Gen Z more likely to say faith has been ‘important’ during pandemic: survey

People are seen practicing social distancing in white circles in Domino Park during the COVID-19 pandemic on May 17, 2020, in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. | AFP via Getty Images/JOHANNES EISELE

Generation Z Americans have relied on faith more than other generations during the pandemic, according to a report by the law firm Becket focused on religious freedom issues.

Becket released on Tuesday its second annual Religious Freedom Index report, which analyzed the opinions of people in the United States on issues regarding religious liberty.

The report also had a few questions pertaining to faith practices during the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent gathering restrictions for houses of worship.

Becket found that 74% of Gen Z respondents felt that faith was “at least somewhat important” during the pandemic, putting them above the 62% average of all generations.

The Silent Generation, which is comprised of those born before the end of World War II, were the second most likely to consider faith “at least somewhat important” at 64%. Generation X were the lowest at 56%.

Gen Z respondents were also the generation most likely to consider faith “extremely or very important,” with 51% saying so. Millennials polled the lowest for this at 31%.

Becket announced the key findings of the report in a Zoom conference held Tuesday afternoon, which featured multiple experts providing background and analysis.

Caleb Lyman, one of the editors of the report, was asked by The Christian Post if this was indicative of Gen Z possibly reversing the growing trend of “nones.”

Lyman responded that the question of “the rise or fall” of religious affiliation was a “million-dollar question,” but hesitated to draw that conclusion from their research.

“I don’t know that we could say whether this is evidence that the increase in the rise of the ‘nones’ is slowing down,” cautioned Lyman, adding that they will “be paying attention to that.”

“It will be fascinating to see the way that Gen Z’s religiosity and the way that they are the same or different from previous generations and the generations that follow them will change and develop over time.”

Lyman believes that “the Index is going to be really useful” in “tracking Gen Z as they come of age,” noting that for the first report done last year, the oldest Gen Z respondents were 23.

Jacqueline Rivers, director of the Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies, speculated that perhaps it was a “correction” from how millennials were trending on the issue.

“A previous generation begins to reject faith and then the next generation coming up sees the limitations of that,” Rivers told CP.

Rivers also wondered aloud if the results were because Gen Z are younger than the other surveyed generations. “As they grow older,” there “might be a shift in the opposite direction.”

For their report, Becket drew from an online survey of a nationally representative sample of 1,000 U.S. adults conducted Sept. 30 to Oct. 8.

Other findings from the Index included 57% of respondents saying houses of worship and businesses should be given equal priority as states reopen from the pandemic, 60% agreeing that religion is for some “a fundamental part of ‘who I am’ and should be protected accordingly,” and 84% of respondents saying religious groups should have a role in “advocating for racial equality and justice.”

The Index also measured questions on a scale of 0 to 100, with 0 being complete opposition while 100 was complete support. The overall Index score for the respondents on religious liberty issues was a 66, which is a slight decrease from 67 in last year’s report.

In recent years, much has been made about the decline of religious affiliation in the United States, especially among younger generations like millennials and Gen Z.

Melissa Deckman, a professor at Washington College and scholar with the Public Religion Research Institute, recently examined religious trends among millennials and Gen Z.

She concluded that the generations of millennials and Gen Z were “awfully similar” to each other regarding “religious affiliation and religious behavior.”

“… the percentage of Gen Z Americans who identify as religiously unaffiliated is similar to the Millennials found in PRRI’s 2016 American Values Survey,” wrote Deckman in a report published in February by Religion in Public.

“In other words, it appears that the rate of younger Americans departing from organized religion is holding steady, so conflating Gen Zers with Millennials is not necessarily inappropriate when it comes to religious affiliation—at least so far.”

By contrast, a survey by the Barna Group that was released in 2018 concluded that Gen Z was the least Christian generation in the history of the United States.

In the 2018 report, Barna found that 35% of Gen Z teens considered themselves atheist, compared to 30% of millennials, 30% of Generation X and 26% of Baby Boomers.

"Gen Z is different because they have grown up in a post-Christian, post-modern environment where many of them have not even been exposed to Christianity or to church," stated Brooke Hempell, Barna's senior vice president of research, at the survey's rollout event at the time.

"There are a lot of churches that are empty in this country. Gen Z is the one who is really showing the fruit of that. There are many of them [who] are a spiritual blank slate. For the first time in our nation's history, that is more and more common."

In addition to being a reporter, Michael Gryboski has also had a novel released titled Memories of Lasting Shadows. For more information, click here.  

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