When it comes to sharing our faith, let’s be honest, most of us could use some work. Of course, there are the select few enthusiastic believers who take absolutely every opportunity to bestow the Good News upon some poor unsuspecting stranger, but in general, we tend to keep things under wraps. Why is that?
One of the central commands of Jesus was to spread the Gospel — to take it to the ends of the earth (Mark 16:15). We are to embody the very nature of Christ in our behavior (John 13:35), and show the world who He is.
Recall the words of Christ from Luke 12:8: “I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God.”
Christians are called to be witnesses, to be the hands and feet of Christ, and to extend the Kingdom of God through the faithful teaching and preaching of the word. So why are so few of us actually getting on with this vital work?
According to a new study released by the Barna Research Group, a “growing number of Christians don’t see sharing the good news as a personal responsibility.” Over the past couple of decades, there has been an increasing feeling among Christians that this “evangelism stuff” is something for the Church, not for us humble lay people. The problem with that? Christians ARE the Church.
Some three in 10 Christians who have had a conversation about faith say evangelism is the local church’s responsibility (29 percent), a nearly threefold increase from 25 years ago. Why is this? More from Barna:
“This jump could be the result of many factors, including poor ecclesiology (believing “the local church” is somehow separate from the people who are a part of it) or personal and cultural barriers to sharing faith. Yet the most dramatic divergence over time is on the statement, “Every Christian has a responsibility to share their faith.” In 1993, nine out of 10 Christians who had shared their faith agreed (89%). Today, just two-thirds say so (64%)—a 25-point drop.”
Interestingly, between 1993 and today, there has been little change in the way people approach the task of talking to others about Christ. Despite stacks of guides and programs on things like “power evangelism” and the “invitational approach,” it seems that most people still just stick to the most basic of conversation starters.
“The most common approaches, a majority says, are asking questions about the other person’s beliefs and experiences (70%) and sharing their faith in the way they live rather than by speaking about it (65%),” Barna noted. There is one aspect that has become less important to Christians – emphasizing the imperative of accepting Christ as your personal Lord and savior. “A majority of Christians 25 years ago also reported emphasizing the beneficial aspects of accepting Jesus (78%)—a strategy that today is less common (50%),” Barna added.
From the study, one can conclude that fewer people are inclined to get someone to “defend their beliefs,” and are also less enthralled by the notion of quoting Bible verses at their chosen subject.
So what are some of the specific things that are stopping people from being bold and sharing the redemptive work of Jesus Christ?
Many are less inclined to strike up a spiritual conversation if they don’t already have a relationship with the person (accosting people on the street probably wouldn’t be for them). Many others admit “they would avoid a spiritual conversation if they knew their non-Christian friend would reject them.”
It appears that many Christians are also becoming heavily influenced by the feelings of others toward the public sharing of their beliefs. Barna found that “six out of 10” people say a Christian “must not share if their religious beliefs are ‘disrespectful or judgmental’ (61%)” — a clear-cut deterrent for those believers who are concerned about the social fallout.
Roxanne Stone, editor in chief at Barna Group, had a few observations as to what these new findings could mean:
“As spiritual leaders and practitioners, whose job it is to think and talk about matters of faith, it’s easy to imagine everyone is regularly doing the same,” Stone said. “After all, aren’t these the big questions of life? Don’t these topics matter more than anything else?”
One would think so. But according to Stone, “most Christians are busy with other things: the day-to-day of normal life—jobs, kids, budgets, sports, weather and what’s premiering on Netflix this week. None of this is bad, but the unfortunate reality is that most adults don’t seem to connect their everyday experiences with their faith. Or, at least, they aren’t talking about it if they do.”
Stone listed the key adversaries to evangelism as “the overarching cultural trends of secularism, relativism, pluralism and the digital age” as they have begun to affect societal change. This has, in her view, resulted in a culture that is “less interested in religion and that has marginalized the place of spirituality in everyday life.”
“As a result, Christians in America today have to live in the tension between Jesus’ commands to tell others the good news and growing cultural taboos against proselytizing—a core part of Christianity from its origins and, many practicing Christians believe, is essential for the salvation of their listeners,” she said.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. The Church should be equipping “regular” believers for the daily mission of sharing their faith – whether it be at school, in the office or at the coffee shop.
Quit praying for revival in the nation when you won’t even befriend your unchurched neighbor next door.
— Ed Stetzer (@edstetzer) May 20, 2018
“Followers of Christ have something essential and meaningful to share with their families, neighbors, friends and those they come into contact with,” Stone added. “As pastors and leaders, we must invest the resources of our churches toward coming alongside fellow believers and empowering them with confidence to talk about their faith despite the obvious barriers.”
(H/T: Barna Research Group)