Sep 4, 2018From the Archives
Do Christian Students Want Spiritual Growth from College?
This month, around 20 million young people across the country will become college freshmen. For most of these students, their (roughly) four-year journeys will be laser-focused on professional development and preparing for a career and financial success. But what about their spiritual and moral development? Are these primary or even secondary priorities of continuing one’s education? In partnership with the Association for Biblical Higher Education (ABHE), Barna asked Christian students about their openness to faith-based or religious learning opportunities.
First: Just what, exactly, do people think college is for? Americans overwhelmingly see higher education as a path to gainful employment (69%) and financial security (55%). This is a view shared across religious demographics: by Christians, by adherents to non-Christian faiths and by those who profess no faith at all. In some cases, Christians most fervent about their faith—including practicing Christians (75% prioritize preparing for a specific job or career) and evangelicals (67%)—are even more pragmatic and career-focused than non-Christians. Moral and spiritual development are seen as important but not the best reason to pursue a college education.
However, among those same groups of practicing Christians and evangelicals, there remains a significant level of interest in biblical or theological training outside of traditional undergraduate or graduate degree programs. Three in 10 practicing Christians (31%) and one-third of evangelicals (33%) express interest in “continued professional development that focuses on integrating faith and applying it to my career.” One in four evangelicals (26%) is interested in “single, one-off intensives, refreshers or workshops on a religious topic for personal enrichment,” and one in five (20%) says the same about “engagement in a religious education hub in my area where I can study theology for personal enrichment.”
31% of practicing Christians and 33% of evangelicals express interest in “continued professional development that focuses on integrating faith and applying it to my career.
About the Research
The general population survey of U.S. adults 18 and older was conducted October 21–30, 2015. The total sample size for this study was 1,011. Data was collected by an online market research vendor, then minimally weighted according to known demographic factors to provide nationally representative samples.
Evangelicals met nine specific theological criteria. They say they have made “a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today,” that their faith is very important in their life today; believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior; strongly believe they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; firmly believe that Satan exists; strongly believe that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; strong agree that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; strong assert that the Bible is accurate in all the principles it teaches; and describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today. Being classified as an evangelical is not dependent on church attendance, the denominational affiliation of the church attended or self-identification. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as “evangelical.” They represent 6% of the adult population.
Practicing Christian: Those who attend a religious service at least once a month, who say their faith is very important in their lives and self-identify as a Christian.
Other faith: those who associate with a faith other than Christianity. Among the most common of those faith groups included within that segment were Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism.
No faith: those who describe themselves as atheist or agnostic, or who indicate that they do not believe in the existence of God or have no faith-related ties or interests.
Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.
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