THE INFLUENCE OF CHURCH ON WELLBEING IN ADOLESCENTS AND MILLENNIALS
This study evaluates the associations of the church, as well as its members and leadership to wellbeing in adolescents and Millennials. Subjects were surveyed about their background, personal wellbeing, their Christian walk and how church affected their wellbeing. In total, 884 participants were surveyed of which the majority of participants: attended church 4 or more times/month (80%); were female (73%); age 18-30 (39%); lived in the USA (56%); and were evangelical (77%). The 3 greatest church influences on wellbeing were: prayer (59%); spiritual growth (56%); and praise and worship (54%). The 3 most influential factors from church leadership on wellbeing: Bible-based teaching and preaching (75%); Bible-based speech (51%); and powerful biblical vision for the church (44%). The survey results indicate that the church today is influencing the personal wellbeing of youth and Millennial believers around the world. Young people from both age groups and geographical regions are devoted to God and to their local church. Overall the participants have good wellbeing and hold a positive attitude toward their church and church leadership.
When asked about the role of the New Testament church, biblical teachers often emphasize four primary functions of a) worship, b) education, c) fellowship and d) evangelism as exemplified in Acts 2:42-47.,, Following Pentecost, the apostle Peter preached the resurrected Jesus as Lord and Messiah. In response, about three thousand people were so deeply moved that they repented of sin and were baptized—giving birth to the church (v. 41).
This community of new believers in Jesus “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42 NIV). A spirit of awe, and worship imbued everyone as they watched God work through the apostles and many individuals who experienced profound renewal and transformation.
The believing community was uniquely characterized by mutual care, concern and generosity as they looked not only to their own interests, but to the needs of others (v. 45). The early church gave life, purpose, hope, forgiveness, healing, belonging and a sense of wellbeing to those who believed and gathered together in wondrous praise and communion. There was a peace with God and one another—a shalom—that permeated this growing community of believers. “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47b).
Like the early church, when the local church today fulfills its vital function of worship, instruction, fellowship and outreach it too brings glory to God and wellbeing to the body of Christ. But what is the church’s influence on the personal wellbeing of church going believers particularly to adolescents and Millennials who are the next generation of Christ followers?
A growing number of clinical studies suggest a connection between religion and wellbeing. In separate comprehensive reviews of peer-reviewed articles in the medical literature discussing religion and spirituality on mental and physical health, Stewart and colleagues and, separately, Koenig showed that religion was generally associated with greater wellbeing, improved coping with stress, and better mental health. Further, Weber & Pargament reviewed religion and spirituality and their ability to promote or damage mental health through positive or negative religious coping, community/support and beliefs, finding that religion and spirituality can promote mental health through positive religious coping, community and support, and positive beliefs.
However, few studies evaluate details of the Christian experience to determine negative or positive contributions to wellbeing. Several church based surveys have demonstrated that individuals who are most adherent to the practice of Christianity demonstrate better wellbeing.
Tao studied how devout Christians can enhance their subjective wellbeing by means of: high health expectations, good family relationship expectations and sound social networks. MacIlvaine and colleagues showed that religious adherence may promote a greater sense of wellbeing and feelings of contentment, peace, purpose and acceptance by God. In a separate study MacIlvaine and coworkers noted that church attendees who serve, either within the church or community, have enhanced wellbeing compared to those who do not assist others as well as greater scores for contentment, peace, joy, purpose and sense of community acceptance.
The lack of more complete data regarding the church and wellbeing is especially true for adolescents and Millennials who will be the main adult foundation of the church in the coming decades.
The purpose of this study was to evaluate the associations of the church, as well as its members and leadership to wellbeing in adolescents and Millennials.
The survey was developed internally at Teleios Inc. Subjects were asked about their background, personal wellbeing, their Christian walk and how church affected their wellbeing. Survey advertisements were placed on InstaPray (https://www.instagram.com/instapray), a Christian Instagram account. The survey was administered through Survey Monkey (https://www.surveymonkey.com).
In total, 884 participants were surveyed. We defined adolescents as middle and high school age and Millennials ages 18-34. The majority of participants: attended church at least 4+ times/month (80%); were female (73%); ages 18-30 (39%); resided in the USA (56%, Table 1); had college or post-graduate degree (30%); employed (37%) and evangelical (77%).
