Young adults: faith, the Bible and the search for meaning

Bible Society's research for Lumino threw up some fascinating findings about differing attitudes to the Bible among different age groups.

Young adults – 18-24 years old – are an idealistic cohort. Seventy per cent of them think it's important to make a difference in the world, against only 56 per cent in the total sample, and half of them actually think they can (39 per cent in the total sample).

They're also the ones most likely to be searching for a sense of meaning, with 54 per cent claiming this as opposed to only 33 per cent of the total sample.

But this group, with all its moral commitment and concern to explore meaning and purpose, are also the furthest away from religion. Sixty-seven per cent  say they are 'not religious', the largest proportion of any age group. They're the group least likely to say there is definitely or probably a God/gods/higher power – only 29 per cent, against 38 in the total sample – though the non-religious within this age group are more likely to identify as agnostic than non-religious people overall; 35 per cent of them, against 30 per cent of the total non-religious sample. Most of them (73 per cent) don't think we need religion to tell the difference between right and wrong, and they can be quite negative about the Bible, too: they're more likely than other groups to use words to describe it like Outdated, Violent or  Homophobic. Sixty-eight per cent don't think it's relevant to them.

18 to 24

25 to 34

35 to 44

45 to 54

55 to 64

65 to 74


On the other hand, one in five think the Bible has the potential to help them answer some deep questions – and they're the age group most likely to say that it is a positive thing for Christians to talk about their faith with non-Christians (44 per cent think so).

It's no surprise that young adults aren't generally sold on Christianity or the Bible – their comparative scarcity in church has been a fact of life for years. But perhaps there are clues here about how to respond.

One is that they don't appear to connect their moral seriousness with religion or the Bible, which many of them see as a negative influence. So are there ways in which Bible communicators can demonstrate, from a position of theological integrity rather than just a desire to be 'relevant', how the Bible speaks into the great moral and ethical questions of our time? Of course the Bible may not always say what people want it to say, and that's another challenge – but showing that it can provide material for a thoughtful, measured and nuanced critique of the way we live now can only be a good thing.

Another is that they appear to be less closed to conversations about faith than other age groups. Forty-four per cent agree or strongly agree that it's a good thing for Christians to talk about their faith with non-Christians; that falls to only 35 per cent among those aged 45 to 54. So while most might still be unenthusiastic about talking about faith, a good number might still be quite positive about hearing Christians talk to them about it.

And what about their perception of the Bible? It might be that acknowledging its untidiness and grittiness is a more effective response than attempting to sanitise it and major on the parts that are all about peace and love. This is the world of #MeToo, and of a deep and increasing awareness of racism, violence and oppression. One of the reasons the Bible seems irrelevant to young people is that their Sunday schools or school assemblies don't make these connections in a way that conveys the visceral power of Bible stories and their power to change lives for good.