How teens relate to Jesus: a worldwide hunger for God

5 April 2023

Education Team Assistant Emily Bourne explores the latest international research on what teenagers around the world really think about Jesus and the implications this has for all Christians.

The generation gap is now more marked in global society than it has ever been. Battles between Baby Boomers and Gen Z are played out in the news and social media, with seemingly little hope of reconciliation between the groups. The discussions across the world are often framed around the issue of intolerance. The argument goes that younger generations, whilst advocating for tolerance towards minority groups such as the LGBT+ community, are in fact intolerant towards anyone who disagrees with their views. This would typically be those who are older, conservative, and religious – particularly those who hold to traditional views of marriage and sexuality as presented in the Bible.

But what does the data suggest? Are today’s teens really as close-minded about Jesus and a Biblical worldview as is often assumed? How can we – individual Christians and the global Church – be those who try to bridge what can sometimes seem like an impossible gap between generations and point our young people to Jesus? Are there any signs of hope for the next generation?

International research

In the Autumn of last year, Barna – a USA-based research and resource company – published the results of a global research study it undertook in partnership with other organisations, to understand teens’ perceptions of, and engagement with, three crucial elements of the Christian faith: Jesus, the Bible and justice. The company is widely considered to be a leading research organisation focused on the intersection of faith and culture, and the results of this latest study raise some interesting questions for UK Christians.

The focus of this article is the first of those elements – how teens relate to Jesus. The survey of 24,870 13-17 year olds across 26 countries (including just over 1,000 from the UK) produced some extremely interesting results.

The Church is both local and universal, so therefore even as Christians in the UK, what teenagers thing around the world matters and has an impact here. After all, we never know when we might be called upon to witness to a young person from a different country or culture. Understanding what they might be thinking about Jesus will help us follow his command to make disciples of all nations.

The kingdom without the King

The research found that 52% of teenagers around the world would describe themselves as Christian and identify with Christianity in some way. Of that number, 22% (just under half of the 52%) say they are committed Christians because they have made a personal commitment to Jesus and following him is an important part of their lives.

However, just over half of the teenagers who described themselves as Christians (30% of all teenagers) said they had not actually made any sort of personal commitment to Jesus. We might call these nominal Christians, although debate could be had as to the extent to which they are Christians at all. At the very least, we can say that a third of all teenagers surveyed are missing out on the full joy, peace and hope which comes from personally knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.

In the UK, we often hear the message that Christianity is irrelevant to the world and in decline, but here, we do see that more than half of the next generation align with the term ‘Christian’.

Interestingly, just under a quarter of all teenagers (23%) said they believed it is possible to have a relationship with Jesus, but it seems they don’t know how it is possible or the next steps they could take. This raises the question of how to bridge the gap between affiliation and commitment.

The decision of the Church of England to bless same-sex unions has not made this any easier. It is part of a wider narrative that has emerged where churches are preaching an incomplete gospel; faith and community is welcomed, but there is no discipleship or understanding of the Lordship of Christ. They accept a Kingdom – but without the King.

The open generation

The more encouraging news is that, although the majority of today’s teenagers have not personally committed to Jesus, , general curiosity about Jesus is high. Overall, teenagers think highly of Jesus. Across the world, 46% say he offers hope, and 43% say he cares about people. It also seems that many do know a partial gospel. For example, 39% of all surveyed teenagers worldwide said their favourite thing about Jesus is that he offers forgiveness, with 47% believing that Jesus was crucified. One third of all teenagers said that Jesus was raised from the dead. This belief in the most crucial supernatural aspect of Christian faith is essential for a true faith.


This raises the question of where teenagers look to find out about Jesus and which sources of information they trust. One of the most surprising statistics from this research was that 61% of teenagers across the world said that they consider scripture a trustworthy source from which to learn about Jesus, whilst only 21% said that social media was trustworthy. In fact, all digital options (the internet in general, YouTube, Christian influencers) were seen as untrustworthy.

In contrast, the desire for teenagers to learn about the Jesus is impacted significantly by the key and trusted relationships they hold. After the Bible, the most trustworthy source for teenagers was a family member (60%), and just under a quarter said that their friends were reliable sources. This perhaps challenges us to see this generation as more open to hearing about Jesus than we sometimes assume, especially from their family, and that perhaps the simple actions of fellow believers offering to meet them over a coffee with the purpose of discussing scripture might bear more fruit than we expected.

The harvest is plentiful

As this research has shown, there are so many young people who don’t fully know the Lord and the joy that this brings. We shouldn’t be afraid to seek to build relationships across the generations as we share the gospel. This might take us out of our comfort zone and we may feel under-equipped at times, but we trust that God will give us the right words to say.

There are opportunities to be trained through programmes such as our Wilberforce Academy which prepares university students and young professionals for servant-hearted, Christ-centred leadership in their communities, churches, and workplaces. This may include work with the teenagers of today and  the training particularly focuses on culture and how the teachings of Jesus are good for society, which the data suggests is very important for teenagers to understand. Applications for this year’s academy are now open so do consider whether you or someone you know might benefit from this kind of training as we seek to help disciple this current generation of young people and those who will come after them.

The church has a unique opportunity to be a place where all generations can gather as a family. May we never be so prejudiced as to prevent the good and life-changing news of the gospel from being shared with younger generations.

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