Table 1: Geographic location of respondents
Other (less than 3% incidence per country)
Generally, the young participants had good wellbeing and among potential surrogate markers of wellbeing: peace, joy, contentment and purpose with ratings of 4.6 to 5.0 (scale of 0 to 6. The higher the grade the better the wellbeing). Interestingly, among these young people their Christian walk was the most positive contributor to their personal wellbeing (5.2) with the church worship service coming in second (5.0). The only measure close to these two was their family (4.9, Table 2).
Table 2: Activity ratings contributing to personal wellbeing
(Scale 0-6, 6 being best)
Personal walk with God
Church worship service
Professional or student life
Health and fitness
Most participants were adherent to their Christian walk at some level: attending church once a week or more, and participating in prayer and worship. However, they less often were involved in: direct Bible study, biblically-based fellowship, teaching others or sharing the gospel message (Table 3).
Table 3: How often participants did the following?
I attend church
I study the Bible directly
I pray to God
I praise God
I teach others directly from the Bible
I verbally share the Gospel message with an unbeliever
I have Christian fellowship discussing biblical topics
Amazingly, the church’s influence on wellbeing did not differ generally between youth and Millennials (P=0.084) or among world regions including: USA, Europe, Asia and commonwealth countries (P=0.394).
Church and its young members
Participants we’re asked to select up to three of the greatest influences on wellbeing from their church and its members from a list of 12 (Table 4) from which the most common contributors were:
- Prayer (59%) – Prayer is a cornerstone of the Christian walk, allowing believers to come directly before God, unafraid with their petitions (Hebrews 10:20-22, Philippians 4:6). The church might assist prayer by acting as a guide to attendee’s supplications to God, a more expansive prayer experience and promoting prayer in member’s lives.
- Spiritual growth (56%) – Participants generally recognized the church helps them in their Christian walk to become mature believers. The church can do this in many ways but might help best by promoting biblical activities leading to maturity as expressed in the earliest church: prayer, praise, fellowship, outreach and teaching (Acts 2:42, 47).
- Praise and worship (54%) – Acknowledging God for His righteous character and actions is critical for a healthy Christian life. Praise allows believers to remind themselves that His thoughts and goals are greater than theirs. God deserves praise (Hebrews 13:15, Psalms 147-150).
- Emotional support (38%) – This finding is heartening in that young believers looked to the church, perhaps specifically to the church leadership or their Christian colleagues, to help them through life with sympathy and advice. Access for young Christians, desiring support from believing peers, is an important function of the church.
- Comfortable and pleasing worship surroundings (35%) – Indeed, a beautiful church, often combined with lovely accoutrements, inspiring music, prayer and liturgy can combine to create an awe inspiring and encouraging ambiance.
Table 4: Percent respondents believing specific church activities that assist wellbeing?
Assist spiritual growth
Encouraging praise and worship
Comfortable and pleasing worship surroundings
Opportunities for service and outreach
High quality small group
My needs are met
Nonetheless, Christians are instructed to take our Christian walk beyond the emotional satisfaction of church worship and friendships, and practice our faith daily. Over time, Scripture indicates that believers should become confident in their relationship with God through knowledge and understanding; emotional stability, making correct decisions between right and wrong as well as teaching others (Hebrews 5:11-14, Colossians 1:27-2:3, 3:16-17, Ephesians 5:15-19).
The above results are encouraging in the emphasis of spiritual growth, prayer and praise and church attendance among young Christians. However, another interesting finding is that Christian adolescents have the same desires for their church experience as the young adult generation and across cultures (P>0.087). It appears the Holy Spirit is using the Bible, parents, church members, leaders and teachers to help form the next generation of believers across the globe to carry forth in unity God’s great work.
The effect of church leadership on wellbeing differed statistically among the adolescent and millennial age groups (P>0.05), but not for international regions (P=0.69; Table 5). Participants we’re asked to select up to 3 of the most influential factors on wellbeing from a list of 12 of which the most common were:
- Bible-based teaching and preaching (75%) – It is encouraging to see such an important cornerstone of church function chosen so frequently by young evangelicals. We know that the teaching of God’s Word is a vital function of the church. Such teaching occurs not only in the Sunday sermon, but in Sunday school, small groups, discipleship relationships and self-study. Certainly, much fruit can be anticipated in believers’ lives by knowing Scripture (I Timothy 3:2, 4:6, 12, 16, II Timothy 2:2, 25-26).
