Sharing one's faith - evangelizing - is a core practice among many religions. For Christians, it's viewed as a mandate from Jesus himself before he departed earth: commanding His disciples to "spread the good news." Yet a number of factors are curbing many Christians' enthusiasm for sharing their faith today.
The Barna Research Group recently released new research commissioned by Alpha USA. This study looks at the faith-sharing experiences and expectations of Christians and non-Christians alike. Among the major findings in this report is the revelation that Christian Millennials - those aged 20 to 34 years - feel especially conflicted about evangelism - and, in fact, almost half believe it is wrong to share their faith.
Ready - but Not Willing - to Talk About Faith
Among all age groups, Millennials in particular feel equipped to share their faith with others.Despite this, almost half of Millennials (47%) agree at least somewhat that it is wrong to share one's personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith. This contrasts with 27% of Gen X (35-53 year olds), 19% of Baby Boomers (54-72 year olds) and 20% of Elders (those 73 years of age or older). (Gen Z teens were not included in this study).
Almost Half of Practicing Christian Millennials Say Evangelism Is Wrong
Among practicing Christians, Millennials report an average of four close friends or family members who practice a faith other than Christianity; most of their Boomer parents and grandparents, by comparison, have just one. Sharing the gospel today is made harder than at any time in recent memory by an overall cultural resistance to conversations that highlight people's differences.
The Barna Reserach report also found that two-thirds of Christian Millennials believe that people today are more likely than in the past to take offense if they share their faith (65%). Forty percent of Christian Millennials also reported that they believe disagreeing with someone means you are judging them.
What the Research Means
David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, says this study highlights a need for Christians to bolster their confidence in their convictions. "To start, we must pass on resilient faith to Christian young people, planning especially for the high school and college-age years," Kinnaman says."Even after they are committed to sustaining resilient faith, we must persuade younger Christians that evangelism is an essential practice of following Jesus," Kinnaman continues. "The data show enormous ambivalence among Millennials, in particular, about the calling to share their faith with others.
"Cultivating deep, steady, resilient Christian conviction," Kinnaman concludes, "is difficult in a world of 'you do you' and 'don't criticize anyone's life choices' and emotivism, the feelings-first priority that our culture makes a way of life. As much as ever, evangelism isn't just about saving the unsaved, but reminding ourselves that this stuff matters, that the Bible is trustworthy and that Jesus changes everything."
About the Research
Research for this study included two nationally representative studies of U.S. adults. The first was conducted using an online panel of 992 practicing Christians. A similar study was conducted online with a nationally representative study of 1,001 U.S. adults who do not meet the criteria for practicing Christians. Both lapsed Christians and non-Christians were interviewed. Both studies have margin of error of +/- 3 percent at the 95-percent confidence level, and reflected U.S. demographics using U.S. Census Bureau data.
Millennials were born 1984 to 1998 (ages 20 to 34).Gen X were born 1965 to 1983 (ages 35 to 53).Boomers were born 1946 to 1964 (ages 54 to 72).Elders were born before 1946 (age 73+).