The COVID-19 pandemic affected the lives of every American, though not in the same way or to the same degree—especially when comparing the nation’s adult generations.
Newly released data from the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University based on the American Worldview Inventory 2023 shows that the four adult generations in the United States—Millennials, Gen X (Baby Busters), Baby Boomers and Elders—had very different spiritual responses to the pandemic.
Of the four, Millennials were hit hardest in relation to their emotions, finances, vocation, relationships and ideology. But one aspect of their lives that didn’t appear to change much? Their faith.
Out of the two dozen comparable measures of religious beliefs and behaviors examined by the Cultural Research Center before and after the pandemic, America’s youngest adult generation experienced just five statistically significant changes:
–Embracing their life’s purpose as knowing, loving, and serving God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength rose by 9 percentage points;
–Believing that the Bible is the true and accurate word of God rose by 8 percentage points;
–Believing that God is the basis of truth, as revealed to humanity in the Bible, decreased by 7 percentage points;
–Taking time to personally read or study the Bible during the week, other than when attending a church event, dropped by 6 percentage points;
–Attending a church worship service, either in-person or online, dropped by 7 percentage points.
In addition, there were two changes that were not statistically significant but were directional differences of 4 percentage points: decreases in the belief that human life is sacred and in acknowledging one’s sins and asking for God’s forgiveness during a typical week.
It is worth noting that for all seven of those factors, both before and after the changes listed, a minority of Millennials embraced the belief or behavior in question, suggesting the generation was not highly committed to those factors either pre- or post-pandemic.
A further indication of their arms-length relationship to Christianity is that of the two dozen variables assessed, Millennials had the lowest score on all but four of them (and on those four, they had the next-to-lowest score). In other words, they were the generation least closely connected to biblical Christianity before the pandemic, and that connection was even weaker by the end of the COVID-19 era.
Related studies conducted by the Cultural Research Center during the pandemic suggest that the Millennials’ rejection of biblical Christianity did not serve them well. Three-quarters reported lacking purpose and meaning in life. A large majority said they felt bereft of deep, healthy interpersonal relationships. More than half reported being impaired by mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, fear and suicidal thoughts.
To access a full report and detailed statistical analysis of each generation, click here
“The last three years have been a time of high anxiety for tens of millions of adults. It was an ideal time for the Christian Church to provide wise guidance and emotional calm. Unfortunately, most churches agreed to the government’s dictate that they close their doors and remain mostly silent,” says CRC Director of Research Dr. George Barna. “That left an unprepared populace to follow the primary form of leadership available to them—government perspectives and policies. Obviously, that has not worked out so well.”
Where Millennials experienced very little spiritual turbulence, the opposite was true of Gen Xers. Those aged 39 through 57 experienced the greatest number of statistically significant changes (10), plus two smaller but noteworthy directional changes. In all but one instance, those changes showed Gen Xers moving away from biblical perspectives or behaviors.
In general, the nature of the spiritual transitions among them was a shift away from trust in God. Among the biggest changes in their religious perspective were declines in believing God created humans, that He is the basis of truth and that He is the omniscient and omnipotent ruler of the universe. Those doubts have precipitated important transitions in religious behavior, including less frequent Bible reading, church attendance, confession of personal sin, seeking to do God’s will and worshiping God.
Baby Boomers (people aged 58 through 76 at the time of the survey) moved in the opposite direction of Millennials and Xers over the course of the pandemic. They underwent significant change in eight measures of their faith, with two additional variables showing smaller but indicative levels of change. Nine of those 10 areas of change moved Boomers toward being more in sync with biblical teachings.
Perhaps most interesting was the consistent uptick in religious behavior. Boomers are more likely now than they were before COVID-19 to read the Bible, praise and worship God, seek and do God’s will and attend church services.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was Elders (those aged 77 and older) who demonstrated the greatest degree of spiritual stability of any of the four generations. Overall, they endured just four statistically significant changes, plus five smaller directional changes. Although their biblical worldview incidence dropped by a single percentage point, Elders maintained the highest biblical worldview incidence of any generation (8%).
The few changes they adopted showed their inclination to become more biblical. More than anything, they demonstrated a heightened interest in God. Specifically, they were more likely after the pandemic than before it to believe in the God of Israel, believe that their life purpose is to know, love and serve God as fully as possible and to devote regular time to thanking and worshiping Him. There was also a small increase in the number of born-again Christians among the group.
Author of the recently-released book, Helping Millennials Thrive: Practical Wisdom for a Generation in Crisis, Barna says it is this striking disparity of responses in the midst of the national crisis that argues for fresh ideas and approaches to making biblical Christianity relevant to younger Americans—not compromising the substance of biblical Christianity, but helping younger adults to experience and express that faith in ways that may not be comfortable among older generations.
“During times of crisis, every generation turns to their worldview to navigate the challenges. Sadly, because Syncretism is the prevailing worldview of each generation in America today, the responses of Americans to the pandemic and the political turbulence it facilitated have been every bit as muddled and chaotic as the worldview on which they’re based. The ideological and philosophical confusion that characterizes America is perhaps the biggest reflection of the nation’s rejection of biblical principles and its decision to replace God’s truth with ‘personal truth.'”
Barna continued, “As a nation, we may be past the danger of COVID-19, but we’re in the thick of the danger brought about by people relying upon Syncretism as their dominant worldview. Biblical churches must see this as a time for an urgent response to the direction society is taking. While the Left pursues the Great Reset, it is time for the Church to pursue the Great Renewal—leading people’s hearts, minds, and souls back to God and His life principles.”
About the Cultural Research Center: The Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University in Glendale, Arizona, conducts the annual American Worldview Inventory as well as other nationwide surveys regarding cultural transformation. Recent national studies completed by the Cultural Research Center (CRC) have investigated topics related to family, values, lifestyle, spiritual practices, and politics.