By Megan K. Mertz
For the first time in the history of the Lutheran Youth Fellowship (LYF) Youth Poll, youth ranked “environmental issues” among their top five concerns.
Some 2,432 youth — 1,516 young women and 916 young men — completed the multiple-choice poll at the 2013 National LCMS Youth Gathering in San Antonio in July. This number accounts for approximately 14 percent of all registered youth at the Gathering.
The Youth Poll, which is sponsored by LYF, the Synod’s national youth organization, has been conducted at all 12 National Gatherings since 1980. The goal is to collect attitudes and opinions from Lutheran teens in order to help LCMS Youth Ministry identify issues and trends.
This year, youth listed “friends” (32.8 percent), “college” (28.5 percent), “environmental issues” (26.6 percent), “my faith” (25 percent) and “family relationships” (22.7 percent) as their top five concerns.
“My personal faith” fell to the fourth spot, down from its first-place ranking in 2004 and 2007 and its second-place spot in 2010.
“I’d like to think the decrease in the rate of concern for their personal faith indicates a class of young people who are more confident in what they believe and its expression,” said the Rev. Dr. Terry K. Dittmer, director of LCMS Youth Ministry.
On some social issues, Dittmer noted that the opinions reflected in the poll seem to be following trends in society.
- In 2007, 75.8 percent of youth who took the poll said that homosexuality is “always wrong according to God’s Word.” Just three years later that number dropped to 59.7, and in 2013 it slipped to 55.7.
- On gay marriage, 24.9 percent said gay couples should be allowed to marry, while 11.5 percent favored civil unions and 47.1 percent said “marriage is for one man and one woman; nothing else.” In 2007, only 9.1 percent supported gay marriage, while that number rose to 18.5 percent in 2010.
- 73.4 percent reported being pro-life, a number that has remained consistent over the years (75.4 percent in 2004, 71.2 percent in 2007 and 72.9 percent in 2010).
- On euthanasia, 28 percent said doctors should keep patients alive no matter what, while 18.8 percent said doctors may induce death.
- 71.6 percent of youth reported never having engaged in sexual intercourse, which is up from 54.7 percent in 2007 and 67.3 percent in 2010. However, when broken down by age, these numbers reflect society in general, with 85 percent of 14-year-olds but only 44 percent of 19-year-olds refraining from intercourse.
- 92 percent of youth reported never smoking; 94.5 percent reported never using drugs; and 71 percent reported never drinking beer, wine or hard liquor.
Life in the Church
“One of my favorite statistics is that 82.4 percent of the youth taking the survey feel that their pastor cares for them as a person,” Dittmer noted. “What a huge affirmation of the importance of the pastor in the lives of young people.”
The poll also revealed that 78.5 percent of the LCMS youth who took the survey live with both of their natural parents.
Studies of the general youth population in the U.S. report that 64 percent of children and youth live in two-parent homes, while only 45 percent are living with both natural parents.
“The data is quite a positive reflection on LCMS families,” Dittmer commented.
On a related question, 74.7 percent of youth reported talking with their parents about God and spiritual matters “often” or “sometimes.” In addition, 79 percent described themselves as “very active” or “active” in their church.
The Youth Poll also found that 5.9 percent of the youth at the Gathering (or slightly more than 1,000 youth) are planning on a career in the church. Another 26.6 percent said they would consider church work (representing some 4,500 youth), while 28 percent said they had never thought about it.
“Given these kinds of numbers, there is no reason we should experience empty pulpits and classrooms,” said Dittmer. “The reality is that adults, especially church workers, need to encourage teens to consider a vocation in God’s church. It would seem there are a lot of youth ready to consider it.”
“You can’t say enough about the importance of meaningful adult relationships in the lives of teens,” he continued.
Poll data also indicated that LCMS youth place great importance on serving others.
- 48.3 percent reported that they like to help people who have problems or needs “almost always” or “always.”
- 67.4 percent of the youth who took the survey have been on a servant event or mission trip. When broken down by age, this number ranges from 55 percent of 14-year-olds to 88 percent of 19-year-olds.
“Youth and adults at the Gathering are not there because they are all about ‘fun and games.’ They are definitely about service as an expression of the faith they have in Jesus Christ,” Dittmer observed.
On matters of worship, 21.2 percent said they prefer traditional liturgy, 34.9 prefer a mixture of old and new, and 27.3 prefer contemporary music with a praise band.
In addition, 52 percent favored all Christian denominations being free to worship in each other’s churches. Lutheran Christians worshiping only with other Lutheran Christians is favored by only 20 percent of youth.
“There are some really bright spots in the Youth Poll, to be sure. But there are also some very troubling concerns in the data that are not difficult to identify. The reality is there is never going to be a time when our work of teaching and nurturing the young in the faith is completed. We are challenged as adults to ‘raise up [our children]’ in the way they should go,” said Dittmer.
“As long as there are children and youth in the church, we’ve got work to do,” he continued.
To download PDFs of the Youth Poll results and summary, visit lcms.org/youth (see links at bottom of page).
Megan K. Mertz is a staff writer with LCMS Communications.
Updated Oct. 25, 2013