Approximately 28 percent of American teenagers trust only in Jesus Christ as their way to heaven. The rest are confused.
A new survey by LifeWay Research indicated that many American teenagers are confused about what it takes to get to heaven. Results showed 53 percent of teens strongly agree with the belief that they will go to heaven because Jesus Christ died for their sins. Another 16 percent somewhat agree.
Among those not holding that traditional Christian belief, 27 percent said they trust in their own kindness to others and 26 percent trust in their religiosity as their means to get to heaven.
The survey, however, further found that even those who believe in Jesus Christ have confused ideas on how to get to heaven.
Out of the 69 percent of teens who at least somewhat agree they will go to heaven through Jesus Christ's death for their sins, 60 percent also said they will go because they are religious, and 60 percent also said they will go because they are kind to others.
"Why would teenagers feel the need to add anything to Jesus' work on the cross?" posed Scott Stevens, director of youth ministries at LifeWay.
Stevens pointed to several possible reasons for the "Jesus +" belief in going to heaven.
"Maybe it's because so many of them are fully engulfed in a performance-based existence where they are constantly striving to earn the favor and acceptance of those around them, especially those in positions of authority. How often do these teens experience unconditional love at home, school, or even in their church?
"How about the teenagers at your church?" Stevens asked. "Do they feel valued as long as they show up, keep quiet, and don't break anything? When they have to earn the favor of others based on something they do, it's not hard to understand how this theology of 'Jesus + my good works = heaven' could seep into their belief system, not to mention the accompanying spiritual doubt they experience when their behavior fails to meet the established standard."
Raising further concern, the LifeWay study also found that 69 percent of teenagers believe heaven exists, which is a 6 percent drop since 2005.
"[I]t may be that living in an uncertain world - with the threats of war, terrorism, school violence, divorce of parents, economic uncertainty, broken friendships, etc. - has teens unsure of reaching heaven when they die," said Stevens.
Those more likely to believe in heaven were African American teenagers (81 percent) and girls (73 percent). Sixty-six percent of boys strongly agree heaven exists.
According to the latest study, 26 percent of teenagers don't know if heaven is in their future and 25 percent of teens who agree they will go to heaven because Jesus Christ died for their sins are also uncertain.
Only 5 percent strongly agree that they do not believe heaven exists and 4 percent strongly agree with the statement: "I don't care if I go to heaven."
When measuring teens' involvement in religious activities, the study found that in the last 30 days, 54 percent have attended a church or religious service; 23 percent indicated that they attended a church youth group social activity; 20 percent attended Sunday school (drop from 24 percent in 2005); 14 percent attended a small-group Bible study (drop from 18 percent); and 8 percent have been in a leadership role within their youth group.
Outside of the church, 39 percent of teenagers said they prayed regularly and 14 percent said they read the Bible regularly in the last 30 days.
Moreover, 24 percent of teens said they had told a friend about their religious beliefs in the last 30 days (drop from 30 percent) and 15 percent had invited someone to a church activity (drop from 19 percent0>
The study revealed older teens (18 and 19 year-olds) are much less likely than 12-17 year-olds to attend youth group activities and Sunday school. Also, female teens were found to be more active religiously in personal and church activities than male teens. Females are more likely to pray and read the Bible regularly, participate in youth group social activities, small group Bible studies and leadership roles.
"With declining involvement in religious activities, perhaps it's not surprising that fewer teenagers are discussing their religious beliefs with friends or inviting people to church," said Stevens. "This would certainly align with the falling number of baptisms in this age group among Southern Baptist churches."
Total baptisms in the Southern Baptist Convention dropped for the second consecutive year in 2006 from 371,850 to 364,826.
"Also, the percentages of participation in these activities are lowest among 18-19 year olds, which points to the continuing challenge of ministering effectively to students as they move from high school to college," Stevens noted.
Simply put, Stevens warned the church, "Influence is being lost with the future of the church.
"At a time when there are growing numbers of teenagers in America and growing numbers of churches who are ministering specifically to teens, spiritual results with this age group are lacking. While resources for ministry to teenagers abound, it's time for churches to focus on the spiritual development of students rather than providing more 'stuff' for student ministry, and to fully engage teens in the life and ministry of the church."
LifeWay Research was launched by LifeWay Christian Resources, one of the world's largest providers of Christian products and services, and its current president, Dr. Thom S. Rainer, for the purpose of assisting and equipping church leaders with insight and advice that will lead to greater levels of church health and effectiveness.