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Generation Z: Why So Few Believe

The generation of Americans born between 1999 and 2015 – who are the first generation born into the “post-Christian” world – say the presence of so much evil in the world, the hypocrisy of Christians, and the belief that science refutes much of the Bible are major reasons why there are so few believers in this demographic.

According to a recently released study by The Barna Group, only 59 percent of 13- to 18-year-olds identify as “some kind of Christian (59%) compared to three out of four Boomers (75%). Even more striking is the finding that atheism among Americans in this age group is almost double that of the U.S. adult population (13% vs. 6% of all adults).

So what is leading to this sharp drop off in the faith?

First, it’s important to remember that even though this generation is drawn to the spiritual, they come from a vastly different starting point from previous generations who received a basic education on the Bible and Christianity. And this lack of instruction shows in the reasons why these young people are turning away from God.

“Teens, along with young adults, are more likely than older Americans to say the problem of evil and suffering is a deal breaker for them. It appears that today’s youth, like so many throughout history, struggle to find a compelling argument for the existence of both evil and a good and loving God,” Barna reports.

More than a third of Gen Z (37%) believe it’s not possible to know for sure if God is real, compared to 32 percent of adults. Of those who do believe, far fewer say they are very convinced (54% vs. 64%).

The study also found that more than half of all Americans, both teens (58%) and adults (62%), agree with the statement “Many religions can lead to eternal life; there is no ‘one true religion.” This widespread embrace of relativism explains why the New Age and eastern spiritual practices have become a booming business in the U.S.

The study found that even though Gen Z tends to have a positive view of church, few actually attend. Among those who attend, a majority (77%) believe church is a place “to find answers to live a meaningful life” and “is relevant to my life;” however, negative perceptions are also quite high. For example, half of churchgoing teens believe the church “rejects much of what science tells us about the world,” that the church is “overprotective of teens” (38%), or the people at church are hypocritical (36%). Only one in five says that attending church is “very important” to them (20%).

Gen Z as it was for prior generations. Personal achievement, whether educational or professional (43%) and hobbies and past times (42%) are more central to this generation’s identity than family background and upbringing (34%). Two-thirds of Gen Z (66%) want to finish their education, start a career (66%) and become financially independent by age 30 (65%) while only one in five want to get married by then (20%).

“By comparison, all other generations rank family at the top,” Barna reports.

So how do we go about reviving the faith in this generation?

Because Gen Z are incredibly career-driven and success-oriented people, Barna believes Barna believes this emphasis on career presents an opportunity for the church to engage in what could be called “vocational discipleship.”

“This means teaching young people about the integration of faith and occupation, helping them to better understand the concept of calling and emphasizing the meaning and theological significance of work (not just their potential for professional or financial success). Not every church member has children, but almost every church has a children’s ministry. Almost every church member has a job, but very few churches have a faith and work ministry. The church has an opportunity to reach this next generation of teenagers through integrating career, work and calling into their discipleship efforts.”

Adult Christians can also facilitate this evangelization effort by living their faith more openly and honestly. This is especially true when it comes to introducing youth to a life lived in personal relationship with Jesus Christ rather than one of just “going through the motions.”

Most of all, we need to become like St. Monica in our prayer for this generation – insistent, persistent, and incessant!

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