Updated: Nov 13, 2020
I think if it were any year other than 2020, this interesting survey would have made bigger news. Pew Research interviewed teens and their parents and compared their answers (you'll see how this turns into a really cool exercise). The results are not surprising, but they validate some concerns and assumptions we've been making over the past few years.
Here's the long-story-short: the more important religious beliefs are to parents, the more important they will be to teenagers.
Teens are very likely to follow their parents' religious identity, and even more likely if the parents don't care about religion / are unaffiliated with a church.
Teens are very likely to adopt their parents religious beliefs, but when they differ, many parents are unaware of it.
If religion is not important to the parents, it will not be important to the teens.
The more serious (biblical) a parents' beliefs, the more likely the teens will be to share them and live by them.
Of course, the biggest driver of this is how your beliefs affect your daily life, but one critical aspect of that is regular church attendance (amplified in regular Bible study attendance).
If parents don't make the effort to prioritize regular participation in worship and Bible study, the numbers say that their teens will make even less of an effort.
If you have class members with kids, particularly teenagers, I encourage you to find a way to bring this information to them -- that's not browbeating or accusatory! -- so you can encourage them why their Sunday commitments not only affect them but also their children.
Let me introduce and explain some of the findings. If you want to read all of them (and wow, there's a lot of data to unpack), go to
I'll use this first table to explain the really cool way they've done this survey. They surveyed parents and teens together. That's what's reflected on the two axes of the charts. In a home where the parent identified as Evangelical, 80% of their teens also identified as Evangelical. 12% identified as Unaffiliated. Make sense? It takes a moment to get used to.
Here's the devastating takeaway from this chart. Yes, there's a very strong correlation between Evangelical and Catholic parents and their teens (which is good). But there's a stronger correlation between Unaffiliated parents and their teens. Teens are most likely to take after their parents if their parents don't go to church. (I also think it's a really big deal that teens of Mainline Protestants -- United Methodist, Episcopal, Presbyterian USA -- are twice as likely to not care about religion, but my article is about us, so I'm not focused on that.)
Takeaway 1: Teens are very likely to follow their parents' religious identity, but even more likely if the parents don't care about religion / are unaffiliated with a church.
That result is fleshed out by this next chart. Essentially, 90% of teens hold some or all of the same religious beliefs as their parents. That makes sense. (Note: this chart doesn't tell us if that "some" would be considered massively important or minor and debatable; that would be helpful to know, but who's to tell us which difference is important or minor?) But here's the key to this chart: where there are differences, 1/3 of the time the parent doesn't know.
I think that's a big deal. It means that the parents and the teens are not talking about doctrine in the home. This could be for any number of reasons -- perhaps the parents aren't comfortable talking about doctrine because they don't know how to explain or identify their own beliefs.
How do you fix that? Get involved in a Bible study where you talk about what the Bible says and what it means and then talk about that with your kids, giving them a chance to ask questions and learn from you!
[Aside on the development of beliefs in teenagers. How many teenagers want to (let alone acknowledge that they do) believe exactly the same thing as their parents? Exactly.]
Takeaway 2: Teens are very likely to adopt their parents religious beliefs, but when they differ, many parents are unaware of that fact.
I love these next two charts. They take what we just learned and put meat on it.
As we have learned, teens gravitate toward the beliefs and practices of their parents. BUT they rarely exceed the commitments of their parents. However much a parent prays, the teen may pray as much, but probably a little less. However often a parent goes to church, the teen probably will do the same but maybe a little less. (The second chart explains this: teens who go to church overwhelmingly go with parents.)
As with the first chart we looked at, the strongest correlation is with the lowest engagement. If teens are committed to their religion slightly less than their parents, what does that mean when the parents are already not very committed to their religion!
Let's focus on that second chart for a moment. Only 1% of teens are willing (or able) to go to church by themselves. Church leaders -- if you see a teen in your pews sitting alone, you and every other leader in your church should take immediate attention. What they're doing is rare, and they need everyone's support. But secondly, see that 7% attend with another family. If your teen has a friend whose family doesn't to to church, it's not crazy for you to offer a ride with your family!
Takeaway 3: If religion is not important to the parents, it will not be important to the teens.
This final set of charts highlights differences between Evangelicals (that's us as conservative Baptists), Mainline Protestants, and Catholics. Again, this is not to tear down Mainline Protestants as much as it is to reiterate how important it is to be a part of a Bible-believing, born-again Evangelical church like our Baptist church.
Really, it's another way of saying what the charts above said: the more seriously the parents take their faith, the more seriously the teens will. Evangelicals take seriously the idea that Jesus is the only way to the Father, that the Bible is the Word of God, and that God is the Author of true ethics and morality. Teenagers of Evangelical parents far outpace their peers in commitment to those basic truths.
(Before we get all excited, it's important to see that 1/3 of Evangelical teens don't believe that Jesus is the only Savior. So, that's not good. But I remember the teen years as being formative and developing -- what I was thinking as a teenager was very different from what I believed as a 20something. These statistics do not necessarily reflect what these teens will believe later in life. That might be good. That might be bad.)
Where do teens learn the information they need to develop these commitments? In the Bible. And how do they learn the Bible? By studying it. And where do they study it? In the home and at church. Having your teens involved in a regular Bible study is critical to their spiritual formation and thus their future convictions.
According to this final chart, as Evangelical parents, you likely already believe that. And that's a great foundation for raising a teen that will not wander far from Jesus as he or she encounters our world and all of its dangers.
[Something I hope you noticed when looking at these numbers: Evangelicals have a closer "kindred spirit" in Catholics than in Mainline Protestants -- not in doctrinal agreement, but in commitment to our faith and desire to pass it to our children. I think of my Catholic friends as being quite committed to being Catholic. But according to these results, they fall far behind our Evangelical commitment to being Evangelical (i.e. Bible-believing, Jesus-loving, soul-winning Christians). I was surprised by that but encouraged.]
Takeaway 4: The more serious (biblical) a parents' beliefs, the more likely the teens will be to share them and live by them.
What I learned from these charts is that Evangelicals take our faith (our commitment to Jesus Christ) more seriously than other professing Christians, and that rubs off on our teens. But it's not enough to claim to be Evangelical. Our actually demonstrated level of commitment to what we believe is what rubs off on them. If we are committed to going to church, our teens are more likely to be. If we are committed to our relationship with Jesus, our teens are more likely to be.
No, going to Sunday School does not automatically mean that your teens will take their faith in Jesus seriously. But not going to Sunday School is not going to help. We need to encourage the parents of teens in our churches to take their weekly attendance seriously.
According to these numbers, our teens pay attention to that.