Nine out of ten Christian young people are concerned about climate change. Just one in ten are confident their church is doing enough about it.
That’s a finding from Burning down the House, a new report from Tearfund and Youthscape. They surveyed 630 young Christians aged 14-19. The survey reveals widespread concern for climate change, and also for poverty and social justice.
Young people are also acting, with many reporting that they recycled, were eating less meat, and were encouraging their families to do more.
For young people, this is part of what it means to be a disciple. 86% agreed that their faith made them care about injustice, and a similar percentage agreed that Christians should care about climate change.
However, young people were concerned that these principles were not reflected in the priorities of the church. Two thirds of respondents said they’d never heard a sermon on climate change, and half said a church leader had never spoken to them about the topic. Only 37% thought that their church leaders see climate change as something they should care about, and only 9% thought their church was doing enough about the climate.
This presents a number of challenges to the church. One is that young people will grow disillusioned with the church if it is seen to be failing on important issues of the day. One focus group participant articulated this frustration: “I always go back and forth between wanting to just give up on the church as a lost cause that’s too big and fundamentally stuck in its ways to actually start taking meaningful action, and wanting desperately to convince the church to wield the massive power and influence it
has to change the world for the better.”
Another risk is that the church will be seen to be irrelevant by the wider culture it seeks to reach, and that ultimately, it may not be responding to a prophetic moment in history. “When the world looks back at the church in two hundred years’ time,” said one participant, “will they think the church helped to stop climate change or were part of the problem? Will they view the church as a positive part of society which is a catalyst of change, or negative and outdated?”
More positively, the report shows how young Christians integrate social and environmental justice into their lives and their faith. They have a theological framework for these issues, and they draw on their faith to motivate their actions. There is an energy there that the church can respond to, learn from, and that can inspire a response to the challenge of the climate emergency.
What can churches do? The survey asked young people what they needed, and the most popular answer was ‘show me how to practically make a difference in the world’, followed by ‘give me opportunities to make a difference’. For those with the courage to take it, this is an open invitation to partner with young people to change the world!
You can download the report here.