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Young people pray more than older generations, new poll suggests

30 August 2022

Findings ‘challenge the assumption that young people are not interested in faith’

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YOUNG people are more likely to have prayed, attended church, and read the Bible than older generations, a new poll commissioned by the Church of England suggests.

The Savanta ComRes survey of 2073 adults in the UK was conducted online between 1 and 3 July. More than half the respondents (1038) identified themselves as Christian, of whom 461 described themselves as “active” Christians. More than one third (787) of all respondents selected “none” for this question. Muslims were the third highest representation (94), followed by a proportion who preferred not to say (44), “other” faiths (41), Jews (21), Buddhists (13), and Sikhs (nine).

“He's in his room on his Praystation”

About half all respondents said that they had never prayed (1017) or attended a religious service (1014); two-thirds (59 per cent; 1231) said that they had never read a religious text — for example, the Bible. Of the remaining respondents, more than one quarter (28 per cent; 585) reported praying at least once a month.

Among the respondents who did pray, most said that they had prayed for family and friends (69 per cent), people who were sick (54 per cent), to give thanks (51 per cent), for guidance (45 per cent), and for forgiveness (43 per cent). Other focuses of prayer included the situation in Ukraine (32 per cent), the community (22 per cent), and the environment (20 per cent).

Prayer was more common among younger generations. Of the 589 respondents aged between 18 and 34, most said that they had prayed at some time in their life (358; 61 per cent). Of these, about one third prayed at least once a month. This was not the case among older respondents: more than half the 699 people in middle age (aged 35-54) had never prayed (51 per cent). This was also true of the 786 people aged 55 and above, 55 per cent of whom had never prayed.

Of the middle-aged and oldest respondents who had said that they had prayed before, about one quarter reported doing so at least once a month (29 and 24 per cent respectively).

Young people were also much more likely to have attended a religious service than older generations. Two-thirds (60 per cent) of over-55s said that they had never attended a religious service, compared with 47 per cent of those aged between 35 and 54, and 37 per cent of adults under 34.

The reading of religious texts was generally less common across the generations, although half the youngest respondents reported having done so at some point in their life, compared with just 39 per cent of those in middle age and 26 per cent of the oldest respondents. Almost one quarter of young people (23 per cent) reported reading a religious text at least once a month.

Geographically, people in London prayed more regularly than people in England as a whole. Most respondents lived in England, of whom 487 (29 per cent) prayed at least once a month. This compared with 40 per cent of the 272 respondents who lived in London. The largest proportion of respondents were from the south-east (282).

The same was true of both service attendance (23 per cent of London respondents attended at least once a month, compared with16 per cent across England) and the reading of religious texts (27 and 16 per cent respectively).

The Revd Dr Stephen Hance, who is the National Lead for Evangelism and Witness for the C of E, said: “These findings really challenge the all-too-common assumption that young people are not interested in faith or spiritual things. In fact, they show us that — more than simply being interested in spirituality — they are already exploring it in practice, to a greater extent than their elders.”

He suggested that, “in an age when mindfulness and meditation are more popular than ever, prayer makes sense to people. And, with pressures mounting and people of every generation facing huge uncertainty, many people of all ages are drawing strength from God in prayer.”

The Revd Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, Team Rector in the St Luke in the City Team Ministry, Liverpool, co-wrote the book The Teenage Prayer Experiment Notebook with her son (Books, 20 November 2015). Younger people often had fewer preconceptions about the Christian faith, she said.

“People of my generation and above were often brought up in a culture that taught them there was a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to pray, meaning that they can be very self-conscious about their prayer life and spirituality. In my experience, today’s young adults have been brought up to be comfortable with questions and experimentation: they know lots of people around the world do pray, and are willing to give it a go for themselves.”

The Archbishop of York, describing prayer as the bedrock of the Christian faith, said that the findings suggested that “many people still long for that connection with something and someone beyond themselves. At this time of uncertainty in our world . . . reaching out in prayer . . . can bring peace and transform lives.”

He continued: “If younger people want to pray, then let our churches be places where prayer is taught and experienced.”

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