Dec 27, 2023

Year in Review: Barna’s Top 10 Releases of 2023

Unlike 2022—which offered Americans a return to rhythms not dissimilar to pre-pandemic times—2023 has not gone quietly. Yet, in the midst of a challenging year, there have been moments of joy as well.

For Barna Group at least, while some of the stories we shared were grim, many others offered encouraging statistics and hope for the future. Our Spiritually Open series shared with readers the many opportunities for faith conversations right now and helpful ways to engage with non-Christians, The State of Generosity series highlighted the numerous ways people can practice giving and The Open Generation series explored how Gen Z is stepping into adulthood with a passion to know Jesus and the desire to positively impact the world.

You can explore our most popular releases of 2023 in this article. We bet there’s a data point or two in here that you haven’t seen yet.

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1. Over Half of Gen Z Teens Feel Motivated to Learn More About Jesus
Curiosity about Jesus is widespread in the open generation. Teens in the U.S. are far more intrigued than their global peers, with 77 percent being at least somewhat motivated to keep learning about Jesus throughout their lives. A teen’s personal commitment to follow Jesus goes hand in hand with their motivation to study him—the percentage of teens who want to learn more about Jesus rises significantly among committed Christian teens. Even among teens who are non-Christians or don’t know who Jesus is, however, over half is at least somewhat motivated to keep learning about him.

2. Rising Spiritual Openness in America
Barna has been tracking the state of Christianity for nearly four decades. Though the trajectory of Christian commitment in the U.S. has been on a downward slide and is in need of urgent interventions, our new data give Christian leaders cause for hope.

In an October 2022 Barna survey of 2,000 U.S. adults, three out of four (74%) say they want to grow spiritually. Additionally, the same proportion (77%) say they believe in a higher power. Nearly half (44%) say they are more open to God today than before the pandemic.

3. Openness to Jesus Isn’t the Problem—the Church Is
When we asked Americans whether they have a positive or negative opinion of Jesus, seven in 10 (71%) say they view him positively. Of all U.S. teens and adults, 63 percent say they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today. This is actually most common among Millennials, of whom 70 percent say their commitment to Jesus is still important to them. Overall, the percentage of Americans who agree with this statement has declined fewer than 10 percentage points over the last 20 years (which is less of a decline than what is observed with other Barna faith metrics like church attendance).

4. Doubt & Faith: Top Reasons People Question Christianity
What reasons do U.S. adults give for doubting the Christian faith? Over one-quarter (27%) says their cause for doubt comes from past experiences with a religious institution. For those with some distance from Christianity or the Church (whether we analyze by people of no faith, the unchurched, those who could be described as deconstructing and so on), the “hypocrisy of religious people” is the top driver of doubt.

Causes for spiritual doubt, by faith segment

5. Excerpt: A Rapid Decline in Pastoral Security
The number of pastors who are feeling burnt out, lonely or unwell is on the rise, and this is especially true of young pastors. In short, things are a little bleak.

How bleak? For one example, our research shows that today’s pastors are deeply struggling with their sense of calling in the wake of COVID, with levels of pastoral self-doubt climbing to new highs. Consider that in 2015, when Barna conducted research for The State of Pastors, 72 percent of pastors said they felt “very satisfied” with their job as a pastor. By 2020, that number had dropped to 67 percent. Then, as of 2022, just 52 percent of pastors are “very satisfied” with their jobs.

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6. Excerpt: What Pastors Wish They’d Been Prepared For
Recent years may have amplified many pastors’ insecurities about what they have to offer their communities. Comparing data from 2015 and 2020, Barna found that pastors across the nation were facing a shocking surge in perceived gaps in their own training.

Resilient Pastor chart visualizing aspects of ministry pastors wish they were better prepared for

7. What Are People of No Faith Looking for in Faith Conversations?
In our survey, responses are clear: The top thing people look for in a conversation with a Christian is that they “listen without judgment.” People of no faith are also hoping for honesty about questions and doubts, and they don’t want forced conclusions. The best learning environment, they express, is one marked by care and consideration.

Unfortunately, that isn’t always what people of no faith find.

8. The Pastoral Succession Crisis Is Only Getting More Complicated
Clearly defined, well-communicated transition plans and team unity take time and resources, which might explain why many churches struggle to implement them effectively. More than half of pastors (54%) disagree with the statement “my church puts a significant priority on training and developing the next generation of leaders”—a 22 percent increase since 2015.

9. Peace, Hope Healing—What Spirituality Means to Americans Today
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.

spiritually open, issue 2 chart 1 on spirituality

10. What Impacts Christians’ Understanding of Conflict Resolution?
Overall, Christians say their family members have had the strongest influence on how they’ve learned to resolve conflict (57%). After this, they name the Bible (39%) and friends (37%) as most influential. Nearly one-quarter of Christians (24%) says pastors or church leaders have most influenced their approach to conflict resolution.

About the Research

About the Research
The statistics and data throughout these studies have been drawn from a series of national public opinion surveys conducted by Barna Group. All of the studies were conducted by Barna Group, unless otherwise noted, among a nationally representative sample of the population identified. For a more detailed methodology for each study, see the research methodology in the “About the Research” section in the footer of each respective article.

Photo by Aakash Dhage from Unsplash.

© Barna Group, 2023.

About Barna

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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