New Barna data—now published in You on Purpose, a book by Dr. Stephanie Shackelford and Bill Denzel—sheds light on how U.S. adults, practicing Christians and professional career coaches think about the process of discovering one’s calling.
One finding that church leaders, educators and mentors should take note of: For the most part, people assume they’ll have to journey toward finding their calling by themselves.
Just over half of U.S. adults (57%) and practicing Christians (56%) believe that understanding one’s calling is primarily a solo journey. That leaves roughly one in three disagreeing, and 9 percent of all adults and 7 percent of practicing Christians being unsure.
People have high expectations for where that journey may lead, with most respondents agreeing there is a perfect job waiting for them to discover. A majority of U.S. adults (67%) agrees to some extent, though another quarter (25%) disagrees. Looking specifically at practicing Christians, even higher percentages agree (75%) there is a "best-fit job" waiting for them.
Even if they hope for one perfect profession, Americans still like the idea of having options. Both U.S. adults (85%) and practicing Christians (83%) overwhelmingly agree that having more choices is a good thing in navigating their life's path.
At notable points, however, professional career coaches' perceptions largely diverge from the average, countering some of the pressures facing U.S. adults and practicing Christians. In fact, about four in five career coaches disagree that understanding one’s calling is a solo journey or that there is one best job for everyone. Additionally, co-authors Dr. Shackelford and Denzel align with the career coaches interviewed for You on Purpose in asserting that more choices can actually lead individuals to feel overwhelmed or uncertain when it comes to deciding on their calling—especially if they choose to tackle the discovery journey alone.
Taken together, this research points to a major opportunity for church leaders to walk alongside members of their community as they discover their callings and move toward lives marked with deeper confidence, satisfaction and purpose. After all, as shared in a recent Barna article, one in five adults (21%) are looking to the church for teaching and programs that help with vocational well-being. How can your church assure people they aren't on their own in their vocational discipleship and journey toward purpose?
Further reading and resources:
- You on Purpose, written by Dr. Stephanie Shackelford and Bill Denzel offers leaders and readers alike a four-step process for discovering and carrying out one’s calling with confidence.
- Dr. Shackelford was a recent guest on the ChurchPulse Weekly podcast. Listen to the episode or read a recap of the interview here.
- A recent Barna article explored how U.S. adults, generations and Christians are feeling about their vocational well-being, one year into the pandemic. Read that post here.
- Pastor Tim Yee, author of TruMotivate’s six-week study guide, Finding Your TruCenter, shares on the importance of Good & Meaningful work in this blog post.
- Christians at Work, a 2018 report created in partnership with Abilene Christian University, explores how people experience a sense of purpose through their professional lives, taking a close look at Christians who successfully integrate their faith and work.
About the Research
You on Purpose data: The data contained in this report originated through a series of research studies conducted by Barna Group.
The full project was completed in multiple stages. The first stage of the research began with 99 qualitative interviews conducted August 25–31, 2018, with a small group of friends and family to test ideas about vocation. Barna conducted 104 online quantitative interviews with a random representative sample of U.S. adults from September 6 to 12, 2018. Both studies served as a pre-test and informed the development of the larger quantitative survey in 2019.
Barna surveyed 16 career counseling professionals from May 28 to July 20, 2019, using an online qualitative-quantitative hybrid survey.
A larger quantitative survey was then conducted with 2,108 U.S. adults who are currently employed or who have been previously employed. The survey was conducted online with a random representative sample between November 21 and 30, 2019. The margin of error for this sample is plus or minus 1.9 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.
The quantitative survey was conducted using an online research panel. Upon completion of the survey, minimal statistical weighting was applied to the data to allow the results to more closely respond to known national demographic averages based on age, gender, ethnicity, education, and region.
Barna Cities (vocational well-being) data: The data shown above is based on a representative sample of 2,007 interviews with U.S. adults, ages 18 or older. The interviews were conducted online from April 23 to May 5, 2021. The margin of error is +/- 2 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence interval.
Practicing Christians: self-identified Christians, who have also attended a worship service within the past month and strongly agree their faith is very important to their life.
Barna 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, 2021