If you’re working with young people in the church in any way, shape or form, gaining insight into the spiritual lives of the people you are working with is invaluable. While there are many studies done in America on the spirituality of young people that is very useful and insightful for us in Australia, it is often hard to come across research that speaks into the spiritual life of Australian teens.
That is why Putting Life Together: Findings from Australian Youth Spirituality Research by Philip Hughes is such a valuable piece of research. It gives a great insight into the spiritual culture of Australian teens and what you find will be very sobering.
This book woke me up to the reality of the culture we are working in and as a youth worker – who also works within a school – this is a stark reminder of what teens actually think.
One table in particular (table 6) asked teens to rank the importance of various means to peace and happiness. Here is the ranking of what 13-24 year olds said:
- Listening to music
- Working or study
- Being close to nature: by the sea or in the bush
- Being creative artistically (like painting or craft)
- Prayer or meditation
- Drinking alcohol or taking recreational drugs
What smacked me in the face with these results were that young people find peace and happiness through prayer only slightly more than they do through drinking alcohol and taking drugs (and the difference was very slim), and they find peace and happiness through prayer less than they do through shopping.
The average young person in Australia will turn to almost everything else to find peace and happiness than they will to prayer and to God, and only just a little more than they would to drugs and alcohol.
WHAT THIS TELLS ME
- The young people I am trying to talk to about Jesus simply do not care. Jesus doesn’t even register on their radar most of the time as a legitimate focus for their lives.
- I am strange. The priorities of my life and what I value are way out of sync with those of young Australians. This is ok, but I need to be aware of this as I talk to and interact with young people.
- When it comes to youth nights, and I get up and talk about spending time with God and the role that God plays in our lives – to a room that is half full of Christian kids and half full of non-Christian kids – I need to remember how far away from caring half the room is.
- In trying to share the gospel with young people, I need to first remember that they really don’t care about spiritual things and remember all the other things in their life that are more important.
- I really need to be aware of what I communicate about spiritual things like a healthy prayer life. Do I send a message that it is something you do because you’re a Christian? Or is it something you do because it’s connecting to a relational God that will change your life? Maybe teens don’t care for prayer because they don’t see that it makes any difference.
It’s important for us to remember and understand the young person we are talking to when conveying the gospel. Next time I stand up in Chapel at school and talk about prayer, I need to remember how very little the majority of people I’m talking to see prayer as something legitimate and important in their life. How do we communicate the life-changing message of God’s saving grace in a way that connects and actually registers? How can God become central to these young lives? How we communicate is key to this.
And just to drive it home even more: this research was predominantly conducted in Christian and Catholic schools.
What would the results look like for the general public?
What do these results tell you?