Adrian Armstrong, Head of Bible Engagement, reflects on 'The Connected Generation', a piece of research from Barna Group that gives an overview of 18-35 year olds around the world. Crucially, Adrian highlights the opportunity for the church to provide Bible teaching that engages the doubts and questions of this troubled generation.
Young adults are anxious and lonely.
These are two of the key results of research carried out by Barna Group. But here’s another altogether more encouraging finding: young adults across the globe are surprisingly open to faith.
For The Connected Generation research, Barna surveyed 15,000 18-35 year olds in 25 different countries. The results bring both challenge and opportunity, as we seek to bring the Bible to this generation.
‘Gripped by worry’
The research outlines ‘a generation gripped by worry’ with their identity, achievements and emotions largely revolving around financial and career priorities. One-in-five young adults around the world experience anxiety (defined as reporting feeling at least three of the following emotions: anxiety about decisions, sadness or depression, fear of failure and insecurity about themselves). In the UK the figure is one-in-four.
In the UK, 31% of young adults said they felt lonely or isolated, with only US and Australian young people reporting greater loneliness and isolation.
The more developed a nation, the lonelier its young adults appear to be. Yet for young practising Christians, reported levels of loneliness and isolation halved.
Across the globe, the majority of 18-35 year olds identify with faith, with 51% self-identifying as Christian. Just 29% describe themselves as atheist, agnostic or irreligious. In addition, young adults overwhelmingly believe in spiritual forces, with only 8% rejecting the concept altogether.
The UK figures show a surprising spiritual openness. When asked, ‘Do you believe in spiritual forces or things of a spiritual dimension?’, 31% said, ‘Yes, I’m certain’; 30% said, ‘I think so, but I’m not sure’; while only 12% responded, ‘No’.
Barriers to belief
Challenges certainly remain for engaging with young adults of no faith. Barriers to belief include science (46%), hypocrisy of religious people (43%), human suffering (35%), and conflict in the world (32%).
Prodigals (research gives the name ‘Prodigals’ to those 18-35 year olds who grew up as Christians but no longer describe themselves as such) see flaws or gaps in Christian teaching (86%), and don’t believe the church can address their questions (81%), their day to day life (79%) or real issues in society (69%).
How will the church respond?
This is a generation asking serious questions and acutely aware of the issues facing the world. If we as churches can provide biblical teaching that provides both substance and relevance – engaging the doubts and the questions – then the challenge turns to opportunity.
How are our churches seeking to reach this generation? In our Bible teaching, do we speak about science, suffering, day to day life, and the big issues in society?
And having spoken, are we taking the time to listen and discuss the responses that come back from a generation who are in such desperate need of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?