Barna has a new study out that reveals how different age groups view the Bible. The chart above shows the results of the survey. The Mosaic generation refers to adults who are currently ages 18 to 25; Busters are those ages 26 to 44; Boomers are 45 to 63; and Elders are 64-plus.
As you can see from the data, the attitude of the younger generation of adults has shifted to one of less trust in the Bible and more openness to sacred texts of other religions. Here is how the Barna Group summarizes the attitudes of the Mosaic generation:
- Less Sacred – While most Americans of all ages identify the Bible as sacred, the drop-off among the youngest adults is striking: 9 out of 10 Boomers and Elders described the Bible as sacred, which compares to 8 out of 10 Busters (81%) and just 2 out of 3 Mosaics (67%).
- Less Accurate – Young adults are significantly less likely than older adults to strongly agree that the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches. Just 30% of Mosaics and 39% of Busters firmly embraced this view, compared with 46% of Boomers and 58% of Elders.
- More Universalism – Among Mosaics, a majority (56%) believes the Bible teaches the same spiritual truths as other sacred texts, which compares with 4 out of 10 Busters and Boomers, and one-third of Elders.
- Skepticism of Origins – Another generational difference is that young adults are more likely to express skepticism about the original manuscripts of the Bible than is true of older adults.
- Less Engagement – While many young adults are active users of the Bible, the pattern shows a clear generational drop-off – the younger the person, the less likely then are to read the Bible. In particular, Busters and Mosaics are less likely than average to have spent time alone in the last week praying and reading the Bible for at least 15 minutes. Interestingly, none of the four generations were particularly likely to say they aspired to read the Bible more as a means of improving their spiritual lives.
- Bible Appetite – Despite the generational decline in many Bible metrics, one departure from the typical pattern is the fact that younger adults, especially Mosaics (19%), express a slightly above-average interest in gaining additional Bible knowledge. This compares with 12% of Boomers and 9% of Elders.
Are you surprised by these findings? What do you think the Church or Christian parents should do to correct the problem?
I think this is interesting stuff, and have been blogging about this a little bit myself. While I find the Barna findings interesting, I can’t help but wonder if perhaps the larger problem is one of Bible ignorance, and the other problems Barna cites are symptoms of that. From my perspective it seems that biblical ignorance is becoming a greater problem within the Church, and thus it becomes a problem for younger people. This ignorance, I think, makes it much more difficult to think in a nuanced way about the Bible, and thus makes it difficult for young people to come to a place where they can truly put their trust in the Bible, and more importantly in Christ.
Regarding what the Church can do to correct the problem, I think cross-generational ministry is a significant part of the solution. I think younger people need older people (not just their youth pastor) who can invite them into Christian community and teach and live out the Bible for them. There is obviously much more to it than that, but I think that’s a big part of reversing this trend.
Thanks for posting on this, I think these are important issues for all of us to discuss!
Brian: Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I totally agree with you about Bible ignorance. I have noticed this as well. Unfortunately, it is not a problem with just teens, but with many in the under-30 crowd. At least, that is my personal observation. I have no studies to back it up.
I think that your idea of cross-generational ministry is a good one – not just because of this issue but because I believe it is really the biblical model. Younger, less-mature believers should learn from the older, more mature. We prevent this from happening when we segment our congregations by age. There has been much written on cross-generational ministry lately, which I believe is a good thing.
It is an interesting study. Brian’s thoughts on Bible ignorance are compelling. I agree with the cross-generational ministry as well. It is important for all of us to experience those who are older and more ‘mature’ leading the way and communicating their faith in Christ. Many of us grew up with Bible stories of God’s interaction with man and stories of great faith. Few of us have experienced these things on any kind of personal level. I am not talking strictly about scripture but also of Christian literature and history. Perhaps there is a “power of God” element that is rarely seen in our lives today. I wonder if our focus on learning and parsing scripture (while not at all wrong) has become an intellectual impediment to some degree to seeking, knowing and experiencing God.
I regularly interact with the older folks in our church partly because they are the faithful who attend all services, including prayer meeting. We pray for many but see little effect to our prayer. Theologically speaking, I realize there can be much about that statement, but I can’t help feeling that our prayer should have some results that are undeniable and powerful. Perhaps until people experience some ‘miraculous’ aspect of God’s connection with us, Scripture will be ‘doubt-able’.
Bret: I agree that we have “intellectualized” the faith. We have simply turned the Bible into a textbook that is no longer a living word. It is just an ancient book that records events that we believe to be true.
