What are Americans looking for spiritually?
Soul Searching: What Spirituality Means to Americans Today—the second release in our Spiritually Open series, available on Barna Access Plus—investigates the different ways people see or describe their own faith today, beyond only checking a box for affiliation. In this excerpt, we’ll hone in on the top 10 things Americans are looking for in spirituality, as well as what pastors assume people are in need of.
People Are Mostly Looking for Inner Peace
Beyond the general concepts people use to describe what spirituality means to them—U.S. teens and adults often use words like spiritual, growing, open and content to define their spirituality—there is wider differentiation in how people describe the aim of their soul searching.
So, what are the desired paths and destinations for people on their spiritual journeys?
When Barna asked teens and adults in the U.S. to share what, specifically, they are looking for in their spiritual beliefs, the plurality chooses inner peace (37%), followed by hope (35%). Other things people hope to find in their spirituality include healing and forgiveness (30% each). More than one-quarter lean toward truth (29%), purpose (29%), guidance (28%) and growth (26%). Meaning and salvation (25% each) round out the top 10 spiritual pursuits.
There are some variations depending on a respondent’s faith identity. While inner peace, hope and forgiveness are important to those who identify as Christian, this group is more likely than others to also be looking for salvation, guidance and purpose (32% each) in their spirituality.
Along with the universal longing for peace and hope, those of other faiths are searching for truth (33%), while those of no faith seek both truth and growth (23%).
Are church leaders attuned to the desires that drive people in their spiritual journeys? When Barna asked pastors what they assume people are looking for concerning their spiritual beliefs, their top responses largely reflect reality. However, pastors perhaps overestimate the centrality of things like belonging (60%), meaning (56%) and community (47%). Certainly, these are often byproducts of or catalysts for spiritual belief and growth—but they don’t rank highly as the explicitly stated spiritual aims or goals of most people, Christian or otherwise.
Americans today say they have an increased openness to spirituality. But what they’re in search of and how they approach their spiritual pursuits vary widely. Understanding these key differences will help faith leaders and fellow Christians stay attuned to the unique perspectives and spiritual posture of every individual they encounter.
Additional reading and resources:
- Interested in reading “Soul Searching: What Spirituality Means to Americans Today” in full? This—and a variety of other Spiritually Open resources, including field guides for faith leaders and exclusive video interviews—are available exclusive in Barna Access Plus.
- For more data and insights on the state of evangelism in the U.S., check out Reviving Evangelism and Reviving Evangelism in the Next Generation.
- Curious what faith conversations look like in the digital age? Read Spiritual Conversations in the Digital Age and our Digital Evangelism reports to learn more.
- Is your church ready to welcome and openly engage with spiritually open and curious people? For more resources related to faith-sharing, check out our new Evangelism channel in Barna Access Plus.
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About the Research
The Spiritually Open project is conducted in partnership with Gloo and He Gets Us. The project is based on a survey of 2,005 U.S. adults and teenagers (ages 13-17) conducted online from December 13–22, 2022 via a consumer research panel. The margin of error for the sample is +/- 2.0 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. Quotas were set to representation by region, race / ethnicity, education, age and gender based on the U.S. Census Bureau. Minimal statistical weighting has been applied to maximize sample representation.
Additionally, a survey among 511 U.S. Protestant senior pastors was conducted online from December 13, 2021–January 3, 2023. Participants are all members of Barna Group’s Proprietary Pastor Panel. Minimal weighting has been used to ensure the sample is representative based on denomination, region and church size.
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
© Barna Group, 2023