The Connected Generation: US

The Connected Generation: US

A Barna Report Produced in Partnership with World Vision


By Edgar Sandoval Sr., President and CEO, World Vision U.S.

My life has provided plenty of opportunities to push past assumptions and differences. When I moved back to the U.S. at the age of 18, I spoke only Spanish after having spent most of my childhood in Latin America. In my career, I’ve known the feeling of being the only executive at the conference table with an accent. I’ve sensed the weight of bias—and my own has gotten in the way, too. Raising two daughters with special needs, I’m always discovering new limitations I have unconsciously placed on them.

But I wholeheartedly believe that we are all one in Christ (Galatians 3:28), and that our faith should compel us to reach beyond stereotypes and work toward mutual understanding.

Millennials are one group that is often misunderstood and all too easy to judge—especially with regard to their faith. Although cynicism toward this generation abounds, I do not share it. I believe Jesus is lighting fires in the hearts of young people, just as he has done with all generations since he walked on this earth. World Vision wants to engage them in striving to realize God’s plan for the world, particularly in fragile places where even a small act can make a huge impact.

That’s why we commissioned this study from Barna Group. Understanding 18–35-year-olds and separating fact from assumption enables World Vision, and the Church at large, to help unleash young people’s passion for Jesus. We want to equip faith leaders to connect and collaborate with this generation. The good news is that these young adults have great potential to change the world.

They are globally minded and quick to embrace causes they believe in. Driven by a sense of humanitarian responsibility, they are personally invested in what’s happening beyond their communities.

However, many are dissatisfied with their church experiences, longing for congregations to do more to fight injustice and make a significant impact on poverty.

When we understand these perspectives, we can reach across the gap. I see a tremendous opportunity to authentically connect with this generation and their passion to live Jesus’ calling in Matthew 25 to care for the hungry and thirsty, the stranger and those in need of clothing, the sick and imprisoned.

Engaging this generation within the body of Christ is an urgent assignment. The Church is the greatest God-ordained force for holistic transformation, able to penetrate cultural barriers and bring the hope of Jesus to all nations. And the Church’s strength is its diversity, uniting people of all backgrounds and ages in bearing witness to Christ. Intergenerational and intercultural understanding strengthens churches for this mission. We need each other. Instead of dismissing Millennials for their perceived differences, let’s believe in them and learn from them as together we realize our purpose in the kingdom of God.

Members of the Connected Generation



For more than a decade and across multiple projects, Barna Group has kept a close eye on the generation known as Millennials (defined in the United States as those born between 1984 and 1998). We’ve watched them navigate new technology, develop passions for community and justice, and balance particularly high ideals and ambitions. Our recent research has tracked their entrance into adulthood, career and family—and, among a significant proportion, a simultaneous departure from religion. We see similar trends now among the leading edge of Gen Z (born between 1999 and 2015), who, so far, are even less inclined toward religion than their Millennial peers.

Barna partnered with World Vision, a leading voice in global activism with a shared vision of engaging the next generation, to dramatically widen— and focus—the lens with which we view young adults around the world. We interviewed more than 15,000 adults ages 18 to 35 in 25 countries and nine languages, asking them about their goals, fears, relationships, routines and beliefs. This report represents a comprehensive summary of the findings specific to the United States of America.

Though some themes vary by country and context, there are other similarities across borders. In the following pages, you’ll meet maturing respondents who don’t just want to be “reached”— they want to be involved and make a difference. Many of these driven adults are wary and weary, wrestling with questions, longing for deeper relationships and facing significant societal, professional and personal obstacles. Yet we see that faith is one important factor associated with their well-being, connection and resilience. When—or, for many, if—they walk into a church, they’ll need concrete teaching from leaders they can trust and meaningful opportunities to contribute to a faith community.

Through this report, Barna’s aim is not only to help the global Church to better understand 18–35-year-olds around the world, but to truly partner with them in discipleship and activate them in leadership. We invite you to join us in learning more about, and from, this connected generation.

Members of the Connected Generation Overview

Essential Insights on Emotional, Social and Spiritual Trends Among Young Adults in the U.S.


What values are Millennials, and now Gen Z, bringing with them into adulthood? What kind of world are they already building? What is their relationship to faith? The reality is that members of this age cohort are hardly “the next generation” anymore. Newcomers no longer, they are a formidable force, actively shaping the future of our workplaces, media, politics, arts, neighborhoods and, yes, churches.

For a groundbreaking global study, Barna Group combined its research expertise with the reach of World Vision, the largest child-focused Christian humanitarian organization in the world, to interview more than 15,000 adults ages 18 to 35 in 25 countries and nine languages. This report represents a summary of the findings specifically within the United States, providing a regional snapshot of a group we’re calling The Connected Generation.

Through quantitative research, data visualizations and field guides, these pages reveal both sobering and surprisingly hopeful trends among a globally minded generation, including:

  • An overview of young adults’ goals, fears and emotional well-being in an anxious age
  • New data about attitudes toward spirituality, religion and the Christian Church in a secular climate
  • Contextualized insights about how to support and partner with 18–35-year-olds in your area as they fulfill ambitions toward vocation, justice and leadership

In addition to original writing from Barna president David Kinnaman, this country report from The Connected Generation project features commentary from local leaders in the United States, including Jason Ballard, Eugene Cho, Sam Collier, Edgar Sandoval, Sr. and Jeanne Stevens.

Join us in learning more about—and from—this connected generation.

Get more information about The Connected Generation project and related resources at theconnectedgeneration.com.

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