There is nothing wrong with studying Scripture in a deep way using every tool available to us. However, we do have to be careful that we do not remove the power of the text or the mystery of God in the process.
I wonder, how many people attend our churches (including prayer meetigs) out of a sense of duty rather than because that is where they really want to be? I also wonder, how many people pray with an expectation that God will answer in a clear and powerful way? I believe we often pray because that is what Christians are supposed to do, but we do not really believe that it changes anything.
Hi Tim; I’ve had the joy of teaching a high school Sunday school class for over 20 years now and would definitly say Biblical Ignorance is increasing not only in the non-churched but unfortunatly in the “churched” kids as well. I just read a book by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer titled; “already gone” that uses Barna reasearch to show that our kids have intellectualy left the faith before they left our homes and churches and entered universities. I’ve realized that we’ve been teaching Bible stories the same way that we teach fairy tales and the kids don’t put much more stock in the first over the latter. A few years ago I asked the church board for permission to purchase study Bibles for my SS class instead of using the “canned” SS materials and at first had a little resistance but since it has been great! I’m very convinced that from quite young to very old we all need the meat of the Word and not just milk. The older people of the church have always been great encouragement to me so the term cross-generational ministry may be new to me but the concept is not and it is great. The weird thing is I’m becoming one of the older people. (53) Well I have never written on a blog?? before and that probably shows but I’ve enjoyed reading your stuff and listening to one of your sermons (12-12-08). I hope to meet you next month. In my Kings service, Mark
Hi Mark. Thanks for commenting. “Already Gone” sounds like it would be an interesting read. I would recommend a book called “Raising the Bar” by Alvin Reid. Reid argues that much of the reason that our children (the focus is primarily youth-age) are learning less and seem to be less interested is because we have dumbed down our ministries. In fact, we have dumbed things down so much that kids are disinterested because they are not being challenged. Why do we feel that we cannot challenge them? They are challenged every day in school and every other area of life. Why does the church think it has to over-simplify things?
I really like your idea of using study Bibles in the Sunday school class. Our primary goal with that age group should be to get them to regularly read and study the Bible for themselves. If we can give them tools to help them, we are much more likely to be successful. It is much more fun to study the Bible when you are actually learning something in the process.
I hope you enjoyed the sermon you listened to. I look forward to meeting you next month as well.
Hi Tim; I was wondering about your thoughts on youth ministry. This may be heading in a different direction than what it started out, but how much energy should the church be pouring into the ministries to kids say K through 2nd grade or like 3rd through 6th graders. It seems to me that the culture of Jesus’ time didn’t think kids were of much value but He rebuked the disiples for turning them away. How about middle schoolers, or high school kids? Maybe post high school? Is there a time of life that the church should really focus on youth training or is it all the same or should we put more time and energy into young adults. “Penny for your thoughts”. Mark
Good questions. I would guess that you could ask 10 different people and get 10 different opinions about this issue. Here is my thinking:
1. There is no one right way to go about children’s ministry. There are many approaches that have validity.
2. We have no guarantees that we will have the children that God places in our midst more than the day they are there, so we need to make the best use of every opportunity that we have to teach them from God’s word. We cannot wait to focus on them later.
3. Children at different age levels have different capabilities when it comes to learning, so we need to be aware of what those abilities are and teach our children at age-appropriate levels.
4. Studies show that as we grow older, we become more cemented in the beliefs we hold. In fact, most foundational beliefs are formed before a person finishes high school. The beliefs of children almost always reflect the beliefs of their parents. This is why it becomes much harder to evangelize a person as he/she gets older – including youth.
5. As much as we would like to believe that our Sunday school class, children’s program, or youth ministry are the most important thing when it comes to the spiritual formation of a child, it is not so. The thing that has the greatest impact on a child’s spiritual formation is their family. We must not leave out the importance of the family when it comes to children’s ministry of all ages. There must be an emphasis on training parents to be godly parents who have godly households.
6. When we specifically look at youth ministry, I believe that youth need to develop the skills necessary to study the Bible for themselves and also be given the opportunity to serve in the ministry of the church – in meaningful ways. The same is true for post-high school. Our young people must be allowed to exercise their gifts in the life of the church. They are vital members and they must be shown that they are important to the ministry. A book that I read and posted on recently, Essential Church, shows that most young people from age 17 to 22 leave the church because they do not see the church as important to them nor how they are important to the church. We cannot continue to push young people into the shadows and tell them “wait until you are older”.
