A surprisingly high percentage of Millennials say they have favorable impressions of Jesus and the Bible, even though those views don’t necessarily translate to faith in Christ or a belief in the Bible as trustworthy.
The findings—part of an extensive new study on the attitudes and views of the Millennial generation—show that the much-maligned age group (young adults through about age 40) is diverse in its opinions, unparalleled in its ethnic diversity to previous generations, and open to religious belief while largely skeptical of organized religion. Millennials are now the largest adult group of Americans and the primary age group raising children.
And while 41% say they pray at least weekly, another 40% don’t know, believe or care if God exists. Even so, only a few would describe themselves as atheists.
The study, titled “Millennials in America: New Insight into the Generation of Growing Influence,” was a collaboration of evangelical demographer George Barna, the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University and the nonprofit Foundations of Freedom.
“The deterioration of the Christian belief and practices in American society has been in progress for more than half a century,” the study acknowledges. “However, the pace of that dissipation has greatly accelerated with the coming of age of the Millennials.”
The study acknowledges the plethora of polling of Millennial attitudes over the last decade, but insists this specific research has taken a deeper approach.
“There are still areas of the mind, heart and soul of Millennials that have not been studied. That’s where this project comes into the picture,” the study’s authors say in their introduction.
For example, only 4% of Millennials hold a Biblical worldview (although as Barna notes, only 19% of born-again believers hold a truly Biblical worldview); three-fourths say they lack meaning and purpose; 30% identify somewhere on the LGBTQ spectrum of sexual identity (39% in the 18-23 age group); and only 22% believe human life is sacred.
Yet 59% say they hold a positive view of Jesus Christ, and 51% have a positive view of the Bible, (even though most don’t look to it as an ultimate guide). And while 23% say they have confessed their sins and “embraced Jesus Christ as my savior,” almost twice that (42%) say they “seek to avoid sinning because it breaks God’s heart.” Also, 53% have a positive view of the United States.
Among the other findings:
• Millennials struggle to trust others. Only 46% say they trust parents to “always or almost always tell the truth or do what’s right.” Only 26% say they trust Christian pastors to do the same, although the percentage for elected public officials was only 15%.
• Millennials have grown up in a tribalized America. Barna writes: “I’d like to encourage you
to look upon the Millennials as a generation that has inherited a cultural war zone but not the tools to bring peace to that war.”
•Millennials are apprehensive about marriage. Twenty million were raised in broken families or had friends who were. While that commitment to establishing a lasting positive relationship with a spouse is commendable, the fear of making the wrong choice is relationally paralyzing millions of young adults,” Barna writes.
•Millennials are less likely than other adults to look to the Bible as a moral guide: 63% rely on emotions, experiences and others’ opinions to form moral viewpoints.
•Millennials hold a variety of views about God, but only 35% believe God is the “all-powerful, all-knowing, perfect and just creator of the universe who rules that universe today.” Around 5% are atheists, and another 5% believe “everyone is God.” And while 8% percent believe in multiple gods, 12% view God as the fulfillment of human potential or a state of higher consciousness. Some 36% would fall into an agnostic category.
Barna writes in the study’s afterword: “[Millennials] are largely the product of the unaddressed dysfunctions of the generations that came before them—the generations that raised the Millennials to become who they are today.”
He adds, “Life is not the random series of events that millions of Millennials perceive it to be. How overwhelming life must be when that perception prevails.”
“The Biblical worldview, in contrast, gives us the power, authority, wisdom and reason to live our life to the fullest,” Barna writes. “It is a worldview of hope, but not an unrealistic hope given the 2,000-plus years of testimonies of people just like you and me whose lives have been gloriously transformed by the presence, compassion, guidance and eternal preservation delivered through becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ and following the guidelines provided to us in the Bible. The divine Creator who gives us life and purpose loves us enough to protect us even more adeptly than any laudable father on earth would do for his sons and daughters.”
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