- Bible-based speech (51%) – This choice was a pleasant surprise. This topic often is under stressed in church life. The Bible wisely indicates our speech should be primarily for the hearer, to meet their needs, and not for the speaker (Ephesians 4:29, 5:17-18, Colossians 3:16-17, 4:6).
- Powerful biblical vision for the church (44%) – Participants perceived that the church leadership helps their wellbeing by directing the church in biblically based goals. Indeed, the church functions primarily to outreach to the world as well as to equip its own members to go out and impact the community for the gospel, build Christian community as well as for our cultural good. (Matthew 28:20, I Timothy 2:1, Galatians 6:10, I Thessalonians 3:12, 5:15).
Table 5: Percent respondents believing how church leadership helps wellbeing?
Bible-based teaching and preaching
Encouraging, Bible-based speech
Powerful biblical vision for the church
Supporting church programs
Effective pastoral care
Willingness to undertake church discipline
Assisting my needs
Harmful effects of the church on wellbeing
Participants were asked to choose the most negative influences on wellbeing from their church and church leaders separately, each from a list of 14. Remarkably, there was a relatively low percent of complaints regarding the church and its leaders among participants. Again, there was a unified response across age groups (P=0.67), but not regions (P>0.05). However, there were several themes that were associated with poor wellbeing.
- Favoritism (19%) –We know of no research on church leadership and favoritism that explores whether it is intended or mostly unintentional. In addition, the participant’s lack of social skills and expectations that might accompany youth could have played a role in the perceived favoritism. More research is needed in this unexplored topic.
- Poor communication (14%) – Concerning church members the most cited issue diminishing wellbeing was negative communication skills. Again, this is a little studied area. As mentioned above, Scripture admonishes that speech is not intended for the speaker but to love others (John 14:21).
- Accordingly, Teleios research has shown that church attendance can be associated with self-serving goals that might be a source of negative speech habits such as: control of a church function as a power base, as well as seeking emotional support and having personal needs are met (Teleios, internal data).
Significance of the survey findings
What do these data indicate for today’s church? Several potential results are the following:
- Healthy young people – Although we do not have an exact worldwide incidence, we know from this survey that there exists a spiritually active population of adolescents and Millennials who visit Christian based social media and appear intent in their faith. They also report good wellbeing for which their church and Christian walk are the primary progenitors of their healthy mental state, especially in prayer, praise and church attendance.
- No difference in age – We observed surprisingly little difference between older youth and other age groups regarding wellbeing, the influence of church on wellbeing, and their views of the church and its leadership.
- Geographic unity – We also noted little divergence between geographic populations regarding general wellbeing, the influence of church on wellbeing and their views of the church and its leadership. Young Asian people appeared to be slightly more displeased with leadership in terms of favoritism and hypocrisy, and among other members’ by negative speech patterns, but the difference was not significant (P>0.05).
- Healthy churches and leadership – The survey results are very positive in that not only are the youth responding to the survey healthy mentally and spiritually, but the churches and leadership themselves provide a positive experience for which the level of complaints are surprisingly low. Further, the same positive findings were found in the Millennial age group. This is a surprise since they have a reputation in the popular press for being demanding and self-focused.
Based on the results of this study, what work still needs to be done in the local church?
- Teach the Word – The desire for God is evident in the participants in this survey yet also there are some apparent imbalances in the Christian life. The survey implies, and from our own experience, that young people need to know the Scriptures to be able to accurately apply them to their lives and see the accompanying fruit.
- Pastors and leaders should be careful that they teach the Bible directly from the text. Those young people who are truly believers long for God’s Word and the Bible need not be hidden or neglected. Perhaps those who seem less desirous to hear Scripture and want other functions in the church do not yet understand God’s saving grace and need to hear the gospel itself.
- Promote complete adherence to the Christian walk – While prayer, fellowship and praise are essential for the believer’s maturation, a true Christian can experience even further growth through studying and teaching God’s truth to others. This discipline of teaching others cultivates healthy accountability to comprehend, organize and articulate biblical truth. Further, it is the struggle to produce fruit in other people’s lives that helps them grow beyond their own inward-looking experience (Colossians 1:10). Young Christians need to learn basic Bible study methods to teach others from the Scripture.
- Spread the Gospel – Additionally, young believers need to share their faith. This is how the church grows in size and maturity. However, it needs to be the specific verbal gospel message. Interestingly, Teleios found that sharing the explicit plan of salvation was number five in the list of preferred methods of sharing the gospel in a well taught evangelical church (Teleios, internal data).
