Well, Easter has passed. We remember with gratitude that Jesus lived, died on the Cross for our sins, and was raised from the dead.
But what does that really mean? Unfortunately, for too many American Christians, it doesn’t mean as much as one might hope. A new research report by the Barna Research Group demonstrates that “Americans’ dedication to Jesus is, in most cases, a mile wide and an inch deep.”
David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, discusses the findings in their phone and on-line studies during 2014 and 2015, which are summarized in a report released on April 1:
“Many of the institutional, cultural and familial tendons that connect young adults to life in Christ are stretching. Much has been made about whether Millennials will get more serious about church and faith as they age, but the fact is younger Americans are not as connected as older generations are to Christ. Jesus is a friend of sinners, but many Millennials are ‘unfriending’ him at a time when their lives are being shaped and their trajectories set toward the future.”
What, exactly, do Americans believe about Jesus? The Barna Group lists five tenets of Christianity and shows that in each case, the number of Millennials (those born in 1980 or after) who believe is lower than the number of older adults. The five beliefs about Jesus which are analyzed in the Barna studies are:
1. Jesus was a real person. More than nine out of ten adults (and most Millennials, who were born between 1980 and the early 2000s) believe he walked the earth. But while 92% of adults believe in the existence of Jesus as a real person who walked the sands of Israel 2000 years ago, there is a slight decrease in faith among Millennials–only 87% of whom believe that Jesus was a real person.
2. Younger generations are less likely to believe that Jesus was God. While 56% of adults believe in Christ’s divinity, that number drops to fewer than half (48%) for the Millennial generation.3. Americans are divided on whether Jesus was sinless. Again, though, there is a generational difference. Among Millenials, 56% say that Jesus sinned while he was here on earth; when all adults are lumped together, that number drops to 52%.
4. Most Americans say they have made a commitment to Christ. In their report, the Barna Group examines different subsets of the population: women vs. men, whites vs. blacks, people at various income levels–and have found differences within those groups. Again, though, the most significant difference is age. According to the Barna Group,
Millennials are much less likely than any other group to have made a personal commitment to Jesus that is still important in their life today. Fewer than half of Millennials say they have made such a commitment (46%), compared to six in 10 Gen-Xers (59%), two-thirds of Boomers (65%) and seven in 10 Elders (71%).
5. People are conflicted between “Jesus” and “Good Deeds” as the way to heaven. Here Barna’s understanding of being a “born-again Christian” strongly delineates between “faith” and “works”–assessing the situation as “either-or” rather than “both-and.” Barna’s report explains:
Millennials are less likely to believe that Jesus is the path to Heaven than are other generations. Among Millennials who have made a personal commitment to Jesus, only 56 percent say they believe they will go to heaven because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior. This percentage climbs to two-thirds of Gen-Xers (64%), six in 10 Boomers (62%) and nearly seven in 10 among Elders (68%).
* * * * *
So what shall we make of the fact that in each category, younger Americans report less faith?
- Is it the result of poor catechesis, of inadequate teaching of the faith on the part of parents, clergy and educators?
- Or does the fault lie with a society which demands instant gratification, which has captivated the youth of America with technology and social media and trivial pursuits, abandoning the rigorous study of biblical texts?
- Or has the younger generation simply not yet been tested in faith and will they, as they pass through critical life experiences such as the birth of a child or the death of a loved one, grow in faith and understanding?
- Or is there something else?
What do YOU think?