’s marked by unlimited access, profound alienation and a crisis of authority: digital Babylon.

Only One-Third of Young Adults Feels Cared for by Others

An early and obvious theme to emerge from The Connected Generation—a Barna-World Vision partnership that surveyed 15,000 18–35-year-olds from 25 countries around the globe—is broad agreement with two statements: “Events around the world matter to me” (77% all) and “I feel connected to people around the world” (57%). The experience of connection in one’s daily life, however, isn’t a guarantee. In fact, the vast majority of young adults feels the impact of broad, global trends more than they feel loved and supported by others close to them. Just one in three 18–35-year-old respondents tells Barna they often feel deeply cared for by those around them (33%) or that someone believes in them (32%). Meanwhile, nearly one in four (23%) acknowledges encountering feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Explore Faith for the Future

On September 10, The Connected Generation project launched with the Faith for the Future webcast, a live, free event where leaders from Barna and World Vision revealed main findings—some sobering, some hopeful—uncovered by this global data. The team was joined by panels of experts and ministers as well as viewers from 88 countries and six continents. Below, explore highlights from the data and the webcast, which will be available as a free replay until November 1.

What Will It Take to Disciple the Next Generation?

Over the last decade and a half, one of Barna’s primary missions has been to understand emerging generations—specifically Gen Z and Millennials in the United States—and discover how to best equip them to grow and share their faith. In the process, Barna has interviewed nearly 100,000 teens and young adults to learn more about their worldview, especially surrounding Christianity, religion and culture. As Barna deepens our understanding of the next generation and what they’re bringing with them into adulthood, we are also reflecting on some of the many conversations we’ve had with faith leaders about the bigger questions surrounding the next generation.

Why the Generations Approach Generosity Differently

New Barna research, commissioned by Thrivent, examines giving trends among practicing Christian adults in the U.S. In this new data, we look at multiple expressions of generosity in the Church—monetary and more—and the complex motivations for giving, which tend to vary by age and life stage.

Gen Z and Morality: What Teens Believe (So Far)

Over time, consensus on central beliefs has waned, and younger generations are now inheriting this new moral landscape. Though still in a formative stage of life, the leading edge of Gen Z (along with Millennials) holds some notably different views on a range of moral, social and political issues.

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