News Articles

LifeWay: Many teens confused on eternity

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Results from a LifeWay Research study of teenagers indicates that many teens are confused about what it takes to get to heaven.

More than 1,000 teens were surveyed in January and February 2007 by mail questionnaire. These results are compared to an identical survey conducted in 2005. Each sample consisted of 12- to 19-year-olds.

Results show that 69 percent of teens believe heaven exists. Also, a majority strongly agree with the traditional Christian belief in Jesus Christ’s death for their sins as the reason they will go to heaven (53 percent).

While many teens believe they will go to heaven because of their belief in Jesus Christ, one-quarter trust in their own kindness to others (27 percent) or their religiosity (26 percent) as their means to get to heaven.

Out of the 69 percent of the teens who strongly or somewhat agree they will go to heaven because Jesus Christ died for their sins, 60 percent also agree that they will go to heaven because they are religious and 60 percent also agree they will go to heaven because they are kind to others.

That leaves approximately 28 percent of American teenagers who are trusting only in Jesus Christ as their means to get to heaven.

“This is where confusion and perhaps a bit of self-made salvation have crept in,” Scott Stevens, LifeWay’s director of student ministry, noted in a column at www.lifewayresearch.com.” Why would teenagers feel the need to add anything to Jesus’ work on the cross? Maybe it’s because so many of them are fully engulfed in a performance-based existence where they are constantly striving to earn the favor and acceptance of those around them, especially those in positions of authority. How often do these teens experience unconditional love at home, school, or even in their church?”

“The central theme of Christianity is the person and work of Jesus Christ -– His death and resurrection,” said Scott McConnell, associate director of LifeWay Research, adding, “It is surprising that only about half the teenagers who attended a Christian church in the last month are depending solely on the grace of Jesus Christ to get to heaven.”

Though the large majority of teenagers believe heaven exists (69 percent), there has been a 6 percent drop since 2005 (75 percent) in the percentage of teens who are sure in their belief of heaven. Only 5 percent of teenagers strongly agree that they do not believe heaven exists.

African American teenagers are more likely to believe in heaven than the average teen (81 percent versus 70 percent). Girls (73 percent) are also more likely to strongly agree heaven exists when compared to guys (66 percent).

Twenty-six percent of teenagers don’t know if heaven is in their future, and similar uncertainty (24 percent) exists among teenagers who agree they will go to heaven because Jesus Christ died for their sins.

Four percent of teenagers strongly agree with the statement, “I don’t care if I go to heaven.”


Many teenagers have attended a church or religious service in the last 30 days (54 percent). Twenty percent attended a Catholic service, 8 percent attended a Southern Baptist service and 28 percent attended some other type of Christian service. Four percent indicated they attended a religious service of a religion other than Christian.

Involvement in other church activities is much less common than attending church services, with 23 percent indicating they attended a church youth group social activity in the last 30 days. Twenty percent attended Sunday School, 14 percent attended a small-group Bible study and 8 percent have been in a leadership role within their youth group.

When asked about personal religious activity within the last 30 days, 39 percent of respondents said they had prayed regularly and 14 percent said they had read the Bible.

Compared to the 2005 results, there are several significant statistical declines. Fewer teens are attending Sunday School (20 percent versus 24 percent) and small-group Bible studies (14 percent versus 18 percent).

As for outreach activity, fewer teens are discussing their beliefs with friends and inviting them to church activities. Twenty-four percent said they had told a friend about their religious beliefs in the last 30 days (compared to 30 percent in 2005). Fifteen percent had invited someone to a church activity in the last 30 days (compared to 19 percent in 2005).

“Previous research has shown the vital role that invitations and word of mouth have in motivating people to visit church,” McConnell said. “As outreach has declined among teens, it is not surprising that Bible study attendance has also declined.”

Older teens (18- and 19-year-olds) are less likely than 12- to 17-year-olds to attend youth group activities (13 percent versus 26 percent), and they are less likely to attend Sunday School (8 percent versus 24 percent).

Female teens are more active religiously than their male counterparts. More females pray regularly (48 percent versus 31 percent) and read the Bible regularly (17 percent versus 11 percent) than male teens.

The level of teen participation also is higher for females than males for church youth group social activities (26 percent versus 20 percent), small-group Bible studies (18 percent versus 11 percent) and leadership roles in their church youth group (10 percent versus 6 percent).
To listen to a podcast on the teen research with Scott McConnell of LifeWay Research and Scott Stevens, LifeWay’s director of student ministry, go to www.lifeway.com/insidelifeway.

    About the Author

  • Libby Lovelace