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Research Indicates Teens' Faith Typically Just Skin-Deep

  • Jim Brown and Jody Brown Agape Press
  • 2005 9 Mar
Research Indicates Teens' Faith Typically Just Skin-Deep

A new survey finds a good number of American teens are religiously active, but not very well-educated in their faith -- resulting in a shallow religiosity.

The four-year National Study of Youth and Religion was conducted by 133 researchers and consultants led by sociology professor Chris Smith of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. A third of the teenagers said they were consistently involved in religious organizations and practices. Another third said they were "somewhat" involved. However, Smith says that religiosity tends to be very shallow.

"A lot of Christian teens really had not much at all to say about who Jesus was, what grace was," the researcher says, adding his team was "impressed with how inarticulate and seemingly poorly educated a lot of teenagers are. Even though they said they believe in God and [that] faith is important, they have a hard time explaining what they believe and how faith makes any difference in their life."

Smith describes many teens' religious knowledge as "meager, nebulous, and often fallacious." That is especially true among young Catholics, he says. He attributes that partly to several reasons, including what he sees as a decline of Catholic instruction in Catholic schools as well as the disintegration of Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) in many places.

"But part of it is we ran a statistical control where we saw if Catholic teenagers' faith was any weaker than anyone else's -- [and] after controlling for the religious practice of their parents, [we found] they weren't any different," Smith explains.

Smith says teens are still being mightily influenced by the religious lives of the parents, so parents should be challenged to play a leadership role and feel authorized to be parents.

Full results of the study can be found in Smith's new book titled Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers.

Validates Barna

Social science researcher and pollster George Barna is likely not surprised by the findings in the National Study of Youth and Religion. His research has shown while that 93 percent of young people in the U.S. consider themselves to be Christian by age 13, the great majority do not connect being a Christian to having a grace-based personal relationship with Jesus Christ. And only three percent have a biblical worldview, that research reveals.

That is why, in his new book Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions, Barna tries to emphasize the critical role parents and family play in children's spiritual development -- and that it is not the church's responsibility.

"The moral foundations of the average American are pretty much put in place -- and will not change -- by the age of nine," he recently told AgapePress. "[And] when you look at the spiritual foundations of the typical American, they are pretty much in place before they reach the age of 13.

"That says to me, if you're not going to get them when they're young, you're probably not going to get them," Barna says.

National Study of Youth and Religion (

© 2005 Agape Press. Used with permission. All rights reserved.