We are facing a crisis in the church. American teens are "growing out of Christianity" at alarming rates. Although almost all Christian US teens identified as Christian in childhood (94%) and Christianity remains the most common affiliation for teens (70%), about a quarter now claim no organized religion. This includes the one in ten (12%) who describe their faith identity as "nothing in particular."
That's the bad news. The good news?
Turns out that Generation Z (Gen Z) doesn't care about polish and pizzazz. When it comes to faith — or life in general — they're looking for authenticity. And they are having conversations about it with both Christians and non-Christians. In fact, 78% of Christian teens have had a conversation about their faith identity with a non-Christian in the past year and more than one in three (35%) had one or two conversations. Twenty-one percent had more than five. For this generation, these conversations are happening naturally and take place in calm, comfortable, relational environments.
We've experienced several historic shifts surrounding COVID-19. During this time, Nicky Gumbel, the pioneer of Alpha, has often repeated:
"This is the greatest evangelistic opportunity of our lifetime!"
We at Alpha USA have wondered, is this true in the US, particularly among teens? So we partnered with Barna to survey more than 1,200 students specifically about evangelism and Gen Z, with a sample exclusively of teens ages 13-18 living in the US to answer the questions:
- How do different generations, particularly Gen Z, view evangelism?
- How do they feel about this moment in history?
- How committed are they to sharing their faith? And what does evangelism look like on their terms?
- On the receiving end of this evangelistic opportunity, is Gen Z open to the gospel and conversations about faith?
- Are they thirsty for the living water that Jesus has to offer?
Our hope was to come away with a deeper understanding of how the church might empower and equip Gen Z to reach their friends — those who are leaving the faith and those who've never experienced the faith — with the gospel.
This report itself represents the beginning of a journey. This study is an extension of Reviving Evangelism, Barna's 2019 study produced in partnership with Alpha USA. We now bring our exploration of evangelistic behaviors and attitudes to a new audience, Gen Z. It's clear that this new generation believes that how they live their lives should be their primary witness to non-Christians. They view sharing their faith as relational, something they do with people they already know and trust. And the majority of them are already having conversations around faith.
This study has confirmed our strong conviction at Alpha that peer-to-peer evangelism is one of the most effective ways to reach the next generation. Not only is empowering Christian youth an effective way to share the gospel with other youth, it's also a crucial part of the spiritual formation of what Barna calls "resilient disciples."
I have been privileged to hear story after story of students joining the work of the Holy Spirit to have faith conversations with their friends and lead them to an encounter with Jesus in powerful moments of prayer ministry. This generation continues to astound us with their boldness and creativity in finding effective ways to share the gospel. Barna's research has produced insights about what inspires students to engage in conversations about faith: active listening, space for doubt, genuine love of others despite differences and a passion for a living faith, all of which point to a kingdom-minded posture that is alive and well in the next generation.
Our hope is that this study can serve as a valuable tool to harness the power of evangelism in the generation that is coming of age in the church. These insights provide the opportunity to meet Gen Z non-Christians where they are and introduce them to the gospel. We believe that together with Gen Z and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we will see the revitalization of the church and the transformation of society.
Jordan Biere is Alpha USA's national youth director.
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