December 29, 2014 – Every December, Barna Group compiles its top findings and trends from research conducted in the past year. From legalizing marijuana to increasing secularization trends to America’s complicated relationship with sports—2014 was an interesting year.

1. Bible Skepticism Is Now Tied with Bible Engagement For the first time since Barna Group and American Bible Society’s Bible engagement tracking began, Bible skepticism is tied with Bible engagement. The number of those who are skeptical or agnostic toward the Bible—who believe the Bible is “just another book of teachings written by men that contains stories and advice”—has nearly doubled from 10% to 19% in just three years. This is now equal to the number of people who are Bible engaged—who read the Bible at least four times a week and believe it is the actual or inspired Word of God. Digging into the population segmentation of Bible skeptics, we find that two-thirds are 48 or younger (28% Millennials, 36% Gen-Xers), and they are twice as likely to be male (68%) than female (32%). They are more likely to identify as Catholic than any other single denomination or affiliation (30%) and are the segment most likely not to have attended church (87%) or prayed (63%) during the previous week. They are also most likely not to have made a commitment to Jesus that is important in their life today (76%). Read more about this trend and related findings.

2. Young Adults Question the Value of Their College Degree The traditional commencement speech platitudes that welcome students into the opportunities of adulthood—“the whole world is before you”; you just have to “follow your dreams” to “make a difference”—now ring hollow to many young adults, given the uneven, unpredictable economy. Hundreds of thousands of graduating Millennials are discovering the world is not their oyster, and jobs are much harder to find than anyone expected. As such, it’s easy to question the value of higher education. Only four in 10 twentysomethings would say they need their college degree for their current job (42%) or that it’s related to the work they’re doing (40%), and the same number wish they’d chosen a different major altogether. In the end, fewer than half of Millennials (47%) would strongly agree their degree was worth the cost and time. The degree-to-job disparity seems to bother parents most of all. While only about one-third of Millennials believe universities “have my best interests at heart,” that’s nearly twice as many as Gen-Xers (15%) and four times as many as Boomers (8%). Considering most Millennials remain optimistic about someday achieving that “dream job”—52% believe it’s within reach in the next five years—they seem to believe the degree will pay off at some point. Read more about this trend and related findings.

3. Global Poverty Is on the Decline, but Almost No One Believes It Did you know that the percentage of people in the world who live in extreme poverty has decreased by more than half over the past 30 years? If you said no—if you thought the number had gone up; that more people, not less, live in extreme poverty—you are not alone. More than eight in 10 Americans (84%) are unaware global poverty has reduced so drastically. In fact, more than two-thirds (67%) say they thought global poverty was on the rise over the past three decades. Similarly, while both child deaths and deaths caused by HIV/AIDS have decreased worldwide, many Americans wrongly think these numbers are on the rise: 50% of U.S. adults believe child deaths have increased since 1990, and 35% believe deaths from HIV/AIDS have increased in the past five years. Despite the incredible progress, more than two-thirds of U.S. adults (68%) say they do not believe it’s possible to end extreme global poverty within the next 25 years. Sadly, concern about extreme global poverty—defined in this study as the estimated 1.4 billion people in countries outside the U.S. who do not have access to clean water, enough food, sufficient clothing and shelter or basic medicine like antibiotics—has declined from 21% in 2011 to 16% in 2013. Read more about this trend and related findings. 

4. Millennials Want a Church to Feel Like a Church When it comes to the next generation of believers—who, leaders worry, will continue their journey away from regular church involvement—does the building itself have anything to do with their resistance or attraction to the church? When asked to choose between contrasting words to describe their vision of the ideal church, a majority of Millennials chose the following (for more word pairing choices, as well as visual pairing, see the full report): • Community, 78% (chosen over privacy, 22%) • Sanctuary, 77% (auditorium, 23%) • Classic, 67% (trendy, 33%) • Quiet, 65% (loud, 35%) • Casual, 64% (dignified, 36%) • Modern, 60% (traditional, 40%) While “sanctuary,” “classic” and “quiet” are more often associated with traditional church buildings, fewer than half of survey respondents preferred the word “traditional” over “modern.” And herein lies a cognitive dissonance common to the young adults interviewed in the survey. Many of them aspire to a more traditional church experience, in a beautiful building steeped in history and religious symbolism, but they are more at ease in a modern space that feels more familiar than mysterious. Read more about this trend and related findings.

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