Shortly before the pandemic, Barna Group published The Connected Generation, a first-of-its-kind study, created in partnership with World Vision. The global study offered an unprecedented look at the faith and well-being of young adults—in this case, 18–35-year-olds—in 25 countries.
In October 2022, Barna and a collective of partners will broaden the scope of our global research, this time to 26 countries and a slightly younger age group: teenagers ages 13 to 17. Before we begin to introduce The Open Generation, let’s review some of the most memorable and important insights about their slightly older peers in The Connected Generation, who represent a cross-section of the age cohorts known as Gen Z and Millennials.
To stay informed on upcoming releases and webcasts related to The Open Generation project, visit opengeneration.info.
Loneliness, Isolation & Anxiety Plagued Young Adults Even Before the Pandemic
In 2019, just one in three 18–35-year-old respondents shared with Barna that they often felt deeply cared for by those around them (33%) or that someone believed in them (32%). Meanwhile, nearly one in four (23%) acknowledged encountering feelings of loneliness and isolation.
When respondents had an opportunity to provide a portrait of their emotions to Barna, the image was one of a generation gripped by worry. Anxiety about important decisions was widespread in the connected generation (40%), as well as uncertainty about the future (40%), a fear of failure (40%) and a pressure to be successful (36%).
“Our generation has a huge amount of difficulty because we’re trying to get meaning from a smaller, select group of things,” explains Jefferson Bethke (author, speaker and podcaster). “Realistically, the promise the world is giving us, in a consumeristic mentality, is an individual dream or promise.
“The meaning or connection you get from neighborhood, from family, from living in one location your whole life, from religion … all these things that really anchor you are staring to go away, one by one."
Despite Recognizing a Leadership Crisis, Young Adults Aren’t Always Ready to Step Up
For good reason, young adults perceived deep, wide, systemic problems facing the world’s future. As of 2019, four out of five 18–35-year-olds affirmed—and nearly half strongly affirmed—that “society is facing a crisis of leadership because there are not enough good leaders right now” (82%). This was one of the most widely endorsed statements in the entire global survey, which suggests its significance to this generation. In addition, one-third believed that “what it takes to be an effective leader seems to be changing.”
Barna asked young adults in what areas of their life they exercise some level of leadership. Nearly half said they were a leader in their family, and one-third felt like a leader in their workplace or elsewhere, such as a church or government. For this specific study, Barna grouped the latter into a category called “leaders outside the home,” who are half of all respondents (51%); one in five was a “family-only leader” (19%), meaning they selected family as their only sphere of leadership.
Three in 10 young adults did not consider themselves to be a leader, at that time (8%) or ever (22%); we referred to them as “non-leaders,” accordingly.
“The connected generation is looking for the Church to provide real, tangible, meaningful opportunities for development,” David Kinnaman (CEO of Barna Group) noted. “They want the church to be a laboratory of leadership, not just a place for spirituality. They want their faith to intersect the realities of life and, as budding Christian leaders, they want to address real life issues.”
Young Adults Listed Friends & Opportunities to Fight Injustice as Missing from Church
Naturally, church attendance has shifted through the pandemic, and Barna is still determining what it might look like now and in future. At least in the U.S., Millennials seem to be re-engaging.
As of 2019, just over half of 18–35-year-old Christians surveyed for The Connected Generation study (54%) attended church at least once a month, including one-third (33%) who were in the pews once a week or more. Three in 10 (30%) attended less frequently. A small group of young Christians at that time (10%) said they used to go to church, but no longer do.
What did 18–35-year-old Christian churchgoers wish was a part of their worship community? Encouragingly, when asked to identify from a list what might be missing from their church, the plurality (20%) responded “none of the above.” However, nearly one-fifth (18%) said their friends were absent from their church experience. Another 17 percent said opportunities to fight injustice and oppression were missing from their church experience.
“The Christian faith paints a radical picture of how God intended the world to be,” shares Chine McDonald (director of Theos, author, speaker and broadcaster). “Salvation is not just about life after death and it is not solely for the individual. God’s big story is about the complete restoration of the whole of creation and reconciliation with God through Christ’s incarnation, death and resurrection.
“When Millennials who believe in this truth attend churches where the focus is parochial, small and individualistic, is dominated by judgment rather than love, or when church leaders speak of who’s in or out rather than speak out against the injustice and oppression of people made in the image of God, then they walk away.”
Findings from The Connected Generation in 2019 paved a way for Barna's latest and largest global study to take place, enhancing our understanding of emerging perceptions on faith and justice.
The Open Generation, a project Barna and a collective of partners—including Alpha, Biblica and World Vision, with additional support from Christian Vision, Bible Study Fellowship, Christ In Youth and the Association of Christian Schools International—offers the latest data on today’s young people, exploring how global teens think about Jesus, the Bible and making an impact.
To stay informed on upcoming releases and webcasts related to The Open Generation, visit opengeneration.info.
About the Research
The Connected Generation 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.
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, 2022