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

Articlesin Millennials & Generations•December 4, 2019

This article is adapted from The Connected Generation report. Order your copy today!

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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?

Let’s look at the humanitarian impact of Christianity as reported by a generation with a longing for justice—starting with how faith factors into the global problems young adults prioritize.

Corruption Is a Top Concern to Young Christians
Young adults who aren’t religious are far more likely to identify global climate change as the greatest problem facing the world’s future (46%), but the closer respondents are to religion, the less likely they are to share this environmental concern (27% of practicing Christians, 26% of those practicing other faiths). Instead, corruption—perhaps because it is perceived as a moral problem—tops the list of pressing global problems identified by practicing members of Christianity (54%) as well as other faiths (55%, compared to 37% of no faith). Beyond that, practicing Christians are like their peers in ranking extreme poverty (35%) and racism (33%) among key threats to the world’s future.


The Connected Generation

Christians & Nones Disagree on the Church’s Impact
Though the methods and motivations may vary, the data show a pervasive sense of humanitarian responsibility across many segments in this study, and the Church can foster these passions. After all, one in four young adults says caring for the poor is one of their goals for the next 10 years, and opportunities to fight injustice are among the top things religious respondents say they want more of in their worship community.

Data from both The Connected Generation and Faith for Exiles show that young Christians who engage meaningfully with their faith and church tend to report that their church has already helped them understand the needs of the poor (45%) and marginalized (36%) and provided opportunities to serve those in need in their community (38%). Similarly, about a third of practicing Christians in this age group says their church has equipped them with an understanding of social justice (35%) or that they’ve found a cause or issue they’re passionate about through their church (31%). In the U.S., at least, other Barna research indicates this progress could begin with the pulpit; in The Mercy Journey, a study conducted with The Reimagine Group, a majority of pastors said they encourage members to help the poor (69%) or people in distress (73%).


Accordingly, in their personal lives, Christian young adults around the world say their beliefs inspire them toward action. More than half (56%) say they are concerned about the welfare of others because of their beliefs. They are also almost twice as likely as those with no faith to be inspired to give of their time to help others in need (56% to 32%). Similarly, Christian young adults are more likely than those with no faith to report that their beliefs compel them to give of their own resources (46% to 26%) and stand up against corruption (47% to 37%).


Overall, a slight majority of 18–35-year-old respondents feels the Church is definitely (16%) or probably (42%) making a difference on issues of poverty and justice. Christians and those who identify with no faith, however, differ considerably on how successful the work of the Church has been. Nearly three-quarters of Christians in this age group think the Church is making a difference to some extent (73%), compared to only one-third of those who claim no faith (32%). This difference in opinion could be taken as a direct reflection of the Church’s actions (or inaction) or evidence of varying interpretations or benchmarks of what it means to work for justice. Either way, this perceived absence of impact could pose barriers to belief and should be taken seriously by church leaders; more than one-quarter of 18–35-year-olds points to human suffering (28%) or conflict around the world (26%) as reasons they might doubts things of a spiritual nature.

This article is adapted from the newly released The Connected Generation book. Purchase the report or access a suite of related resources at theconnectedgeneration.com. 

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About the Research
This study is based on online, representative public opinion surveys conducted by Barna Group. A total of 15,369 respondents ages 18 to 35 across 25 countries were surveyed between December 4, 2018 and February 15, 2019. See full details of sample distribution based on continent and country at theconnectedgeneration.com. Unless otherwise noted, all data referenced in The Connected Generation were collected by Barna, among a nationally representative sample of the population identified. For this study, Barna relied on online collection methods, including mobile phone users. The study used online national consumer panels that are representative by age, gender, region and ethnicity. Respondents were fully verified by the representative sample sources. Additionally, quality control measures checked that respondents were completing the survey at an appropriate pace and paying attention to the questions asked. The survey was offered in nine different languages, (English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, German, Romanian, Korean, Indonesian and Taiwanese), translated by a trusted translation service and verified by local partners in every country for context-specific nuance. Based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s International Data Base, the CIA World Fact Book and available census data from the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Chile, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, the UK, Germany, Spain, Austria, Switzerland, Romania, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, India, Philippines and Singapore, quotas were designed to ensure the final group of adults interviewed in the study reflected each country’s distribution of adults nationwide based on age, gender, ethnicity and region. Online surveys necessitate literacy and an internet connection, which means the sample reflects adults who have those capabilities and does not reflect those who are unable to read or lack connectivity to respond to online surveys. Thus, in spite of a robust methodology, this sample is not meant to be representative of entire national populations, regions, continents or the world. The countries selected for this study were based on countries and regions where Barna and World Vision receive frequent requests for research-based insights. These and other concerns or limitations were respectfully considered while interpreting the data.

The Mercy Journey data is based on a quantitative survey of 600 U.S. senior pastors of Protestant churches. Barna oversampled to include more perspectives of black pastors (100 respondents total). Interviews were completed online and by telephone between April 24–May 24, 2018. The rate of error is +/- 3.9 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.

Photo by Jonathan Kho on Unsplash

About Barna
Barna research is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.

© Barna Group, 2019


This article is adapted from The Connected Generation report. Order your copy today!

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