Religiosity in the United States may be declining, but millennials and Gen Zers who adhere to a religious tradition and attend church report better mental health and fewer feelings of anxiety about their futures, according to a new study by a Christian polling firm.
The findings were part of a study called the Connected Generation, which polled over 15,000 young adults between the ages of 18 and 35 across 25 countries to determine whether there was a link between religious practice and mental well-being. The Barna Group, which calls itself a “a go-to source for insights about faith and culture,” conducted the study in conjunction with World Vision, a Christian relief organization.
“In addition to providing many hopeful signs about the opportunities ahead of these generations, the study shows powerful connections between practicing faith and overall well-being,” president of Barna Group, David Kinnaman, said.
“Anxiety about important decisions is widespread (40%),” the summary of the report’s key findings announced, “as well as uncertainty about the future (40%), a fear of failure (40%) and a pressure to be successful (36%).”
Christian lifestyle site Relevant touted the findings as a call to return to the fold, reporting that “While churches struggle to stem a well-documented exodus of membership from their pews, new research suggests that that the people leaving may be missing out.”
The outlet went on to cite greater self-efficacy among “practicing Christians” 43 percent of whom said they felt as if they were “able to accomplish goals,” while 29 percent of non-religious respondents professed the same self-confidence.
Further, 51 percent of self-reported practicing Christians who regularly attend church reported feeling “optimistic about the future.” In contrast, only about 34 percent of respondents who do not identify with any religion said they were as optimistic.
The findings were in line with what the National Alliance on Mental Illness had to say about the relationship between spirituality and mental well-being. NAMI pointed toward a 2013 study that found a correlation between religiosity and reduced rates of suicide, alcoholism and drug use.
The organization also distinguishes between organized religious practice and spirituality, saying that one need not necessarily practice a specific religion to reap the psychological benefits of religiosity. According to NAMI, individual spirituality offers “a meaningful life philosophy” and “[r]enews a sense of belonging in the world,” while participating in organized religion offers followers structure and social connections.
The summary of the report’s findings on the Connected Generation website did not detail the anxiety levels reported by people identify as belonging to non-Christian religious traditions, but did say that the respondents included “ex-Christians [and] passionate adherents to other faiths.”
“The research reveals a generation of driven adults who are wary and weary, wrestling with questions, longing for deeper relationships and facing significant societal, professional and personal obstacles,” Alyce Youngblood, Barna’s editorial director and senior writer for Connected Generation, commented. “Yet, we also found that faith is one important factor associated with their well-being, connection and resilience. When—or, for many, if—they walk into a church, they’ll need concrete teaching from leaders they can trust and meaningful opportunities to contribute to a faith community.”
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