This past summer, The Barna Group conducted a global survey that included over 24,000 teenagers from 26 different countries. These teenagers were asked about how they view Jesus, the Bible, and justice. The reports were evaluated and published by Barna with webinars over each overarching topic in October 2022. Webinar replays and survey details are available on The Open Generation website.
These studies brought some impactful discoveries that ministry leaders would benefit from. This is a brief reflection on Barna’s first two reports in the Open Generation study, with a few major themes for youth workers and parents to consider.
Teenagers Call Themselves Christians but Don’t Know the Gospel
One of the most striking discoveries of Open Generation, vol. 1, was that an overwhelming majority of teenagers call themselves Christians. 52% of teenagers identify as Christians, but this study also noted that “only 50 percent among teens who identify as Christians say Jesus was resurrected; not even half (44%) say Jesus was God in human form.”
This shows us that teenagers are claiming a Christian identity without understanding foundational truths of the Gospel. Globally, the forefront of our teaching should focus on the Gospel. As we have shared before, this does not always mean the explicit gospel invitation but the truths of our Triune God in creation, redemption, and restoration, and the reality of the fall of humanity should be weaved throughout our short and long-term discipleship strategies.
The language we use for the Christian identity should be reconsidered as well because Barna found that “there is a considerable 30-point gap between the percentage of teens who call themselves Christian (52%) and the percentage who say they have made a personal commitment to follow Jesus (22%).”
Throughout the study, those who have made a commitment to follow Jesus respond far more favorably to the truths of the Gospel, open God’s Word more regularly, and are motivated to help do something about injustice in the world. As youth leaders, we need to take the first step in understanding what our students mean when calling themselves Christians, leading them to a life committed to following Christ and reading his word.
Teenagers Own a Bible But Aren’t Opening It
“Three-fifths of teens around the world (59%) say there is a Christian Bible in their home, making it the most common religious text young people have access to.” Not only do teenagers own a Bible and have more access to it than ever before, but 44% also responded they believe the Bible is holy. This statistic was not just those who called themselves Christian, it was every teenager surveyed.