Jesus asks a very candid question in Matthew 16:13-16: “Who am I to you?” It seems like a simple inquiry, but the answer depends on who is being asked and what they believe to be true about Jesus.
In a research study conducted by Barna Group, teenagers around the world were asked this same question to see how they would describe Jesus. Their responses show that many teenagers have a fairly positive view about Jesus.
Approximately 49% of all teens say that Jesus was a “loving” person and 43% say that he offers hope and cares about people. Interestingly, only 23% say that they can have a relationship with him. It seems that although they understand the good qualities of Jesus, they don’t always see how they can be close to him.
This study also found that certain young people hold negative opinions about Jesus’ character: 8% feel like Jesus is detached from today’s real issues and 6% say that he is completely irrelevant.
This could be because the teachings of Jesus are often viewed as outdated because they were written thousands of years ago. Teenagers today are being confronted with so many different beliefs and ideologies that often contradict or completely discredit the Word of God. Also, the Bible is often seen as an ancient book that does not pertain to the events of today.
While young people may appreciate the lessons from Jesus’ teachings, the survey indicates that some do not view them as relevant principles to be lived out in their daily lives.
Another reason why teenagers don’t take Jesus seriously is because of how people in the church conduct themselves. They may have grown up hearing the wonderful truths about Jesus but have a difficult time reconciling his characteristics with the actions of those who claim to follow him.
Yes, Jesus forgives, but what does that mean to the young girl whose “Christian” parents condemn and humiliate her for getting pregnant out of wedlock? Yes, Jesus is love but how is that real to the closeted gay teen whose church completely ostracizes people in his community?
How teenagers view the church is also how they view Jesus, and if the two contradict each other, it can lead to confusion and skepticism about both.
One other issue that Barna Group’s study reveals is the statistical contrast between the number of young people who verbally express faith in Christ and those who outwardly show it. While 52% of teenagers identify as Christian, only around 22% have made a personal and spiritual commitment to Jesus. To me, this is not surprising especially since I was part of that 22% not too long ago.
I grew up in church and accepted Jesus at a very young age, so I was given a biblical foundation early on. However, in my early teen years, I didn’t really strive to connect more with God because I felt that as long as I went to church and read the Bible that was enough.
Around the age of 16, I realized that my relationship with God was very distant and that is when I began to hear the Lord ask me, “Who am I to you?” This prompted me to shift from simply knowing about Jesus to actually developing my own personal relationship with him.
Many teenagers are satisfied with simply having a Christian faith instead of seeking to deepen their relationship with Christ. Church discipleship and godly role models can help shift this trend to create a generation of young Christians who are passionate about their faith.
In a world that is growing increasingly oppositional to God and the Bible, Barna Group’s study offers hope that the next generation is not completely lost.
It is encouraging to know that even teenagers who may not fully embrace Christianity still somewhat understand who Jesus is and view him in a positive light. It is also humbling to realize that a spiritual walk with Christ is far more than just saying that you believe.
How does knowing Jesus shape how you think and act? And what does being a follower of Jesus look like in your daily life?
Teenagers today are searching for examples and role models, and those within the church should show the love of Jesus in a way that makes them eager to discover who Jesus is for themselves.
A rising junior at Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina, Murrell is an accounting major with a developing interest in the media industry and the diverse areas surrounding it. She was an Ernest C. Hynds Jr. intern during the fall 2022 semester.