Most teens around the world have positive views of Jesus. A new study by the Barna Group showed that about half of all teens describe Jesus as “loving” (49%) and believe he offers hope to (46%) and cares about people (43%).
The study, The Open Generation, is a series of journals that looks into the identity, values and views of teens across the globe. Findings from the study could help the Church develop projects and programs to connect with and empower the younger generation. In its largest global study in partnership with Alpha, Biblica and World Vision and other groups, Barna polled nearly 25,000 teens ages 13-17 in 26 countries and speaking 17 different languages.
The impression these voices offer is that this generation is open, inclusive, and curious about different faiths and perspectives. —David Kinnaman, CEO of Barna Group
In the first journal in the series, How Teens Around the World Relate to Jesus, researchers asked questions to better understand how teens engage with three elements of Christian faith: Jesus, the Bible, and justice.
Respondents see Jesus as trustworthy (38%), generous (37%), and they can have a personal relationship with him (23%). A few describe Jesus as judgemental (7%), irrelevant (6%), and hypocritical (4%).
Nearly half of global teens (47%) believe Jesus was crucified, while 33% believe in Jesus’ resurrection. But, among teens from another faith, only 15% believe these doctrines, and only 13% of those with no faith.
Teens around the world may have a positive perception of Jesus, but only one in five (22%) have made a personal commitment to follow Jesus, and nearly one in three (33%) haven’t done so.
“I think we’ve probably been aware of that. I think the stats just make it a bit more obvious to us,” said Dan Blythe, global youth director at Alpha International. “I mean, Jesus was perfect, we’re not, so we know it’s never going to be exactly the same. But you see a lot of churches with the sign saying, ‘Welcome home, you belong here. Come as you are’. I think that’s because there’s been a history where people haven’t been accepted or included in church, maybe felt judged.”
Blythe explained that churches should create welcoming spaces for teens and not just stop at putting up ‘Welcome home’ signs. “I do think it’s good to have a conversation about how do we create spaces where young people are going to feel they can walk in, and they’re not going to feel excluded and judged, and we’re not going to act like hypocrites.”
Teens and the Bible
In the second journal of the series, How Teens Around the World View the Bible, the study delves into the relationship of teens with the Bible and how they apply God’s teachings to their lives. Barna classified the teen respondents into three categories: Bible engaged, Bible open and Bible unengaged.
As expected, Bible engaged, or teens who read the Bible several times a week, scored high on how the Bible influences their personal identity. The majority, 84%, believes that the Bible teaches about living a meaningful life, understanding their purpose (84%), and living wisely in society (80%).
According to Barna, “This sets the tone for how today’s teens connect scripture to everyday life: Without meaningful Bible engagement and community, many in the open generation struggle to make sense of it all.”
The third journal, How Teens Around the World Can Make an Impact, reveals how teens want to be a positive member of society that can bring change to their homes, communities and the world. The numbers pointed out that teens who read the Bible are more inclined to call and promote justice.
Comparing the data between justice-motivated Christian teens and their Christian peers, the former group says the Bible motivates them to stand up against the wrongdoings of others (66% vs. 36%), promotes fairness and justice (73% vs. 42%), makes a positive impact on others’ lives (73% vs. 42%) and takes care of people who need help (75% vs. 44%).
“This study is intended to help us listen to teens today,” said David Kinnaman, CEO of Barna Group. “The impression these voices offer is that this generation is open, inclusive, and curious about different faiths and perspectives.”
Kinnaman added that, “”Our data suggests that although this generation may not deeply engage with Jesus, they are open to him, and when they do engage, they experience positive effects. It is our goal to offer a picture of the rising generation to the Global Church so that we may support and engage teens in relevant, meaningful ways.”