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Study Shows Much of Gen Z Believes the Bible Is True – Here's the Good and the Bad News


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Barna Group isn’t new to generational research—and the discouragement that sometimes comes with it. In research of Christianity and the Church, in particular, the news of declining faith and engagement, especially among young people, can tend to overshadow any bright spots in the data.

In this piece, however, I want to share some of those rare bits of good news: Our most recent (and largest) study to date shows that, for Gen Z, there is much reason to be hopeful and optimistic.

I want to address just one area here: their perceptions of the Bible.

We surveyed nearly 25,000 teens ages 13 to 17 from 26 nations. Those surveyed came from all faith backgrounds, including teens of no faith. We discovered the Church may have a launching point from which to begin authentically discipling this next generation.

Note I said “launching point;” we’re not there yet. But there is much to be learned from the (at times curious) gaps we see in teens’ approach to faith. Here are a few facts we found in surveying this younger generation and how they understand and engage with the Bible:

  • Teens respect the Bible and mostly believe it’s true. Roughly two in five teens strongly agree that the Bible is good (40%), meaningful (39%) and important (39%). Yet, this doesn’t mean they use it. One in five teens uses a Bible at least weekly; meanwhile, about two in five teens never use a Bible.
  • Christian teens have a high view of the Bible—that is, roughly three in five teens strongly agree that the Bible is holy (63%) and that the text is inspired by God (61%). Despite this reverence, half of Christian teens don’t find the Bible enjoyable.
  • One-third of all teens believes it is “very true” that the Bible is a source of truth, has relevant teachings, is completely reliable, should be followed and contains everything a person needs to know to live a meaningful life. Yet, teens are unsure if the Bible is positively impacting the world. Thirty-two percent say the world would be "about the same" without the Bible, and 16 percent even believe the world would be "better off" without it.

The Bible— this text that many teens regard as meaningful and reliable—seems to be collecting dust on shelves (if it even sits there at all).

Pastors, youth workers and Christian parents may respond to this with confusion, even judgment. Why, after all, would someone not read something that they believe to be true and valuable?

In part, the answer may be in the palm of their hand. This generation has access to content and information on a level and at a speed that is unprecedented, accessible on their ever-present phones. Every link they click online is pushing something, often proclaiming to offer truth on an issue. This is the environment in which teens take their questions; Google alone is said to handle 5.9 million searches per minute.

“Truth” and meaning may appear to this generation in many shapes and forms. In this way, the Bible—though it is holy, good and true, many teens sense—may not seem so unique to a rising generation. Teens may not see the point in investing much time into this one text, no more than they might sit for hours in front of one of many beautiful, valuable paintings at a museum.

As we look at the dichotomy between teens’ perceptions of the Bible and teens’ practices when it comes to engaging the Bible, the question to ask is: How do we help teens today to bring the two together, so that their beliefs about the Bible match their actions?

I believe adults who care about the discipleship of teens have three opportunities to do this well, if they allow themselves to think outside the box.

1. Help teens today to see their story in the Bible.

Everyone longs to feel like they are contributing to something bigger than themselves. These meaningful experiences help to foster commitment. Considering this, younger people need to be able to see the Bible not only as a historic resource but also as an invitation to join something greater. Churches can no longer utilize a basic education approach: teach, learn, take a test. Simple regurgitation of Bible texts and stories only goes so far today. Teens need to know they are invited to carry on the lessons of the Bible and to be part of God’s larger story.

2. Embrace a listening posture.

This generation of teens are smart and globally minded. They care deeply about the world and the problems in it—and they believe they can be part of the solutions. At this formative time, teens play an important role in reminding their elders of the strength of vulnerability, authenticity and hope. The fuller picture of our latest Barna study is that teens today are hopeful and optimistic.

On some level, this is true for every generation before they hit the storms of life and transitions of adulthood. Adults farther along on this journey can help to prepare teens for these realities.  Don’t rush to offer “wake-up calls;” instead, listen to teens’ hearts, validate their hopes and point to anchors in scripture. Teens’ warm perceptions of the Bible might be fulfilled in practice in the days ahead.

3.  Set an example.

Our research shows that one in four Christian teens who are “unengaged” with the Bible today say nobody ever taught them how to read and study it. Meanwhile, half of Bible-engaged teens say their parent / guardian or a pastor taught them. The more teens today see the adults in their lives spend time in the Bible (and actually enjoy it!), the more they will come to know what resides in its pages.

When teens begin to experience for themselves that a book of ancient teachings is true and valuable and relevant to them, everything changes. This is more likely to happen as they see it modeled, and as they are invited to join along.

Yes, I could focus on the “bad news”—that teens today haven’t necessarily bridged the gap between appreciation of the Bible and engagement with it. But I think the far greater news is that they still can. There is time to impress the importance of Bible engagement upon teens—if Christians in their lives are willing to invite them into the journey, to listen well and to live as though the Bible is worth dusting off and opening up.

Daniel Copeland is the Associate Vice President of Research of Barna Group and oversees the strategy, operation, and execution of the firm's published and proprietary research.

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