Most Christians Have Experienced Spiritual Doubt; Millennials Most Likely to Question Beliefs

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A majority of American Christians admitted to having doubts about their faith, according to a recent Barna Group study.

Americans who self-identify as Christian or have in the past were asked if they "ever experienced a time of spiritual doubt when you questioned what you believed about your religion or God." Barna found that approximately 65 percent of American Christians affirmed having doubts.

Forty percent said they experieced doubt but "worked through it" while 26 percent said they still experience spiritual doubt.

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Meanwhile, 35 percent of American Christians said they never questioned their beliefs.

American Millennials who identify as Christian (38 percent) were more likely than any other generation (23 percent Gen-Xers, 19 percent Boomers, 20 percent Elders) to have questioned their faith.

The report attributed this in large part to Millennials being raised in a more pluralistic and secularized culture than older American generations.

Barna also found that Millennials were more likely than others to quit attending worship, stop reading the Bible, quit praying, and/or stop talking about spiritual matters with friends and family when going through doubts about their faith.

"Millennials were significantly more likely than other generations to stop doing all of the above, and at rates much higher than the general population," the report noted.

Notably, over half (53 percent) of self-identified Christians said their became stronger as a result of their experience with doubt. Twelve percent, however, lost their faith following the period of questioning.

Other findings show that the most common source for help or answers during their time of doubt were "friends or family," with 40 percent seeking help from them. The next most likely source was the Bible (29 percent), folllowed by church (22 percent), spouse (19 percent) and a pastor of spiritual leader (18 percent). 

The Barna report had a sample of 1,015 U.S. adults aged 18 and older surveyed online between June 5-9. Of that sample, the responses of 888 current and former Christians were examined with an error rate of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

In recent years, much has been made about the decline of religious affiliation among Millennial-aged adults in the United States.

Last September, the Public Religion Research Institute released a survey that found that nearly 40 percent of Americans aged 18-29 were religiously unaffiliated.

"One important reason why the unaffiliated are experiencing rising retention rates is because younger Americans raised in nonreligious homes are less apt to join a religious tradition or denomination than young adults in previous eras," explained the PRRI researchers last year.

"About three-quarters (74 percent) of Americans under the age of 50 who were raised nonreligious have maintained their lack of religious identity in adulthood. In contrast, only about half (49 percent) of Americans age 50 or older who were raised unaffiliated still identify that way."

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