BY Dr. Tracy F. Munsil, Executive Director
From the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University
A groundbreaking new research report on American Millennials takes an unprecedented look into the nation’s largest generation—offering a host of new insights about their lifestyles, relationships, politics, faith, and mental health.
Many of its findings upend the prevailing cultural narrative regarding Millennials, challenging what has long been thought to characterize and animate the next generation. It contains dozens of unexpected new data points that provide a deep, multifaceted understanding of Millennial thoughts and behaviors.
Among its main themes, the report finds that Millennials struggle in relationships, face soaring levels of mental health issues, and desperately long for meaning and purpose. The findings also indicate that Millennials have less biblical worldview understanding than any generation since worldview was first measured more than 25 years ago by Dr. George Barna, veteran researcher and author of the new survey.
The extensive project, Millennials in America: New Insights into the Generation of Growing Influence, was released today by the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University, in collaboration with the non-profit Foundations of Freedom.
“Millennials, while much studied, have also been much misunderstood and maligned,” explained Barna, Director of Research for the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University. “So much research has been done on this generation, but there are still areas of the mind, heart and soul of Millennials that have not been studied. That’s where this project comes into the picture.”
According to the study, Millennials are characterized by a growing dissatisfaction with organized religion and little understanding of the biblical worldview, yet they express strong levels of respect for Jesus Christ and the Bible. The research found that Millennials desire to experience deeper, more meaningful relationships and struggle with relational conflict. Despite high levels of formal education, knowing what brings meaning and purpose to their lives eludes an overwhelming three-fourths (75 percent) of the generation. And perhaps most surprising—and alarming—the research found skyrocketing levels of mental and emotional health issues, including a majority admitting to regularly feeling anxious, depressed, or fearful.
“This remarkable generation is desperately seeking purpose and significance, but not finding it from a secular culture,” said ACU President Len Munsil. “We pray this research enables the body of Christ to engage Millennials with understanding, compassion and authenticity in a way that brings healing, hope and the opportunity for an abundant, joyful life.”
Here are other key findings from the report about the Millennial generation, defined as those between the ages of 18 and 37 at the time of the survey:
Mental Health: A surprisingly high number of Millennials face significant mental health struggles. A majority of those surveyed admit to often feeling anxious, depressed, or fearful. Specifically, 29 percent of younger Millennials (18 to 25) indicate they have some type of mental disorder. And 54 percent of Millennials surveyed acknowledged some degree of emotional fragility or even mental illness.
Faith: When it comes to faith, a record-breaking 40 percent of young adults fit the “Don’ts” category—they don’t believe, don’t know, or don’t care if God exists. Even though a majority have a favorable view of Jesus Christ and the Bible, only one-third of Millennials claim to believe in God and 24 out of every 25 Millennials (96 percent) lack a biblical worldview. Three out of four say they are still searching for their purpose in life.
Politics: Close to one-half say they prefer socialism to capitalism. When it comes to politics among Millennials, liberal/progressives outnumber conservatives 40 percent to 29 percent, and those who identify as Democrats outnumber Republicans by a two-to-one margin.
Lifestyles and Relationships: Most Millennials reject the existence of absolute moral truth (56 percent), and instead identify feelings, experiences, and the advice from family and friends as their most trusted sources of moral guidance. A prevailing Millennial belief is that there is no absolute value associated with human life (50 percent). When asked to identify “extremely desirable changes that would make your life substantially better than it is now,” among the top answers was “better, deeper friendships” (listed by 18 percent). According to the report, 30 percent of Millennials identify as LGBTQ, and this increases to 39% among the youngest of this group (ages 18 to 24).
According to Barna, bestselling author of more than 50 books on U.S. faith and culture, “We wanted to better understand different elements of the Millennial experience, such as their hopes for the future, emotional and mental health, and relationships.”
One of the things the report clearly highlights is that the Millennial generation is facing an uncertain future—both in terms of the world it inherits, as well as its ability to deal with the many challenges that lie ahead. According to Barna, the hope is that these results can be used to better understand, connect, and lead going forward.
“Those of us who are older must recognize Millennials as part of our legacy to the world,” he said. “The more we can empower our young adults to champion what matters, and to live in ways that will foster human flourishing, the more assured we can be that they will become the people God created them to be, and that this great nation can again be ground zero for realistic hope, tangible love and understanding, demonstrable compassion, creativity and innovation, and humble righteousness.”
In many ways, the research paints a portrait of a generation that will need support, encouragement, and guidance in the years to come.
As Dr. Barna sees it, “Actively searching for ways to bless Millennials is a tremendous opportunity to be Christ-like to a fragile and desperate generation. It may be our greatest chance to contribute to the advancement of God’s kingdom on earth.”
“We are called to do everything with love and excellence, as if we are serving the Lord Himself,” Barna explained. “Investing in the well-being of Millennials is a tangible means of doing so.”
Dave Dias, Chairman of Foundations of Freedom (the organization that commissioned the study) says his organization will lead by example.
“George (Barna) is a national treasure and obviously so highly regarded for his experience and wisdom,” said Dias. “We’ve garnered new revelations from his work with us and collectively, we endeavor to learn how to best serve and support the Millennial generation.”
The full digital report, Millennials in America: New Insights into the Generation of Growing Influence, is available for download free of charge here.
The Millennials in America survey was developed and implemented during August 2021 for Foundations of Freedom. The 71-question survey was administered online to a nationwide representative sample of 600 respondents from the Millennial age bracket (18 to 37 years of age at the time of the survey). The sampling and data collection procedures were designed to provide a base of respondents whose basic profile reflected that of the Millennial population in relation to factors such as geographic dispersion, race, and gender. Survey questions and discussion of methodology are contained in the report.