Half of Gen Zers says their life was 'transformed' by the Bible's message: study

(Photo: Unsplash/Priscilla Du Preez)

A new report reveals that while younger generations of Americans are less religious and engaged with the Bible than their older counterparts, roughly half of them credit the Bible’s message for transforming their lives.

The latest chapter of the American Bible Society’s State of the Bible USA 2023 report, released Thursday, focuses on the spiritual practices of Generation Z, who were born in 1997 or later.

ABS drew its data from the survey responses of 2,761 U.S. adults from Jan. 5-30, with a margin of error of +/-2.59 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

The newest installment of the annual survey examined the beliefs and practices of Gen Zers, comparing and contrasting them to older generations. The report shows that, although a higher share of respondents belonging to Generation Z identify as agnostics, atheists or “nones” (34%) than the older generations, 58% of Gen Z respondents identify as Christians.

Despite the lack of Scripture engagement among America’s youth, about half of Gen Z respondents agreed with the statement that “the message of the Bible has transformed my life.” Among Gen Z adults between the ages of 18 and 21, 49% agreed that the Bible had a transformative effect on their lives. That number rose to 52% among Gen Z respondents between the ages of 22 and 26.

Additionally, Gen Z has the lowest frequency of Bible use among the five generations examined. Thirty percent of Gen Z respondents meet the definition of a Bible user, which refers to those who interact with the Bible on their own outside of a church service at least three times a year.

The share of Bible users rises with each generation from youngest to oldest, with 33% of millennials, 39% of Gen Xers, 46% of baby boomers and 48% of "Elders" fitting the definition.

When analyzing Gen Z’s level of Scripture engagement over time, the study found that 60% of the youngest generation fall into the “Bible Disengaged” category on the Scripture Engagement Scale, which determines an individual’s placement based on their responses to questions about “the frequency of Bible use and the impact and centrality of its message.”

Those defined as “Bible Disengaged” score less than 70 on the Scripture Engagement Scale. Just 30% of Gen Z falls into the “Movable Middle” category, which contains those who score between 70 and 99, while only 10% were in the “Scripture Engaged” category, reserved for respondents who score 100 or higher. The share of “Scripture Engaged” among Generation Z has consistently declined, having been 14% in 2021 and 12% in 2022.

However, the younger group of Gen Z has higher levels of Bible use (34%) than the older group (27%), while nearly twice as many younger members of Gen Z (22%) reported seeing their Bible use increase over the past year than the older ones (12%). Younger Gen Z members were less likely to be "Bible Disengaged" than older Gen Z respondents (55% vs. 65%).

The contrast between the subgroups within Gen Z also applies to religious identification, non-Christians constitute a majority of the older members of Gen Z (52%), while still being a minority (40%) of the younger group. Eighteen percent of younger Gen Z respondents are practicing Christians compared to just 8% of the older subgroup.  

Reacting to the findings of the research in a statement, ABS Chief Ministry Insights Officer John Farquhar Plake described Gen Z as “a generation struggling to find their footing with faith.”

After noting that “scripture engagement rates for Gen Z have been on a steady decline over the past three years,” he expressed gratitude that “this generation still shows significant interest in the Bible and the message of Jesus.”

“Ministry leaders may be surprised to find how open Gen Z adults in their communities are to discussion about God’s Word,” he added. “And if the trends we’re seeing continue—it’s crucial to be having those conservations now.”

One additional chapter of the State of the Bible report will be published in each of the remaining months of 2023 and the completed edition will have nine chapters.