- More preferred methods were: lifestyle example, praying for others, encouraging others and loving them. Further, participants confessed that they did not even know how to verbalize the gospel to somebody else. Pastors should be careful to teach the gospel in their sermons and Sunday school and individual conversations.
The survey results indicate that the church today is influencing the personal wellbeing of youth and Millennial believers around the world. Young people from both age groups and geographical regions are devoted to God and to their local church. Overall the participants have good wellbeing and hold a positive attitude toward their church and church leadership.
This research suggests that the Holy Spirit through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, worship, fellowship and outreach is at work in building unity among local congregations from around the world. More research is needed to more fully understand the impact the local church is having on the next generation of Christ-followers.
 William is physician, glaucoma subspecialist and clinical researcher as well as co-founder of Teleios Research.
 Scott serves as the director of DMin studies and teaches in the Educational Ministry and Leadership Department at Dallas Theological Seminary.
 Jeanette is a nurse and co-founder of Teleios Research.
 Lindsay is the Research Coordinator for Teleios Research.
 J. Scott Horrell, “Freeing Cross-Cultural Church Planting with New Testament Essentials,” Bibliotheca sacra 174, no. 694 (April 2017): 210-225.
 Charles R. Swindoll, The Bride: Renewing Our Passion for the Church (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1994).
 Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1994). Grudem asserts three purposes of the church: 1) Ministry to God: Worship; 2) Ministry to Believers: Nurture; and 3) Ministry to the World: Evangelism and Mercy, pp 867-868.
 Steven J. Lawson, “The Priority of Biblical Preaching: An Expository Study of Acts 2:42-47,” Bibliotheca sacra 158, no. 630 (April 2001): 198–217.
 See Kuruvilla’s definition of a vision for preaching “Biblical preaching by a leader of a church in a gathering of Christians for worship is the communication of the thrust of a pericope of Scripture discerned by theological exegesis, and of its application to that specific body of believers, that they may be conformed to the image of Christ for the glory of God, all in the power of the Holy Spirit.” p. 3; Abraham Kuruvilla, “Theological Exegesis,” Bibliotheca sacra 173, no. 691 (July 2016): 259–272.
 For a detailed discussion of the “breaking of bread” and the Lords’ Supper see Dr. Michael Svigel’s blog post “Should We Celebrate the Lord’s Supper Every Sunday in Church?,” RetroChristianity, April 20, 2012, accessed September 22, 2017, http://www.retrochristianity.org/2012/04/20/should-we-celebrate-the-lords-supper-every-sunday-in-church/ and book, Michael J. Svigel, RetroChristianity: Reclaiming the Forgotten Faith (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2012).
 Edmund P. Clowney and Gerald L. Bray, The Church. Contours of Christian Theology. (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVaristy Press, 1995.
 Bill Hybels, Courageous Leadership (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2002).
 Barry D. Jones, Dwell: Life with God for the World (InterVarsity Preass, 2014). Jones explores Shalom as the “establishment of God’s perfect peace” (Chp. 1) woven into the fabric of the whole biblical story in connection with righteousness and justice.
 William C. Stewart, Michelle P. Adams, Jeanette A. Stewart, Lindsay A. Nelson. “Review of clinical medicine and religious practice.” J Relig Health 52 (Mar 2013): 91-106.
 Harold G. Koenig. “Religion, spirituality, and health: the research and clinical implications.” ISRN Psychiatry. (Dec 2012): 278730. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3671693/
 Samuel R. Weber, and Kenneth I. Pargament. “The role of religion and spirituality in mental health.” Curr Opin Psychiatry 27 (Sep 2014): 358-363. doi: 10.1097/YCO.0000000000000080.
 W. Rodman MacIlvaine, Lindsay A. Nelson, Jeanette A. Stewart, William C. Stewart. “Association of strength of religious adherence to quality of life measures.” Complement Ther Clin Pract 19 (Nov 2013): 251-255. doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2013.05.001.
 W. Rodman MacIlvaine, Lindsay A. Nelson, Jeanette A. Stewart, William C. Stewart. “Association of strength of community service to personal well-being.” Community Ment Health J 50 (Jul 2014): 577-582. doi: 10.1007/s10597-013-9660-0.
 Jada A. Graves. “Millennial Workers: Entitled, Needy, Self-Centered?” US News and World Report, 2012. https://money.usnews.com/money/careers/articles/2012/06/27/millennial-workers-entitled-needy-self-centered