Research from Youthscape and Tearfund explores teenage Christians’ views on the climate, the Church and their faith.
In 2020 We Are Tearfund and Youthscape surveyed 630 Christians aged 14-19 from across the UK. The ‘Burning Down the House’ report gives us brand new insights into how teenagers see the climate, the Church and their faith. These were ‘active Christians’ – 92% said they took part in a church service at least once a week and 84% said their faith was important or very important to them. We also ran four online focus groups with a further 23 16-23-year-olds, looking particularly at the experiences of climate activists and young black Christians.
Here’s what we found.
Moved by faith
The Christian teenagers we surveyed are concerned about the climate and see responding as a matter of faith.
- 92% of those surveyed said they were ‘concerned’, or ‘somewhat concerned’, about climate change
- 98% have friends who care about climate change
- 86% said ‘My faith teaches me to care about injustice’
- 84% agreed ‘It is important that Christians respond to climate change’.
When asked ‘How would you like the world to be better in ten years’ time?’ the three top answers were less discrimination, reduced poverty and slowing climate change, with young people making a link between these issues.
But it’s not just that they care about the environment – the majority see responding to injustice and climate change as an important part of their faith. In our focus groups, young people told us about how their faith motivates them to press for change and the ways they are already taking action on climate change, whether that’s prayer, organising school strikes, setting up environmental ministries within the Church or making changes to their own consumption habits.
"Jesus wants every part of our lives, there is nothing that we should not give to Jesus in our lives. So, when we’re in the supermarket we don’t stop being followers of Jesus. When we’re watching the news, we don’t stop… becoming a Christian is a whole-life thing."
– Young climate activist, focus group
These young people are already taking action to respond to threats to the environment, and they are ready to do more. Almost three quarters of teenage Christians (72%) have used less plastic in the last year, for example.
Mind the gap
63% said they had seen church leaders taking practical steps to help the congregation respond to climate change, but there was still a significant gap between their level of concern and their experience of church action on climate change. We found that while 9 out of 10 Christian teenagers surveyed are concerned about climate change, only 1 out of 10 think their church is doing enough about it. Half (51%) had never had a church or youth leader speak to them directly about the topic, either one-to-one, in youth group or in small groups.
- I have not heard a sermon on climate change on a Sunday – 66%
- My church leaders see climate change as something they should care about – 37%
- My church is doing enough about the climate – 9%
This mixed picture might explain why only a third of young people (36%) were confident that their church leaders see climate change as something they should be concerned about.
The sense that climate change is not a high priority has left some young people disappointed with the Church. Many of the young Christians in our focus groups spoke of how the Church ‘drags its feet’ on social justice – willing to address the consequences of social problems but not the underlying causes. This has led to some individuals considering whether they should just walk away.
"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."
– Young climate activist, focus group
Christian teenagers want the Church to act with greater urgency, and to support them in taking action for the climate. If the Church doesn’t follow the example of its young leaders, there is a chance it could lose them altogether. All the statements in the video below are direct quotes from the young people we surveyed.
Christian teenagers told us that they wanted to be shown how to practically make a difference, and to be given real opportunities to do so. This practical action is more important to them than teaching about climate change, prayer, or even emotional support for climate anxiety – though many welcome these forms of support too.
Finally, we asked young people what they wanted to say to the Church about climate change and the 230 teenagers who responded had three big messages for the Church.
1. WE NEED CHANGE
"We need to do something now! We have the opportunity and a God who is all-powerful behind us, so why haven’t we made a change yet?"
2. CLIMATE ACTIVISM IS FUNDAMENTAL TO OUR FAITH
"We are called to steward our planet and to love our neighbours, and those two things are absolutely interlinked and godly ways of living! Living out these commands can be a way to worship God. There is so much potential in this area for really exciting sermons!"
3. THE CHURCH SHOULD BE LEADING THE WAY
"The Church should absolutely be at the forefront of ﬁghting climate change – because the world is God's creation and we have a duty of care over it."
We’re all somewhere on a journey with the challenge of climate change. This research might be an encouragement to some of us to keep going, or for others to join those young people who are further along the path than us.
- Take some time to read the research yourself. You can download a copy here
- Watch the launch video
- Head to the ‘We Are Tearfund’ website where they have pulled together a range of brilliant resources, ideas and tools, all built around the findings of the research.
- Get yourself a copy of our latest resource Shuffle: Green Edition. Over 42 days, through 42 challenges, young people will learn more about the impact of the climate crisis and explore how to start living sustainably.