Results from a recent Lifeway Research study indicate that many American teenagers are confused about what it takes to get to heaven.
More than 1,000 teenagers were surveyed in January and February of 2007 by mail questionnaire. These results are compared to an identical survey conducted in 2005. Each sample consisted of 12-19 year-olds.
Results show that 69 percent of teenagers believe heaven exists. Also, a majority of teens agree with the traditional Christian belief in Jesus Christ’s death for their sins as the reason they will go to heaven (53 percent strongly agree, 16 percent somewhat agree).
While many teenagers believe they will go to heaven because of their belief in Jesus Christ, one quarter trust in their own kindness to others (27 percent) or their religiosity (26 percent) as their means to get to heaven.
Out of those who believe in Jesus Christ, the majority have confused or intentionally combined ideas as to how to get to heaven.
Out of the 69 percent of the teenagers who strongly or somewhat agree they will go to heaven because Jesus Christ died for their sins, 60 percent also agree that they will go to heaven because they are religious, and 60 percent also agree they will go to heaven because they are kind to others.
This indicates that approximately 28 percent of American teenagers are trusting only in Jesus Christ as their means to get to heaven.
“The central theme of Christianity is the person and work of Jesus Christ – His death and resurrection,” said Scott McConnell, associate director of Lifeway Research. “It is surprising that only about half the teenagers who attended a Christian church in the last month are depending solely on the grace of Jesus Christ to get to heaven.”
Uncertainty about heaven
Though the large majority of teenagers believe heaven exists (69 percent), there has been a 6 percent drop since 2005 (75 percent) in the percentage of teens who are sure in their belief of heaven. Only 5 percent of teenagers strongly agree that they do not believe heaven exists.
African-American teenagers are more likely to believe in heaven than the average teen (81 percent vs. 70 percent). Girls (73 percent) are also more likely to strongly agree heaven exists when compared to guys (66 percent).
Twenty-six percent of teenagers don’t know if heaven is in their future, and similar uncertainty (24 percent) exists among teenagers who agree they will go to heaven because Jesus Christ died for their sins.
Four percent of teenagers strongly agree with the statement, “I don’t care if I go to heaven.”
Religious activities and involvement
Many teenagers have attended a church or religious service in the last 30 days (54 percent). Twenty percent attended a Catholic service, 8 percent attended a Southern Baptist service, and 28 percent attended some other type of Christian service. Four percent indicated they attended a religious service of a religion other than Christian.
Involvement in other church activities is much less common than attending church services. Twenty-three percent indicated that in the last 30 days they attended a church youth group social activity. Twenty percent attended Sunday school, 14 percent attended a small-group Bible study, and 8 percent have been in a leadership role within their youth group.
When asked about personal religious activity within the last 30 days, 39 percent of respondents said they prayed regularly and 14 percent said they read the Bible regularly during that time.
Compared to the 2005 results, there are several significant statistical declines. Fewer teens are attending Sunday school (20 percent vs. 24 percent) and small-group Bible studies (14 percent vs. 18 percent).
As for outreach activity, fewer teenagers are discussing their beliefs with friends and inviting them to church activities. Twenty-four percent said they had told a friend about their religious beliefs in the last 30 days (compared to 30 percent in 2005). Fifteen percent had invited someone to a church activity in the last 30 days (compared to 19 percent in 2005).
“Previous research has shown the vital role that invitations and word of mouth have in motivating people to visit church,” McConnell said. “As outreach has declined among teens, it is not surprising that Bible study attendance has also declined.”
Age and gender differences
Older teens (18 and 19 year-olds) are less likely than 12-17 year-olds to attend youth group activities (13 percent vs. 26 percent), and they are less likely to attend Sunday school (8 percent vs. 24 percent).
Female teens are more active religiously than their male counterparts. More females pray regularly (48 percent vs. 31 percent) and read the Bible regularly (17 percent vs. 11 percent) than male teenagers.
The level of teen participation is also higher for females than males for church youth group social activities (26 percent vs. 20 percent), small group Bible studies (18 percent vs. 11 percent), and leadership roles in their church youth group (10 percent vs. 6 percent).