The Connected Generation

The Connected Generation

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.


For more than a decade and across multiple projects, Barna 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. Pastors have told us their churches feel an urgency to reach these generations, yet struggle to gain their attention and commitment, particularly in a secularizing U.S., where Barna’s research has been concentrated.

Faith leaders aren’t the only ones seeking a greater understanding of these young adults. The stereotypes—some more fair than others—have stacked up, making Millennials, and Gen Z beyond them, a source of resentment at worst or bemusement at best. But the reality is that members of this age cohort are hardly “the next generation” anymore. Newcomers no longer, they are a formidable and present force, actively shaping the future of our industries, politics, arts, neighborhoods and, yes, churches. What values do they bring with them, and what kind of world are they already building?

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 an initial, comprehensive summary of those findings, a primer of sorts about a group we’re calling The Connected Generation.

These respondents all have at least one thing in common in addition to their age: an internet connection. Though some themes vary by country and context, there are other similarities across borders. In the following articles, 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 these pages, 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 encourage their leadership. We invite you to join us in learning more about, and from, this connected generation.



This study is based on online, representative public opinion surveys conducted by Barna Group. A total of 15,369 respondents ages 18 to 35 across 25 countries were surveyed between December 4, 2018, and February 15, 2019. Sample distribution based on continent and country are shown below.

North America

  • United States (2,000)
  • Canada (1,000)


  • South Africa (750)
  • Nigeria (512)
  • Kenya (300)
  • Ghana (462)


  • South Korea (500)
  • India (500)
  • Philippines (250)
  • Indonesia (500)
  • Singapore (500)
  • Malaysia (250)
  • Taiwan (300)

Latin / South America

  • Mexico (500)
  • Brazil (1,005)
  • Chile (300)
  • Colombia (300)


  • United Kingdom (1,100)
  • Germany (1,001)
  • Spain (500)
  • Austria (500)
  • Switzerland (500)
  • Romania (251)


  • Australia (1,021)
  • New Zealand (567)


Unless otherwise noted, all data referenced in The Connected Generation were collected by Barna, among a nationally representative sample of the population identified. For this study, Barna relied on online collection methods, including mobile phone users.

The study used online national consumer panels that are representative by age, gender, region and ethnicity. Respondents were fully verified by the representative sample sources. Additionally, quality control measures checked that respondents were completing the survey at an appropriate pace and paying attention to the questions asked.

The survey was offered in nine different languages (English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, German, Romanian, Korean, Indonesian and Taiwanese), translated by a trusted translation service and verified by local partners in every country for context-specific nuance.

Based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s International Data Base, the CIA World Fact Book and available census data from the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Chile, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, the UK, Germany, Spain, Austria, Switzerland, Romania, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, India, Philippines and Singapore, quotas were designed to ensure the final group of adults interviewed in the study reflected each country’s distribution of adults nationwide based on age, gender, ethnicity and region.

Online surveys necessitate literacy and an internet connection, which means the sample reflects adults who have those capabilities and does not reflect those who are unable to read or lack connectivity to respond to online surveys. Thus, in spite of a robust methodology, this sample is not meant to be representative of entire national populations, regions, continents or the world. The countries selected for this study were based on countries and regions where Barna and World Vision receive frequent requests for research-based insights. These and other concerns or limitations were respectfully considered while interpreting the data.

How to Use This Report

One of many resources being produced from this groundbreaking research, The Connected Generation report is intended to offer Christian leaders an engaging overview of the findings about 18–35-year-olds around the world, particularly their perceptions and experiences with faith. Using various formats—data storytelling, original columns, expert Q&As, infographics and more—it has been packaged to suit a variety of reading and study experiences. The content is divided into three main sections, providing a glimpse into some specific facets of respondents’ lives and building upon Barna’s existing areas of research:

  • Life in an Anxious Age: the milestones, relationships and emotions that mark respondents’ early adulthood
  • Engagement with Spirituality & the Church: openness to and affiliation with spirituality and religion at large, as well as how Christianity specifically is perceived, practiced and nurtured
  • Potential for Impact: exploring 18–35-year-olds’ desires to lead, find a calling and make a difference

At key points, essays from Barna president David Kinnaman expand upon the global findings and offer insights from his years spent studying and writing about the next generation.

In the Appendix, Country Profiles look at general religious attitudes and metrics for each country included in the study. Features such as Country Comparisons and Connect the Dots are scattered throughout to help readers and leaders make sense of the data in their context, and a Glossary defines terms that are foundational to Barna’s reporting.


Who Are We Listening To?

It’s important at the start of this report to acknowledge exactly who this study represents: respondents ages 18 to 35, from 25 different countries, who have an internet connection that allows them to participate in online surveys. The methodological obstacles make it difficult to conduct a study that is truly “global” this international sample, rather, includes a more literate, educated and urban population than would be wholly representative of all of these countries. This is important context to keep in mind, as even a study as extensive as this one has its limitations.

