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, today, a number of factors are curbing many Christians’ enthusiasm for faith-sharing, including the decline of religion in America, a spreading apathy toward spiritual matters and a growing cultural suspicion of people of faith.
It is against this backdrop that Barna is releasing Reviving Evangelism, a new report based on 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 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
Almost all practicing Christians believe that part of their faith means being a witness about Jesus (ranging from 95% to 97% among all generational groups), and that the best thing that could ever happen to someone is for them to know Jesus (94% to 97%). Millennials in particular feel equipped to share their faith with others. For instance, almost three-quarters say they know how to respond when someone raises questions about faith (73%), and that they are gifted at sharing their faith with other people (73%). This is higher than any other generational group: Gen X (66%), Boomers (59%) and Elders (56%).
Despite this, many Millennials are unsure about the actual practice of evangelism. 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 is compared to a little over one-quarter of Gen X (27%), and one in five Boomers (19%) and Elders (20%). (Though Gen Z teens were not included in this study, their thoroughly post-Christian posture will likely amplify this stance toward evangelism.)
Younger Christians tend to be more personally aware of the cultural temperature around spiritual conversations. Among practicing Christians, Millennials report an average (median) 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.
Society today also casts a negative light on proselytization that many older Christians do not fully appreciate. As Barna found in research published in Spiritual Conversations in the Digital Age, three out of five Christian Millennials believe that people today are more likely than in the past to take offense if they share their faith (65%)—that’s far higher than among Boomer Christians (28%). Millennials are also either two (Gen X) or three times more likely (Boomers and Elders) than any other generational group to believe that disagreement means judgment.