More Americans say they want to grow spiritually amid growing openness to other faiths: study

A man seen praying in this undated photo.
A man seen praying in this undated photo. | Reuters/Danish Ismail

Despite a growing rejection of organized religion, with fewer than 50% of Americans holding formal church membership, spiritual openness is on the rise, with a majority of U.S. adults saying they believe in God or a higher power and want to grow spiritually, new data from the Barna Group suggests.

The data comes from a survey of 2,000 U.S. adults conducted in October 2022 by the Evangelical polling organization. It shows that 77% of respondents expressed belief in a higher power, and 74% said they want to grow spiritually.

Less than half of the survey sample, 44%, said they are more open to God than before the pandemic.

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Some 80% of respondents said they are certain or think there is a spiritual or supernatural dimension to the world. Another 11% said even though it could be possible, they don't believe the spiritual world exists, while 9% expressed no belief in the spiritual world.

The findings are similar to Pew Research data published in 2018, which showed that although 80% of Americans say they believe in God, only a slim majority of the nation's approximately 327 million people were found to believe in God as described in the Bible.

Barna CEO David Kinnaman noted that "our new data give Christian leaders cause for hope."

"Though religious affiliation and church attendance continue to decline, spiritual openness and curiosity are on the rise. Across every generation, in fact, we see an unprecedented desire to grow spiritually, a belief in a spiritual/supernatural dimension and a belief in God or a higher power," Kinnaman noted.

The Barna CEO said one of the most inspiring features of the open generation for him is based on findings from The Open Generation study, which show that "young people may be fueling this rise in spiritual hunger."

"Overwhelmingly, Christian teens today say that Jesus still matters to them; 76 percent say 'Jesus speaks to me in a way that is relevant to my life,'" Kinnaman said. "In a culture that has generally downgraded the reputation of Christians and relegated Sunday worship and other church-related activities to the sidelines of society, teens remain refreshingly open to Jesus as an influence in their lives."

However, the challenge for Christians witnessing to teenagers today is that the faith market is competition from other faiths.

"They are open to different faiths, including Christianity, and they're open to friends, causes, and ideas," Kinnaman said. "Though parents, educators, and others who mentor young people have a tall task to provide wise guidance to emerging adults, today's teens are confronting the church with something that I think we haven't seen before — a kind of blank slate; a chance to imagine a different future."

Beyond appealing to teenagers, the rising spiritual openness could also be a challenge for traditional Christian ministries.

"Our data on the rising spiritual openness in America, coupled with The Open Generation research, reveal a tremendous opportunity for faith leaders. The majority of Americans has signaled that they're willing to consider exploring spirituality. They are open to more that truly satisfies," Kinnaman noted.

"The challenge facing the Church and parachurch ministries is whether they are ready and able to meet the spiritually open — where they are, as they are," he added. "Our data show the Church has real work to do to bridge the trust gap for people who are spiritual but not religious."

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