04 The Need for Spiritual Guides & Encounters

The Need for Spiritual Guides & Encounters


Adults who care about young people’s spiritual development could play a key role in taking them from a nominal to a sincere faith—a shift that could redefine an individual’s life, and on a larger scale, the spiritual landscape of the Republic of Ireland. However, a majority of Christian youth in Ireland (55%) does not know any adult who regularly talks with them about their faith. Even fewer non-Christians have a spiritual mentor, with only a quarter (25%) identifying any adult who asks them regularly about their faith. Young adults (35%) are less likely than teens (57%) to have an older spiritual guide who talks to them about their faith life on a regular basis.

Is There a Spiritual Leader Who Regularly Talks to You about Your Faith?
January–February 2017, n=790 young people (ages 14–25) in the Republic of Ireland.


As explained in chapter two, parents are the most cited spiritual influence for young people, and mothers are particularly effective in demonstrating the appeal of Christianity. It follows, then, that Irish youth who say their mothers have had a positive influence on their faith are more likely than average to be practising Christians (43%). Young people interviewed in this study often remember their parents making sure they went to church, talking about God, praying with them at night and telling them to go to youth group in their teenaged years.

Spiritual Guides Encourage Faith Practices
January–February 2017, n=790 young people (ages 14–25) in the Republic of Ireland.


Further, a young person with a parent who often asks about their faith is much more likely to have a private spiritual life (31%, compared to 7% of those without a parent as a spiritual guide). This influence transcends distance; there is barely a change among young people who no longer live at home.

Other young people point out the example or care of Christians outside their families, like encouragement from chaplains placed in schools. Anecdotally, friends and peers are very influential on young people’s spiritual life. When asked more specific questions about faith influences, however, many young people say friends have not influenced their faith (45%).

Given the lack of mature spiritual guides for young people—as well as their potentially significant impact on young people when they are present— youth workers recognise that mentorship could be a force to keep Irish youth involved in Christianity, despite the cultural pressures to retreat. As one says, “Most parents encourage them to attend church activities, but only few model faith in the home. Where God is a priority in the home, there is a significant difference in the faith and engagement of those young people.” Analysis suggests youth workers may need to develop closer relationships with parents and with mentors in order to facilitate this kind of ministry.

Christian events and programmes—often a strong force connected to Irish youths’ church attendance and personal faith practice, as shown in chapter one—may also be a place where youth can encounter spiritual guides and youth leaders. In general, such programmes seem to enhance connection both to Christianity and to other Christians, offering both positive examples and the relief of not having to deemphasise one’s faith in social settings. A young Pentecostal woman says, “When you’re a teenager, you feel like very much a minority. … The only kinds of Christians you knew were the ones that were in your church, and [you never heard] of any other ones around you. And then suddenly you go to this event and there [are] thousands, and it’s like, OK, I guess we’re not on our own.”

Despite the numerous pressures facing their generation, some members of the young groups Barna surveyed are compassionate and eager for a dynamic religious expression. More than a third of Irish youth (37%) say it’s mostly or completely true that they’d like to find a way to follow Jesus that connects to the world they live in. This is even more true of Christians (47%), particularly practising ones (71%). One in four young Christians (25%) feels it’s important that their lifestyle reflect their relationship with God, and one in five (19%) wants to help the Church return to the priorities Jesus intended for it.

In this unique era in the Republic of Ireland—when the nation’s spiritual landscape is shifting, the values of popular culture are often at odds with religious conviction, and success is by no means guaranteed—young Irish people need meaningful spiritual relationships and encounters to achieve a healthy sense of perspective on their life and faith.

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Appendix A - Notes

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