02 Engagement with Spirituality & the Church

Engagement with Spirituality & the Church


Religious Affiliation Across the Connected Generation

Relationship to Faith



Only about one out of 10 is completely certain they do not exist. Young adults’ feelings toward faith specifically are more complex, but they lean toward seeing religion as good and important.

The Church’s Mixed Reputation



Young adults with some proximity to religion in general or Christianity specifically hold respect for the Church, while those furthest from religion – and particularly those who have detached from it – show great opposition.

Many young Christians are considered ‘church dropouts’ – respondents who either grew up Christian and no longer affiliate with the Church or still identify as Christian but attend a place of worship infrequently (less than every few months).

Church teachings commonly pose challenges to engagement

Ideas About Christianity, Christians & Christ



Groups who are distant from the Church struggle not only to see value in the institution but to connect to its tenets. Many young adults who aren’t part of the Church identify Jesus as a historical figure or just a man, and their metric for Christian identity is built around church attendance, rather than certain beliefs or virtues that Christians indicate is central to their faith expression.

Non religious young adults see the modern church differently

In order to maximize statistical efficiency and effectiveness, Barna aggregated some faith segments in Australia and New Zealand for analyses. Although this does not allow for comparisons between the two countries, it strengthens the findings’ validity that may otherwise be weakened by small sample sizes among these particular segments.

Resilient Discipleship & the Impact of Church



In Faith for Exiles, Barna president David Kinnaman examines four groups who grew up with Christian backgrounds. This study extends those categories across 25 countries and observes similar groups and patterns of Christian faithfulness around the world, among:

Prodigals – grew up Christian but no longer identify themselves as Christian.

Nomads – identify as Christian but do not regularly attend church.

Habitual churchgoers – identify as Christian and attend church at least once a month, but do not qualify as resilient disciples.

Resilient disciples – identify as Christian and (1) attend a local church regularly and engage with their faith community above and beyond worship services; (2) trust firmly in the authority of the Bible; (3) are committed to Jesus personally and affirm his death and resurrection; and (4) express a desire for their faith to impact their words and actions.

Worship Practises & Perceptions



Why do resilient disciples in Australia and New Zealand continue to attend their place of worship? Learning about God and commitment to their faith top their list of reasons.

Friends are the primary thing missing from their experiences with a place of worship. Habitual churchgoers, however, also say that they hope churches might offer support groups for the challenges in their lives.

What young adults say is missing from worship communities

Field Guide 2: Engagement with Spirituality & the Church



In the first part of this field guide, we explored how a lack of connection may be contributing to the anxiety that many 18–35-year-olds feel. We also looked at how your community could offer a real and authentic source of connection and hope to young adults.

Now comes the difficult part: making a case to young adults that there is value in being associated with a place of worship in the first place. Field Guide 2 will help you think through some practical steps your church can take toward this end.

Guiding questions

Before you dig into this field guide, consider the following questions as a team:

  • What is the perception of our surrounding culture toward Christianity? Do the findings of the study we just read about match our ideas of that perception? How are they similar or different?
  • Do you think young adults’ ambivalence or negative feelings toward religion and Christianity is fair? Why or why not? How has the Church in your region contributed or defended against those feelings?
  • How is your church equipped – or not equipped – to minister to and foster reconciliation with those who have been wounded by Christians or churches? With the high number of dropouts in your cultural context, what are some ways you feel your community or the broader church in your society can begin to help in healing the wounds of the dropouts

Ambivalence … and antagonism

Many members of this generation show a deep ambivalence toward religion – and in some cases, a deep antagonism. While a majority of young adults says they believe in spiritual forces, when that spirituality is tied to a religious group, doubts and opposition crop up. Young adults say the hypocrisy of religious people is the biggest reason they doubt there is an thing spiritual. There is even a large minority – around one-third of young adults in some countries – who believe that religion is harmful to people and detrimental to society.

The situation for churches is even more stark when it comes to trying to address people who grew up in the Christian faith but have left, or those who don’t attend church very often despite identifying as Christian. This group views the Church as politically problematic, judgmental and insulated from real problems in society. Church teachings, likewise, are considered flawed or insufficient.

The reality is hard for many churches. And yet, there are still steps you can take to help the young adults in your midst seek and know God.

An unfair responsibility

Addressing church wounds is never easy. A person might have burdens from a different tradition or theology you personally find abhorrent; there might be hurt from a situation that is completely indefensible. You and your church might be made a scapegoat for the sins of others, and that will feel unfair.

But it’s also an opportunity to show how the Church works. As a global body, every Christian expression is responsible for fostering reconciliation for past sins. You might not have the same theology or church polity as the churches you see have truly hurt people, but you do have a responsibility to work toward making things right with those willing to listen in your context or circle.

Think about how your community can repent for the sins of the global Church. Think about what seeking reconciliation and asking forgiveness looks like (and how it may look different from place to place). And then do the hard work of continuing that ministry each day, as you continually follow the sanctifying power of the Spirit.

Disliked for the wrong reasons

There are plenty of ways that churches in any culture will stand in opposition to some surrounding cultural values. A community of peacemakers seeking to do justice, show mercy and walk closely with God in his will will naturally fall outside the norm! And yet, many young people are suspicious of Christianity for reasons beyond the gospel. Some of this is theological variance; some of it is carelessness. Often churches are unclear in their treatment of issues that need to be dealt with with deep sensitivity. Work on your church’s words and deeds. Make sure that when you hear opposition, it’s because your community is following Jesus, not because you accidentally let people believe something you don’t.

Help people find what they’re missing

Even the young adults who are active and happy at churches still report some things they miss. And these aren’t just preferences – going to church without any friends or family for support is hard! Where can you easily offer new opportunities for young adults to find community and connection in your church?

Does Your Church Have:

Social gatherings?

Support groups?

Opportunities for social action?

Vocational training?

Opportunities to connect?

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