Most teens have positive perception of Jesus, global study finds

(Photo: Unsplash/Gaelle Marcel)

A major new study of teenagers around the world has revealed positive attitudes towards Jesus but less certainty about the difference he makes to the world and their lives personally. 

The survey by Barna encompassed nearly 25,000 teenagers aged 13-17, spanning different faith groups and 26 countries. 

Around half (49%) of teens described Jesus as "loving" and offering hope (46%), while two in five (43%) said he cares about people. Over a third said he was trustworthy (39%) and generous (37%).

Nearly half (47%) believe he was crucified and a third believe that he rose again, although this fell to 15% among teens of another faith and only 13% among those with no faith.

When asked what best described their understanding of who Jesus is, the largest share of teens (31%) said he was "God in human form".

In a question about which biblical characteristic of Jesus was most important to them, teens were most likely to choose "offers forgiveness" (39%) as their answer.

Asked which description of Jesus was most important to them, the most common response (36%) was "Jesus is God in human form who came to forgive us of our sins". 

Only 6% of teens said Jesus was "irrelevant" and only one in 10 said he was "known for the things he is against".

"It's rare that teens think poorly of Jesus ... The global impression of Jesus is that he is trustworthy, generous and wise," said Barna.

Despite these positive perceptions of Jesus, only a quarter of teens (24%) think that he makes a real difference in the world today, and less than a quarter (23%) believe they can have a personal relationship with him.

Barna added, "There is a lagging sense that Jesus is personally and actively engaged in lives today.

"Generationwide, there is little grasp of or belief in teachings about Jesus' incarnation, resurrection and present-day relevance, even as teens applaud principles of his life and character. 

"This reflects not only on teenagers but also on those who have taught or led them, especially in Christian circles. 

"Have adults shown this generation how the principles they celebrate in Jesus' character also matter in everyday life?"

Despite positive perceptions of Jesus, teens are more muted in their praise of his followers, with only 31% seeing Christians as loving. While 42% said Jesus was wise, only 18% felt the same about Christians.

The findings come from the first volume of The Open Generation study by Barna, with two further volumes examining teenagers' beliefs about justice and the Bible to follow soon. 

David Kinnaman, CEO of Barna Group said, "This study is intended to help us listen to teens today. The impression these voices offer is that this generation is open, inclusive, and curious about different faiths and perspectives.

"Our data suggests that although this generation may not deeply engage with Jesus, they are open to him, and when they do engage, they experience positive effects.

"It is our goal to offer a picture of the rising generation to the global Church so that we may support and engage teens in relevant, meaningful ways."

The study was conducted in partnership with Alpha, Biblica, and World Vision, with additional support from Christian Vision, Bible Study Fellowship, Christ In Youth, and the Association of Christian Schools International.

Teen survey respondents came from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Honduras, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Spain, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, India, Philippines, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa.

Dan Blythe, Global Youth Director at Alpha International said, "Go back a few generations and young people were meant to be seen, but not heard.

"However, treating young people like this won't work with this generation — not if you want to involve them and collaborate with them. Listening is the love language of this generation.

"The Open Generation study is a global listening exercise where just under 25,000 teenagers around the world shared their thoughts on Jesus, the Bible, and justice.

"My heart and hope is that it encourages, equips, and empowers anyone who has a heart for teenagers to not give up on them but to listen to them and learn from them so we can love and lead them well."