After the examination of three recent surveys of hundreds of teenagers and over 100,000 college students, it seems as though college students' beliefs concerning the existence of God, eternal punishment, the religious beliefs of their parents, and a general security in their own faith have been swayed since their teenage years. While many teenagers seem to have a strong foundation for their faith, college students are slipping into doubt and insecurity. This conclusion brings new insight and motivation for ministers and teachers of teenagers and college students.

The Battle Defined

The transition from high school to college is one of the most pivotal times in a young person's life. After departing from under the protective wings of parental figures, young adults often have problems that manifest themselves in various ways. Whether mental/intellectual, spiritual, physical addictions or health difficulties, college seems to be the time when the most serious problems arise. Katie, a strong Christian and a college freshman writes, "I went to [the University of North Carolina at Charlotte] feeling totally ready, excited to just get away and do something new and exciting, not realizing that I was entering into the most intense battle I've experienced yet in life. Spiritually, mentally, relationally ... in every aspect ... my freshman year of college was a battle."

Three recent surveys -- one regarding American teens, one focusing on college freshman, and one pertaining to college juniors -- shed considerable light on the subject. Dr. Christian Smith's Soul Searching includes the results of 267 face-to-face interviews with teenagers age 13-17. Smith's goal was to understand the spiritual and religious identities and beliefs of teenagers across America. Alternatively, the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA conducted a study entitled, "The Spiritual Life of College Students" [PDF]. The study included the results of 112,232 surveys of freshmen from 236 different colleges and universities. The intention of the study was to report on many spiritual issues and how these issues affect other areas of life such as politics and health. It should be observed that the subject of this study is college freshmen. Their professors, new friends, and advisors have not yet heavily influenced these college students. With this in mind, occasionally included are statistics from a less extensive UCLA survey of 3,680 college juniors entitled, "Spirituality In Higher Education: A National Study of College Students' Search for Meaning and Purpose."

While the survey results do not exclusively consider the theistic God of Christianity, the amount of students who were once "theistic" and now claim no belief in God can be calculated. While 84 percent of teenagers state that they believe in a god, 79 percent of college freshmen claim that there is some supernatural element to the universe. While the difference may seem to be a mere 5 percent, take into account that the United States Census Bureau reported that there were over 13 million college students in the fall of 2003. This means that each year over 150,000 new freshmen change their mind about their belief in God. Also, it can be suggested that this slippage into a naturalistic worldview will only be increased over the next three years of a liberal college education.

Doubt Creeps In

A college student recently wrote in an e-mail to me, this "brings up an issue of maybe hell doesn't exist. I am completely unsure and I was wondering what your thoughts were." This student's dilemma is not unique. While 71 percent of teenagers agree that there will be a judgment day when God punishes evildoers, only 63 percent of college students agree that God will punish those who reject Him. But if there is no hell to be saved from, the meaning of "salvation" has been devalued and the concept is deemed superfluous.