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Lazy and disengaged? New study on volunteerism reveals stunning details about teens and churches

Posted September 11

 (Deseret Photo)

A new study casts some doubts on claims that today's teens are lazy and disengaged, with the Barna Group finding that the majority of teenagers — 68 percent — volunteer at least once every few months.

And nearly one in five parents (17 percent) report that their kids volunteer at least once a week, with 25 percent saying they do so at least once per month.

What's perhaps most notable in the report, though, is that churches are the most commonly cited locations where and through which teens do their volunteer work, according to more than 600 parents surveyed by the Barna Group.

In fact, 42 percent said their children were involved in church or ministry opportunities. The findings left Barna concluding that local churches hold some power and sway when it comes to "galvanizing young people to serve their communities and the world."

Churches, in fact, are important catalysts and drivers for teen volunteerism, as 60 percent of teens who attend church with their parents also take part in service projects, versus only 16 percent of those who don't.

Parents of teens who regularly attend youth group were asked if their kids volunteered in a service project with a church, and 61 percent said they had. Most of these projects were in the U.S., with just 8 percent of parents saying they send their kids on foreign missions trips.

Barna also found that 74 percent of parents whose kids have gone on a missions trip believe the trip definitely had a lasting impact on their kids, with an additional 24 percent saying that it probably made an impression.

The report speaks to the fact that churches remain a significant driver and facilitator of volunteer opportunities for American youths.

"The church, and youth groups in particular, have a unique opportunity to stand out as an authentic example of love through service by being the hands and feet of Jesus to those in need," Brooke Hempell, vice president of research at Barna Group, said in a statement. "Parents and youth pastors alike know the importance of this, and many find service and missions trips more engaging to youth than trying to compete for being 'the coolest place to hang out on a Friday night.'"

Churches weren't the only volunteer options cited by parents, though, with 35 percent saying their kids volunteered in programs that feed the hungry or help the homeless, 31 percent in educational organizations, and 28 percent in environmental and clean-up efforts.

Other less popular volunteer opportunities included helping animals (20 percent), social and political advocacy (11 percent), and medical or healthcare efforts (10 percent), according to the report.

The Barna Group surveyed 606 parents of kids between the ages of 13 and 19. The online, representative survey has a margin or error of plus-or-minus 4 percentage points.

Email: bhallowell@deseretnews.com Twitter: billyhallowell Facebook: facebook.com/billyhallowell

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