Knowing and believing in the next generation; Insights from Young Life’s RELATE Project

Rachel Dodd Image Rachel Dodd | May 14, 2024

To better understand younger generations, our friends at Young Life want to continually learn about adolescent culture. Pursuing this vision, they’ve recently released findings from The RELATE Project—a research study of today’s adolescents, conducted with the intention of learning more about how adults can help young people flourish in their lives.

With the data from The RELATE Project, Young Life hopes to better equip staff, volunteers, and people who care deeply about adolescents to better care, show up, and support them in a rapidly changing and technologically advancing world.

At FYI, we’re celebrating the release of this exciting study. So we asked the team at Young Life to tell us more!

We love that Young Life’s ministry and mission are all about relationships. What are some of your key learnings about Gen Z and the relationships that matter most to them?

Members of Gen Z are deeply relational, with teens worldwide most often communicating with their closest friends face-to-face. Additionally, across countries and cultures, Gen Z deeply cares about relationships with their family and friends, and they want to know others and be known.

A few key data points that we found in this study about relationships were:

  • Gen Z needs to know they are deserving of love. More than 40% of adolescents worldwide do not feel they are “worthy of being loved.” Among the range of adolescents surveyed, those who were ages 16–18 showed the lowest confidence that they are worthy of receiving love.
  • Person-to-person contact still matters greatly to teens. 55% of teens worldwide most often communicate with their closest friends face-to-face.
  • Despite being the first digitally native generation, friends and family are still the primary sources adolescents will turn to for help, consistent across countries.
  • Gen Z and Gen Alpha still desire guidance from their parents and other adults, even as they pull away. About two-thirds of teens and young adults say their mother or their spouse/partner is their primary trusted confidant, far surpassing any other trusted adult.

This statement hit us straight in the heart: “Gen Z really, really needs to know they are deserving of love.” Can you tell us more about why today’s young people aren’t receiving this message, and how adults can help them hear it more loudly and clearly?

We found that over 40% of Gen Z are not confident that they have someone they can talk to about things that really matter, and, devastatingly, that more than 40% of all Gen Zers are not confident they are “worthy of being loved” (rated 0 – 7 out of 10). From ages 16–18, adolescents show the lowest confidence that they are worthy of receiving love.

In our focus groups during this research, we learned that Gen Z holds the belief that older generations look down upon them and often view them as irresponsible or lazy.

There’s a clear opportunity for adults to come alongside these younger generations. Showing up for adolescents by affirming their worth, encouraging their work ethic, and telling them they are enough are all ways to support young people today. The RELATE Project’s data found that the adults demonstrating a positive posture towards teens and young adults can truly make all the difference in their lives.

Belonging seemed to be at the core of a lot of the report’s findings. How does belonging intersect with faith when it comes to young people’s flourishing?

At Young Life, we believe that belonging is more than a cultural or social movement or moment. Rather, we see a clear motivation throughout the Scriptures, especially in Jesus's work and teachings. In short, belonging is hard-wired in each of us, as demonstrated in Genesis and reaffirmed throughout the Gospels. More so, as followers of Jesus, we believe His invitation was to also take up the responsibility to create belonging for others just as He created belonging for each of us on the cross.

As such, our findings around belonging within The RELATE Project’s research are interesting, but not completely surprising. Specifically, we found that there are three core concepts that contribute to a young person’s flourishing and wellbeing. Belonging, close relationships and self-concept (which is made up of identity—what I think about myself, and agency—my capacity to influence) all contribute in really important ways to flourishing.

This triad of self-concept, close relationships, and belonging reciprocally interacts with faith. Increases in any part of the triad increases personal faith; decreases in any part of the triad can lead to a decrease in faith.

What’s next for Young Life and this research? How will the RELATE project’s findings shape and equip your ministries?

Young Life plans for The RELATE Project to be longitudinal (with continued research in years to come) in order to compare trends among adolescents. We think this will better equip our ministry to care for young people and help us continue learning from future generations.

Specifically, we want to use this data to help Young Life field staff, our staff who work closely with local volunteers and adolescents on behalf of the organization, understand and apply the findings to their contextual situations and work. There will be workshops and toolkits to help implement what we’re learning through this data into real situations as we encourage, invest in, and show up for young people.

Our goal is that leaders would integrate learnings from The RELATE Project into how they lead and create belonging in our organization to better prepare us to be who the kids of tomorrow need us to be. This includes informal use of the report and formal volunteer, new staff, and large and small group gatherings dependent on ministry context. Additionally, we hope the findings will be used to equip people around the globe to better care for young people and their wellbeing.

How can people who care deeply about teens learn more from Young Life’s findings?

The RELATE Project is being released in four distinct chapters. Each chapter will release independently over the coming several months. To learn more and to access chapter one and all future chapters, visit

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Rachel Dodd Image
Rachel Dodd

Rachel Dodd is a spiritual director, writer, and Managing Editor at the Fuller Youth Institute. She has a BA in Church Music and Youth Ministry from Point Loma Nazarene University, an MDiv from Fuller Theological Seminary, and is currently finishing a DMin in Spiritual Formation and Direction. Having served students and families in the UK and US for over 20 years, Rachel loves writing to share stories and equip those following their own calling in ministry. She and her husband, Carl, now live in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, and have two daughters. Connect with Rachel at

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