NASHVILLE, Tenn. — There’s a surprising new description for unchurched young adults in the United States: spiritual. Despite popular reports that young people aren’t interested in spiritual matters, newly released survey data from LifeWay Research and the Center for Missional Research at the North American Mission Board shows the opposite to be true.
According to the study, 73 percent of unchurched 20- to 29-year-old Americans consider themselves “spiritual” because they want to know more about “God or a higher supreme being.” That figure is 11 percent higher than among unchurched individuals who are age 30 and older.
The survey data was released in the book Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches That Reach Them by Ed Stetzer, Richie Stanley and Jason Hayes and released by the B&H Publishing Group, the publishing arm of LifeWay Christian Resources.
“Our hope is that this research will propel church leaders forward in their efforts to reach this generation,” said Hayes, a young adult ministry specialist at LifeWay. “(Young adults’) high level of interest in these matters provides us a great opportunity to connect them with the things of God. Much of what they are looking for can be found in relationship with Him and His church.”
The survey data also indicated that young adults have an openness to conversations about Christianity. Eighty-nine percent of unchurched young adults say they would listen to what someone believes about Christianity. That number is 14 percent higher than among those 30 and older.
Young adults also would react positively to invitations from friends to study the Bible. Survey respondents were asked to affirm the following statement: “I would be willing to study the Bible if a friend asked me to.” Sixty-one percent of 20-somethings responded, “Yes.” That’s about 20 percent higher than affirmative responses from older generations.
“It is a mistake to think that young adults, even unchurched young adults, are not interested in spiritual things,” said Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research. “They are interested, but they are looking for spirituality often in every place except the church.”
The survey data also revealed opportunities for churches among 20-somethings: 63 percent said they would attend church if it presented truth to them in an understandable way “that relates to my life now.” Only 47 percent of respondents 30 years old and older agreed.
Unchurched young people also want to know the church cares about them. According to the survey data, 58 percent of 20-somethings would be more likely to attend if people at the church “cared for them as a person.”
“Christianity is built primarily on meaningful relationships with God and others,” Hayes said. “It’s the reality of our relationships that makes Christ believable to an unbelieving society. Churches can flourish when they show genuine love and interest toward those inside and outside their churches.”
Unchurched young adults also were more willing than older adults to join a small group in order to learn more about the Bible and Jesus. The survey showed 46 percent of unchurched young adults — compared to 27 percent of older adults — would attend such a small group.
“It is a mistake to say that young adults now are as connected to church as previous generations — they aren’t,” Stetzer said. “But it is a bigger mistake to think they are not open to spiritual things because they are.
“There are challenges and opportunities here, and our hope is that the church will recognize the challenge of reaching an increasingly post-Christian generation and seize the opportunity of their spiritual openness to proclaim a life-transforming and biblical gospel,” Stetzer said.
The national phone survey included 900 unchurched respondents between the ages of 20 and 29 and 502 respondents age 30 and over. The research was conducted during three separate projects from 2005-08.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Perry writes for LifeWay Christian Resources.)