The Connected Generation?
From a report by Barna and World Vision
What values are Millennials, and now Gen Z, bringing with them into adulthood? What kind of world are they already building? What is their relationship to faith?
The Barna Group and World Vision interviewed more than 15,000 adults (including 1,100 in the UK), aged 18 to 35 in 25 countries and nine languages—asking them about their goals, fears, relationships, routines and beliefs.
The study’s respondents all have at least one thing in common in addition to their age: an internet connection. But this generation is both more connected than ever, but also more isolated. While young adults feel very in tune with events around the world, they also feel disconnected from the people closest to them. They are craving support and personal relationships—even as their distrust of social institutions is on the rise.
“The research reveals a generation of driven adults who are wary and weary, wrestling with questions, longing for deeper relationships and facing significant societal, professional and personal obstacles. Yet, we also found that faith is one important factor associated with their well-being, connection and resilience. When—or, for many, if—they walk into a church, they’ll need concrete teaching from leaders they can trust and meaningful opportunities to contribute to a faith community.”
Here are some of their findings:
Connected But Alone
An early and obvious theme to emerge from this research was broad agreement with two statements: “Events around the world matter to me” (77% all) and “I feel connected to people around the world” (57%). However, the vast majority of the connected generation feel the impact of broad, global trends more than they feel loved and supported by others close to them, more than they feel optimistic and empowered and more than they express an outward orientation to change and personal activism. Despite being a hyper-connected and globally minded generation, many young adults say they feel lonely—and just one in three (33%) says they feel deeply cared for by those around them. Here, however, there is some good news for churches: Strong levels of connectivity are associated with faith in general and with Christianity in particular.
18–35-year-olds around the world are somewhat surprisingly faith-friendly, if not faithful. We glean this from (some) willingness to affiliate, but also from favorable opinions of the concepts of spirituality or religion at large. The majority of respondents, and especially those who engage meaningfully with their faith, espouses the benefits of religion, both for individuals and society. Unsurprisingly, more opposition appears among those who do not identify with a faith: Around half of these respondents view religion as bad for people or a detriment to society. Still, even among the irreligious, one-fifth regards religion as a positive thing.
Age of Anxiety
Respondents had an opportunity to provide a portrait of their emotions, and the image is one of a generation gripped by worry. Anxiety about important decisions is widespread (40%), as well as uncertainty about the future (40%), a fear of failure (40%) and a pressure to be successful (36%). Financial and professional stability are among the greatest predictors of worry and insecurity, a story consistent with this career-minded age group’s stage of life. These stressors come with a sense of being on one’s own; patterns of loneliness sharpen among these anxious young adults.
Looking for Answers
In spite of steady, even surprising signs that 18–35-year-olds remain appreciative of or personally receptive to faith, there are some barriers to belief. One in three young adults says that hypocrisy of religious people causes them to doubt things of a spiritual dimension. Science also challenges respondents’ willingness to believe, and—in keeping with the connected generations’ global awareness and inclinations toward justice—more than a quarter of 18–35-year-olds point to human suffering or conflict around the world as reasons they might have doubts. The data show that all of these factors prove to be bigger obstacles to people who don’t identify with a religion—yet even among those with some connection to Christianity, almost half still feel the Church cannot answer their questions. Those who have left the faith are particularly inclined to find flaws or gaps in its teachings, which they believe cannot address their questions, their day-to-day life or real issues in society.
Across the 25 countries in the study, roughly one out of seven 18–35-year-olds who grew up as a Christian (14%) has the marks of a resilient disciple; identify as Christian, attend a local church regularly, engage with their faith community above and beyond worship services, trust firmly in the authority of the Bible, are committed to Jesus personally and affirm his death and resurrection, express a desire for their faith to impact their words and actions. Most resilient disciples strongly agree there is someone in their life who encourages them to grow spiritually.
Longing to Make a Difference
The connected generation expresses some serious concerns about our shared future. Global problems such as corruption, racism, climate change and extreme poverty are front of mind. Young people want to be more than just bystanders to these issues. Though one-third doesn’t (yet) consider themselves to be a leader, young adults generally carry a hope to be contributors and problem-solvers—particularly if they are people of faith. Eight in 10 young adults who are practicing Christians strongly agree they want to honour God with their gifts and talents. They say their beliefs motivate them toward action and compassion, and they’re looking for their churches to provide such opportunities to fight injustice. One of the clear imperatives of this research is to offer more holistic forms of leadership development and vocational training and to mobilize a generation already inspired toward justice.
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