Gen Z religion defies easy categorization

The religion of Generation Z youth challenges simple categories like “affiliated” and “unaffiliated,” a new study shows.

Like other research in recent years, new study from the Springtide Research Institute indicates that a significant number of young people between the ages of 13 and 25 – nearly 40% of those surveyed – indicate that they are not affiliated with a religion. .

More than half of the young people surveyed identify with a particular religion, but they express little confidence in organized religion or most other institutions. Among young people who consider themselves affiliated with a religion, almost a third say it is not important to have a faith community.

However, young people respond to “relational authority” even if they do not trust hierarchy or institutions. A significant segment of Gen Z youth feel lonely and aimless, but that can change when confident adults invest in their lives, the Springtide study reveals.

“The State of Religion and Youth 2020” explores the attitudes of adolescents and young adults up to the age of 25, particularly with regard to issues of religion and spirituality.

The results are based on quantitative surveys of over 10,000 Generation Z individuals, supplemented by qualitative interviews with 150 young people.

The religion of generation Z: it’s complicated

The Springtide study presents a complicated portrait of Generation Z’s relationship to religion.

“The old labels just don’t make sense to understand the religious life of young people, if they ever were,” says the Springtide report.

Research shows that about 1 in 5 Gen Z youth who identify as “affiliated” with a particular religion also indicate that they are personally “not religious.”

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At the same time, the study shows that 60% of young people surveyed who are not involved in an organized religion describe themselves as “spiritual” and almost as many (19%) indicate that they attend religious gatherings at least once. per month.

“When we take a closer look at behaviors, beliefs and practices, we find that young affiliates do not always do the things traditionally associated with religion: attend services, live particular values ​​or even trust the Church. institution of which they are a part, ”the Springtide report states.

“It is also complex for unaffiliated youth, some of whom are attending religious services or trying to live their religious values. “

Relationships not institutions

While young people lack confidence in institutions, including churches, they are interested in exploring questions of ultimate meaning with adults they trust, said Josh Packard, executive director of the Springtide Research Institute.

Josh packard

“There is a story that says young people are not interested in conversations about religion. It’s just not the case, ”Packard said in a telephone interview. “They are interested in conversations. They are simply not being pushed into the institutions.

Relationships are more telling than religious affiliation when it comes to how Gen Z perceives ultimate meaning and purpose, the Springtide study reveals.

Almost 7 in 10 (69%) young people surveyed said they had three or less meaningful interactions per day. About 4 in 10 people say they have no one to talk to and no one who really knows them well, at least every now and then.

Two in 10 (21%) young people without meaningful interaction per day say they never feel like their life has meaning. But a single significant interaction reduces the number to 4 percent.

Trusted adults make the difference

An earlier study by Springtide Research showed that about a quarter (24%) of Gen Z youth who don’t have an adult mentor never think their life has meaning and purpose. But among those who even have a significant relationship with an adult, that number drops to 6%.

The more significant adults in a young person’s life, the more likely the young person will report meaning and purpose, the latest survey reveals.

Seven in 10 (69%) Gen Z respondents who have an adult mentor say their life has meaning and purpose. But 85 percent of those with two to four adult mentors and 91 percent of those with five or more adult mentors say their life has meaning and purpose.

While “more is better” in terms of the number of significant adults in a young person’s life, “five seems to be the magic number,” Packard said.

A church should not feel responsible for providing the five adults for each young person, recognizing that parents, teachers, coaches and other trusted adults also have a role to play, he noted. Likewise, adults associated with religious communities can play a vital role.

“Young people get involved and thrive when they meet trusted adults who care for, listen to and guide them. Religious leaders are needed to meet young people in the mess of the present moment, ”the Springtide report says.

Relational authority takes time to build

Rather than authority based on position or qualifications, the researchers conclude, young people value relational authority on the basis of five criteria: listening, transparency, integrity, care and expertise.

“Young people have a deep need for a familiar connection in a society increasingly stuck to impersonal and transactional exchanges. … The antidote to transactional is transformational. The antidote is relational authority, which is a dynamic exchange of shared experience and sympathetic expertise, ”says the report.

The Springtide study shows that 83% of Gen Z youth say they’re more likely to take advice from someone who cares about them, while two-thirds (65%) say expertise of a person doesn’t matter if the person doesn’t care. about them.

Church leaders can tell the difference by recognizing that old measurements – the number of teens who attend Bible study on Sunday morning or a Wednesday night event – do not accurately measure the impact on life. youth life, Packard noted.

Instead, adults who work with youth can make a difference by building deep and meaningful relationships. They can invest time and build trust through genuine listening and care, he said.

“Churches that bring the same dedication and innovation to relationship-based ministry that they brought to program-based ministry will be fine,” Packard said.

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