Three Takeaways from Barna’s New Research on Teenagers and the Bible

Barna Group has released a new global study called “The Open Generation” about the state of Generation Z’s faith, and they’re sharing the results in a series of live webinars. The first two events have passed but are available to view on demand. The third event takes place this Wednesday, October 19 at 1:00 CST, and you can register to attend for free.

The second of the webinars focused on teenagers’ engagement with the Bible, and the findings for gospel-centered youth ministry are profound. Here are three salient points to inspire us in our efforts to faithfully teach the Bible.

Gen Z may be more open to studying the Bible than we think.

Barna and their partner organizations surveyed 24,870 teenagers, some professing Christians and some not, from 26 countries (with most countries including 700-1,000 participants). Sadly only 8% of these students were found to be “Bible engaged,” meaning they have a high view of Scripture and report regularly reading the Bible (9% in the United States specifically), while 30% are “disengaged,” meaning they are skeptical or never read the Bible (25% in the U.S.). On a more hopeful note, however, Barna’s findings show that 62% of global teenagers are “open” to the Bible, meaning they have a high or at least a neutral view of the Bible, but they do not read it regularly (increasing to 66% in the U.S.).

While youth ministers might imagine that today’s teenagers have a largely negative view of the Bible, these statistics demonstrate they may be far more open than we think. This should embolden us to take the Bible seriously in our youth ministries. Most of the teenagers participating in our youth ministries, and maybe even some of their friends from school, actually want to know what we believe. For many of these students, exposure to the full counsel of Scripture with consistent gospel application will change their lives.

Engaging with the Bible has wide-reaching benefits for teenagers.

Barna’s research highlighted some encouraging correlations between Bible engagement and other markers of spiritual health. Teenagers who reported regularly engaging with the Bible were more likely to say that they see their beliefs as integrated with their lives, that they feel engaged in their local churches, and that they experience close friendships and a sense of belonging both at church and elsewhere in their lives.

We shouldn’t be surprised that there is at least a correlation—if not a causation—between Bible study and growing in the faith. The author of Hebrews tells us that God’s Word is “living and active, sharper than a double-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12). Paul urges us on in our fellowship with one another saying, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing each other in all wisdom,” (Colossians 3:16). As we emphasize Bible teaching in our youth ministries, we should expect to fruit in the lives of the teenagers we love.

Teenagers need the adults in their lives to teach them to study the Bible.

One of the most powerful findings of the The Open Generation study for youth ministers was the revelation that teenagers who are engaged with the Bible have had an average of four adults teach and model how to study it.

This should motivate us to ask, how many more teenagers would engage with the Bible if the significant adults in their lives showed them how? As youth ministers, we can’t be content with simply teaching teenagers the Bible. We need to equip them to study it for themselves.

Obviously youth ministers are not the Holy Spirit; we don’t have the power within ourselves to create lasting faith. But what we can do is point students again and again to the good news of God’s grace through the grand Story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.

Chelsea is Editor of Youth Ministry Content and the Director of Publishing for Rooted. She previously served as a youth pastor in New England churches for 13 years. She and her husband, Steve, live north of Boston and are parents to Wells and Emmett. Chelsea holds an M.Div from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where she is currently pursuing a Master of Theology (Th.M.) in Old Testament Studies. She is passionate about teaching teenagers biblical theology and helping them learn to study Scripture for themselves.

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