There is encouraging and sobering news for pastors of millennials in a new, 62-page report from Barna examining millennial views on different areas of life. When exploring how much millennials trust various cultural influencers, Barna found that millennials do trust pastors—but that trust is “guarded.”
“The good news for pastors,” wrote Barna, “is that millennials, on balance, are somewhat more likely to trust them than to not trust them: 54 percent said they would trust pastors of Christian churches to do what is right or to tell the truth at least sometimes. In comparison 37 percent said they would not afford pastors even that minimal level of trust.”
However, Barna continued, “The more challenging news for pastors…is that the most important response (the ‘top box’ response on the scale, indicating that the respondent would ‘always or almost always trust pastors of Christian churches to tell the truth or to do what is right’) reached only 26 percent. Phrased differently, three out of four millennials do not have consistent trust in the words and decisions of Christian pastors.”
Barna inferred from the data collected in the report that millennial views of pastors represent a “solid outcome, but not sufficient to suggest [that pastors have] consistent and widespread cultural influence.” What’s more, “a different ratio…suggests that pastors may need to rethink their practices and reputation.”
Millennial Views for Pastors to Note
The report, titled “New Insights into the Generation of Growing Influence: Millennials In America,” was released in October 2021. Researchers conducted the survey during August 2021, defining “millennials” as all adults born from 1984 through 2002, that is, people aged 18 to 37 at the time of the survey. The research offers many insights for church leaders on millennial views of the Christian faith, as well as millennial perspectives on politics, civic engagement, life purpose, and mental health.
One part of the survey asked participants to give their opinion on the following topics: conservatives, liberals/progressives, Christianity, atheism, socialism, democracy, the United States of America, the Bible, and Jesus Christ.
Respondents saw Jesus in the most favorable light, with 39 percent saying that their opinion of him was “very positive.” The Bible came in second in the very positive category at 29 percent, followed by Christianity at 26 percent. Only eight percent of participants saw atheism as very positive.
Sixty-five percent of those surveyed said they identify as “any type” of Christian, including evangelical, maineline, and Catholic. Forty-six percent said that they are confident they will go to heaven because they have trusted in Jesus as their savior, and 46 percent said they believe that the Bible is the actual Word of God and a trustworthy guide for their lives.
Nevertheless, Barna cautioned that these results are not as positive as they seem.