NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Despite recent media reports that young adults are running from churches in droves, the beliefs of many younger unchurched people are more connected to historic Christian beliefs than many suspected.
More 20-somethings than individuals 30 and older believe in the God of the Bible, the resurrection of Christ and the uniqueness of the Christian God, according to research conducted by Lifeway Research, the research arm of Lifeway Christian Resources.
The data showed that younger unchurched people are more open than their older unchurched counterparts to hear more about Christianity – though they do tend to hold negative views of the church.
The survey results were released recently in Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches that Reach Them, a new book by Ed Stetzer, Lifeway Research president; Richie Stanley, team leader at the North American Mission Board’s Center for Missional Research; and Jason Hayes, Lifeway’s young adult ministry specialist. According to Hayes, the study confirmed much of what he has seen anecdotally in recent years.
“Despite much of what we’ve read, heard and even told ourselves, the idea that unchurched young adults are wholly disinterested in Christianity and the church is simply inaccurate,” Hayes said. “They are open to Christianity.”
Stetzer, Hayes and Stanley pointed out that church attendance among young adults hasn’t dropped off as much as previously thought. According to surveys conducted between 1972 and 2006 by the General Social Survey, a biennial research project, church attendance among young people is higher than it was in the 1990s and no more than 10 percent below its peak in the early 1970s.
For the most part, the theological beliefs of unchurched people in their 20s are closer to historic Christianity than the beliefs of living older generations who are unchurched. The research found that more than 4 out of 5 adults (80 percent) in their 20s believe in God. That is 8 percent higher than adults who are 30 and older. Additionally, 57 percent of 20-somethings are more likely to say “there exists only one God, the one described in the Bible.” That figure is nearly 10 percent higher than among older adults.
Those in their 20s also affirm the uniqueness of the Christian God at a higher rate than their elders. While 67 percent of people over 30 years old say the God of the Bible is no different than the gods of other religions, only 58 percent of 20-somethings agree.
Young people even affirm the central doctrine of Christianity – the resurrection of Christ – at a higher rate. Two out of 3 people (67 percent) in their 20s say they believe Jesus rose from the dead. Only 54 percent of older adults believe this.
“Unchurched young adults are open and believe many of the things that Christians believe, but they still need to be reached for Christ,” Stetzer said. “The challenge today may not be convincing them that there was a resurrection, but convincing them there was only one that brings them new life – and that new life is lived out in a community called ‘church.'”
While 20-somethings hold some more historically Christian views than their elders on a variety of core teachings, many also have nagging concerns about the church. Nearly 40 percent of respondents in their 20s believe the church wouldn’t approve of their lifestyle choices. Thirty percent of older adults have the same concern.
“We need to have an accurate understanding of exactly who we’re hoping to reach,” Hayes said. “Churches wanting to connect with this [younger] generation need to be informed and prepared.
“The world is watching, and young adults are looking to see a real and authentic faith from Christians. It’s not enough for the church to simply believe the right things. Our actions must be connected to these convictions as well.”
Methodology: The national phone survey included 900 unchurched respondents from age 20-29 and 502 adults over 30 years old. The survey provides a 95 percent confidence that the sampling error is ±2.5 percent.