I hope this helps. These are more like guiding principles than a “how to” approach, but I think they can be incorporated into many different models.
Tim, Thanks for your reply and I couldn’t agree with you more. I’ve been the Commander of our Awana program for the last ten years and most of those years the main thrust was Bible memorization and evangelism, but in the last few years reaching out to parents has become a priority too. We have an opportunity to be with these kids maybe two to four hours a week but they are with parents/others almost 24/7. Also kids seem to blossom when you show them you trust them with a responsibility at church. They love a challange and to feel important and I guarantee they will be back next week for more. I also believe youth want to see the older generation act like our age and not try to act like kids. When we show them that we love and respect God’s Word they learn to love and respect it too. When we show them that we love and honor Jesus Christ they learn to love and honor Jesus and want Him as their Savior too. Then in just a few short years… they’re the leaders of the church. Time sure flies when you’re having fun / serving Christ!!! Mark
P.S. You sure have Ranita wondering who represents the different members in your “veggi tales” nativity 🙂
I agree that youth do not want/need adults who act like youth. They need models that help them understand how to act like mature, Christian adults! I also agree that serving Christ is fun!
I will have to get back to Ranita on the Veggie Tales nativity. We do not have it out this year since most of our things are currently in storage, but I am sure my wife remembers who is who. 🙂
Hi Tim; I just finished reading the book you recommended,”Raising the Bar”. Also I see you’ve read the book I mentioned earlier, “Already Gone”. Both of these books seem to me to be saying the same thing. It’s time we change the way we teach young people and for that matter even how we refer to them. I like the comment in your current blog mentioning the term “Bible history” rather than saying Bible stories. Recently in my high school Sunday school class we have been illustrating scripture on the chalk board, (real low tech) and they have loved it. I thought they would be shy and afraid to be up front showing off their “talents” drawing out our Bible reading but not so. I had to find more chalk so they could all be drawing at the same time. It is so neat to see the perspectives that each one has of what we just read and then discuss them in class, building on some, correcting some, and then digging more in the Bible to cement the truth in their hearts and minds. I just love young adults. If you give them a safe place (there are some terms and actions I will not allow in class) to speak their minds they will blow you away with their understanding. YES, they thrive on challenging information! We don’t need to “dumb it down”, in fact if we do, that’s when we loose them. I ownly wish I could have realized this 20 years earlier. Mark
I am happy to hear that you read Raising the Bar. I hope it was helpful to you. I agree that much of what it and Already Gone say are in agreement. However, I think the primary emphasis on what is taught in each differs some. Already Gone seems to emphasize the teaching of apologetics (defending the Bible and its claims), while Raising the Bar seems to emphasize teaching the Bible. I realize that this over-simplifies both books, but I do see a difference in each book’s primary message. This makes sense when you realize that the authors of Already Gone are part of the Answers in Genesis ministry, which is primarily concerned with defending the biblical understanding of creation. I think both books are valid in what they say and we need to do both (teach what the Bible says and how to defend what it says) in better ways. There is no reason to dumb it down or avoid the tough questions. The Bible can stand up to scrutiny because it is true! We need to explore the questions of the Bible’s validity so those of every age in our churches can have confidence in all that it says.
I agree that using the phrase “Bible stories” has negative connotations. We tend to thnk of stories as “made up”. Bible history is a much better way of saying it. We do not say American stories when we speak of American history. In the academic world, they use the title “Historical Narrative” when speaking of this type of Scripture. The title tells us that it is in narrative (story) form, but that it is historical (a real event).
Here is what I think every church should incorporate into its educational program in one way or another:
1. There must be a clear plan in place for what is taught in every age group to ensure that if a person grows up in the care of the church, he/she will learn the full breadth of Scripture. This means there needs to be a curriculum scope and sequence for EVERY age group, including adults. No more making it up as we go.
2. The curriculum and educational ministries need to be evaluated regularly to make sure they are accomplishing what they are intended to accomplish.
3. The curriculum must not be watered down, but should teach at age-appropriate levels and should include current apologetic material.
4. Those who are believers should be given every opportunity to serve in the ministry of the church in meaningful ways. I believe every believer has been gifted for ministry and ministries functions best when every gift is put into practice. Churches hurt themselves when they have gifted people sitting on the sidelines. Plus, it hurts the growth of the individual when the gift is not used. Participation causes people to take ownership of the ministry. Those who take ownership are much less likely to leave.
Let me know if you have any other thoughts about this.