Tracy F. Munsil, Ph.D. | May 11, 2023 | CRC | AWVI 2023, George Barna
From the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University

The COVID-19 pandemic affected the lives of every American, but not everyone in the same way or to the same degree—especially when comparing the nation’s adult generations.

Newly released data from Dr. George Barna and 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.

Generally, older Americans were much more likely to lean on their Christian faith as a primary coping mechanism—something that cannot be said for the two younger generations (Millennials and Gen Xers). Millennials remained relatively unchanged in their Christian faith, while Gen Xers seemed most rocked by COVID-19, registering a number of significant shifts away from God and a decline in religious practices.

More specifically, the latest report of the American Worldview Inventory 2023 paints a complex and chaotic generational picture of the post-COVID American religious landscape.

“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,” explained Barna, CRC Director of Research and author of the AWVI 2023 study.

“Unfortunately, most churches agreed to the government’s dictate that they close their doors and remain mostly silent,” Barna explained. “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.”

According to ACU President Len Munsil, the latest research highlights the need to point young Americans to God and biblical truth in the wake of the pandemic.

“As we can see in this new research, older generations were more likely to turn to God and established religious practices during COVID-19,” Munsil explained, “but younger generations seemed to lack a sure foundation in faith to help them process this traumatic worldwide event.”

“The need to return to God is even clearer as we emerge from COVID-19,” Munsil said. “Reaching young adults with the Gospel’s message of the hope of eternal life through Jesus, and helping them develop a biblical worldview, can provide them with the confidence to confront any and all of life’s challenges.”

The study looked at two dozen comparable measures of religious beliefs and behaviors examined before and after the pandemic. Here are some of its specific findings, by generation:

Millennials (ages 18 to 38): Despite tremendous challenges in areas of emotions, finances, vocation, relationships, and ideology, Millennials experienced little change in their relationship to Christ during COVID-19, remaining distant in religious beliefs and practices. However, Millennials did experience 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.

Gen Xers (ages 39 to 57): No adult generation felt the COVID-19 aftershocks more keenly than Gen-Xers, who experienced the greatest number of statistically significant spiritual changes (10) of all generations—including a significant shift away from trust in God (down 13 percentage points). Those doubts precipitated important transitions in religious behavior, including less frequent Bible reading (down 10 percentage points), church attendance (down 13 percentage points), confession of personal sin (down 6 percentage points), seeking to do God’s will and worshiping God (down 8 percentage points).

Boomers (ages 58 to 76): Boomers moved significantly toward biblical beliefs and recorded a consistent uptick in religious behaviors during the pandemic. They now are more likely than they were before COVID-19 to read the Bible, praise and worship God, seek and do God’s will, and attend church services.

Elders (77 and older): The oldest Americans demonstrated the greatest religious stability—and even experienced an increased inclination toward becoming more biblical. They also experienced an increase in understanding biblical purpose “to know, love, serve God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” by 8 percentage points and significantly increased their religious practices.

The research suggests that during a time of deep cultural crisis, instead of reaching toward God and the Christian faith as sources of strength and hope, most Americans instead turned inward to their pre-existing worldview to ride out the storm.

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.”

The full American Worldview Inventory 2023, Release #04: “U.S. Adult Generations Vary in Spiritual Responses to Pandemic” is available here.