Has personal evangelism become “something just the old people do?” Has religion and personal faith become utilitarian?
Very recently, the Barna Research Group conducted a poll among practicing Christians in the U.S., regarding personal evangelism. The study is called, “Reviving Evangelism”. It deals with shifting definitions and practices in evangelism and perceptions of sharing faith from both sides of the conversation. The study also deals with generational differences in faith sharing and found some interesting results.
Regardless of the age of responders, the vast majority of Christians feel that the best thing that could ever happen to someone is for them to come to know Jesus. Furthermore, and very heartening, was that the vast majority of Christians, from any age category, felt that when someone raises questions about faith, that they knew how to respond.
47% of millennial Christians felt that it is wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith
But then the report became very interesting. 47% of millennial Christians felt 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. David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group concluded, “The data show an enormous ambivalence among millennials, in particular, about the calling to share their faith with others.”
There are, no doubt, a great many reasons for this finding on personal evangelism. One might blame political correctness and the ease in which offence is taken when belief structures are challenged. But in truth, personal evangelism has always been problematic.
Consider the evidence from the three missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul. During his first journey centred primarily in Asia (or what we now know as Turkey), we know that a riot ensued at Pisidian Antioch, followed by the angry mob that stoned him at Lystra. What is of special interest are his words to the worshippers of the Greco-Roman Pantheon in that city. “You should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.”
God is not served by human hands and has appointed a day to judge the world.
His second missionary journey led him further afield, all the way into Greece. Of important consideration is his clash with the religious system of Athens. There, Paul famously contradicted the multitude of gods, proclaiming that one God alone created the heavens and the earth. Paul also said that God is not served by human hands and has appointed a day to judge the world.
Paul’s third missionary journey again took him to Asia Minor and Greece, but a great part of that ministry happened in the Asian city of Ephesus. We read of new believers burning their magic books and the violent response when idol makers found that their business was being challenged.
The point, of course, is that Christian faith advanced as the gospel advanced by sharing the good news with people who had a very different faith. Evangelism is not evangelism if it only shares the good news with people who already believe what we do.
The idea of challenging someone else’s deeply held and cherished beliefs seems wrong.
What then accounts for the findings of the Barna Research Group? I am sure more research is required, but I have my suspicions. A great many millennials were raised in churches where the primary focus was on how Jesus meets our personal needs, rather than a gospel that is objectively true for the world. Furthermore, the old Christian themes of a righteous God, the universal depravity of human sin, the reality of the judgment to come, and the necessity of the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ are not as familiar to a new generation of believers. Consequently, the idea of challenging someone else’s deeply held and cherished beliefs seems wrong.
I am confident that those believers, who were raised in churches that reviewed the historic Christian truths, are not among the 47%.