So how to refer to the 18–35-year-olds reported on here? Adults in this age range are sometimes called Generation Y, Echo Boomers, iGen, Digital Natives and so on. Barna has chosen to use a variety of other terms for them in these pages. First, for clarity, they are often referred to as 18–35-year-olds from around the world. This age group also bridges the generations Barna would typically cover as Millennials and Gen Z, labels you’ll see occasionally in this report. The respondents may sometimes be referred to as emerging generations, this generation or young adults, the last of which we use to mean those on the lower end of the adult generations, not adolescents to whom this term is sometimes applied. Finally, for reasons that will become clear, we also proffer our own term: the connected generation.


Behind the Numbers

This report is based on a first-of-its-kind study that, in both scope and content, holds a unique place in Barna Group’s 30+ years of research. This project involved not only a large and international sample but also an extensive and highly collaborative survey design process. Here’s a peek at the numbers behind the data and how this portrait of the connected generation came to be.

The Sample Includes:

  • 15,369 adults ages 18 to 35 in 25 countries
  • 7,841 males and 7,479 females
    (49 “Other / Prefer not to respond”)



Glossary of Key Terms

Age Groups

Millennials are born between 1984 and 1998.

Gen Z are born between 1999 and 2015.



For the purpose of international analysis, education level is split into three groupings, based on sample distribution in each country. The terms “bottom tier / least educated,” “middle tier / average education” and “top tier / above average education” will be used to discuss education.


Connectivity Index

Individuals are ranked along a spectrum of connectivity according to how much they identify with eight factors across four categories of connection.

Globally connected:
Events around the world matter to me.
I feel connected to people around the world.

Relationally connected:
I often feel deeply cared for by those around me.
I often feel someone believes in me.

I often feel optimistic about the future.
I often feel able to accomplish my goals.

What it takes to be an effective leader is changing.
Engage in four or more charitable activities (including giving, volunteering, advocating)

Strong connectivity: select 5–7 statements
Medium connectivity: select 3–4 statements
Weak connectivity: select 0–2 statements



Anxious respondents say they often feel at least three of the following four emotions: (1) anxious about important decisions; (2) sad or depressed; (3) afraid to fail and (4) insecure in who I am.


Faith Groups

Christians self-identify with a Christian denomination (Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, “other”).

Those of other faiths self-identify as Buddhist, Confucian, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Taoist or “other.”

Agnostic, atheists and nones self-identify as atheist or agnostic or do not identify with a religion.

Those who qualify as practicing members of Christianity or other faiths self-identify with that religion, attend a religious service other than a wedding or funeral at least once a month and say their faith is very important in their life.

Non-practicing members of Christianity or other faiths self-identify with that religion, attend a religious service other than a wedding or funeral a few times a year or less often and do not say that faith is very important in their life today.


Spiritual Categories of Those Who Experience Christianity

The following segments were originally defined and developed in research for David Kinnaman and Mark Matlock’s book Faith for Exiles (Baker Books, 2019) and have been slightly adapted to apply to this international study of 18–35-year-olds.

Resilient disciples are individuals who currently identify as Christian; attend church at least monthly and engage with their churches through more than just attendance; trust firmly in the authority of the Bible; are committed to Jesus personally and affirm he was crucified and raised from the dead to conquer sin and death; and express a desire to transform the broader society as an outcome of their faith.

Habitual churchgoers are individuals who currently identify as Christian and attend religious services other than weddings and funerals at least once a month yet do not meet the other requirements or hold the other foundational beliefs of resilient disciples.

Nomads (lapsed Christians) are individuals who currently identify as Christian but only attend religious services other than weddings or funerals once or twice a year at most.

Prodigals (ex-Christians) are individuals who do not currently identify as Christian despite having considered themselves to be a Christian in their upbringing.



Religious Climates

To understand how Christianity is perceived or practiced within specific atmospheres where it does or does not have cultural influence, countries included in this survey were grouped for analysis using a combination of historical trends, nationally representative secondary data and local partner input to determine their religious climate. Though in most cases this categorization reflects the predominant religion of that nation, it is primarily an indication of the cultural or societal presence of the Christian faith.

  • Secular or post-Christian contexts are those in which Christianity and religion overall are on the decline, having less impact than they once did on politics and culture.
  • Christian contexts are those where Christianity is either growing or has not seen a drastic decline in the past several generations; here, Christianity has an impact on culture and politics and is often identified as the societal norm.
  • Finally, Multi-faith contexts are those that do not have a large Christian presence. In some of these contexts, a small Christian minority is growing.

The next page has country comparisons between nationally representative data and our 18–35-year-old respondents. These comparisons demonstrate both how this connected generation looks different than their countries as a whole and the changing context young adults are living in.

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