Just recently, the Barna Group produced a report with Alpha USA entitled Reviving Evangelism. Jointly, they wanted to learn what it would take to see an awakening of the American church in our day. They divided the survey respondents into three groups: practicing Christians, lapsed Christians and non-Christians. They also considered four generations: Millennials, Gen X, Boomers, Elders.
Key findings among Practicing Christians included the following: nearly half of millennials say it’s wrong to evangelize; 2/3 of the millennials believe being a witness for Jesus is part of their faith; almost 40% of Christians say they have no non-Christian friends or family members; over half report having two or fewer conversations about their faith with a non-Christian in the past year; those that had one or more conversations about face came in way more confident and eager.
They found several things about non-Christians and lapsed Christians that I found pretty incredible. After all, these are the people that we have been commanded to reach. I will share those with you, but first an introduction.
As they state in introduction to the study “The church’s mission is to spread the message of saving, sacrificial love and ultimate hope that Jesus commissioned his followers to proclaim. It’s not about numeric growth; that’s just a byproduct. It’s about the good news.”
They found three key realities
- Culture and religion are eroding evangelism
- Christians’ perception of themselves aren’t accurate
- Significant opportunities for evangelism exist but look different
They found, similar to our research, that Christians do not have a united front, particularly when it comes to evangelism. Also, similar to WIIWT’s findings, we haven’t been developing the relational or conversational skills necessary for good evangelism. “Christianity‘s poor reputation is actually hardening non-Christians against evangelistic efforts.”
We at WIIWT agree wholeheartedly with the report that today’s data should be a wake up call to inspire us to personally and corporately fulfill the Great Commission. As we have mentioned in other blog posts and videos, we have found the trend of church decline and unawareness of the gospel on the rise in Columbus. This report gives us a great way to address it.
Taken directly from pages 12 and 13 in “Reviving Evangelism,” key findings among non-Christians and lapsed Christians are this.
- 71% say they are not “on a quest for spiritual truth.”
- Nearly 40% report they “don’t have any questions about faith— but some are more apt than others to say so.”
- The top qualities they would look for in a person with whom to talk about faith are “listens without judgment“ and “does not force a conclusion.” However, only a minority would say the Christians they know personally possess these qualities.
- Some non-Christians say they may be more interested in Christianity if they “had more evidence” and if Christians had a better reputation.”
- Practicing Christians, however, tend to underestimate the importance of evidence and reputation.
- Those who engage in regular conversations about faith are much more open to exploring faith in those who don’t.
When we read that, our hearts sank. However, it opened the door, showing how people could be reached. Here are all examples of how reaching each of the three groups should and shouldn’t look.
Lapsed Christians, who used to attend church, no longer do.
The three most important things to get them back in the church are seeing churches work together, having an eye-opening spiritual experience themselves, and if Christians they knew were more humble and aware of their shortcomings. The least important thing to them was having their Christian friends be more articulate about their faith.
As you can see from the study, there is a bigger, community or even nationwide view of church. However, among churches, the focus is almost always on that individual institution. We can take simple steps to fix the issues that lapsed Christians are having.
Religious non-Christians, which include people of other religions. Here is what they had to say.
Christianity needs better evidence to support it, Christianity needs a better reputation, and churches in my community need to work more together. The least important thing to them are Christians demonstrating a more vibrant personal faith.
Not surprisingly, this group feels a difference between science and faith. There is plenty of evidence supporting scientific positions and the Bible. as Christians, we need to learn to unite the two. There are several excellent books on the topic.
Atheists/Agnostics/Nones is the group that doesn’t want anything to do with religion. Their highlights are as follows.
They need more evidence to support Christianity, Christianity needs a better reputation, and they would consider if they had an eye-opening spiritual experience themselves. Least important to this group is knowing Christians who were better able to articulate their faith.
Again, we need to reconcile science and Christianity instead of separating the two. Also, we need to improve our reputation. Lastly, we need to start developing and practicing the “signs and wonders“ that Jesus promised would follow us.
However, the study cautions, “to be clear: a majority of US adults and the vast majority of non-religious adults believe that evangelism is religiously extreme.” They discuss how “growing social isolation “and “diminishing spiritual interest” are contributing factors to making evangelism difficult.
There’s a section in the book where Tim Keller talks about three elements needed for real revival.
- Gospel rediscovery
- Contextual creativity
- Extraordinary prayer
He talks about how conservative churches need to rediscovered grace and liberal churches need to rediscover the cross.
The next big finding is that Christians feel ready, but not all are willing. A growing number of people feel that it is wrong to share one’s personal beliefs and disagreement means judgment. Josh Chen says it this way, “if you make a mistake in a shame culture, you are the mistake.”
From the study, the two most open ways non-Christians and lapsed Christians would like to explore face are the following: casual, one-on-one conversation and casual conversation within a group. Meanwhile, a tract or a person on the street are the two worst ways. People are looking for “sincere, friendly engagement.”
The study also found that current faith, urban setting, income level and the generation are major weighting factors.
They highlight the great opportunity we have with religious non-Christians, urban dwellers, people with low income, and young adults who are experiencing “a general sense of emptiness.” These are all groups that are more hungry for the gospel.
At the end of the study, they highlight both the challenges and opportunities for evangelism. Here are the key findings from each.
- More religiously unaffiliated adults
- Internal sources of authority
- Don’t criticize the life choices of others
- Viewed as extremist
- Negative perceptions of Christianity
- Skeptical of sincerity
- Outsourcing spiritual conversations to the church
- Highest self-reported level of conversational barriers
- Lack of knowing the Great Commission
- Candid talk in radically transparent landscape
- New models of evangelism
- New mentality for evangelists
- The digital domain for spiritual conversations
- Sacred art of give-and-take conversation
- Making time for people in real life
- Sacred and spiritual experiences
- People are isolated
- Repentance for long-hidden, systemic sins
- Faith that’s flourishing in unexpected places
There are several great interviews woven throughout the study that explain how we can take steps to correct issues we are facing and remain a positive force in culture.
There is also a significant amount of data that slices it many different ways and can be used by local churches to train their attendees on how to best reach their community.
At WIIWT, we are committed to sharing the gospel with everyone in metropolitan Columbus. We would love to partner with you to develop solutions for your church and community.
For more information on the study or to buy a copy, click here.