“If you were to die tonight, do you know for sure that you would go to Heaven?” That question, or some variation, has started thousands of evangelism conversations and is the opening line for many evangelism programs (especially “Evangelism Explosion” started by D. James Kennedy). The conversation then goes on to “how you know,” and it exposes people who trust in their good works, or perhaps are just uncertain, whereupon the evangelist can point to the finished work of Christ and to the free salvation He promises.
Today, though, according to a survey by the Southern Baptist publisher LifeWay, over half of Americans never wonder about that question. A Christianity Today feature calls this “The Evangelistic Question That Died,” but I’m not so sure that the evidence is that people as a whole are no longer concerned about their eternal destiny.
The breakdown of the survey results is telling: 67% of Americans who never attend worship services have never wondered about whether or not they will go to Heaven. (Perhaps the general consensus today is that everyone enters some kind of white-light paradise–or that if we just die, that death isn’t all that bad–so worrying about the prospect of going to Hell is no longer as much of an issue as it once was. Since those who don’t go to church are the main targets for evangelism efforts, maybe the question is not the best evangelism-starter.)
Meanwhile, 57% of “born-again or evangelical” Protestants also never ask the question. (But perhaps this is because they have an assurance of salvation. Then again, 43% of them do wonder if they will make it to Heaven, so maybe they don’t have as much assurance from the Gospel that they should have.) Interestingly, only 34% of non-Evangelical Protestants–presumably those from the more liberal mainline church bodies–never ask the question. So 66% of “liberals” do worry about their salvation, so perhaps might be open to the conversation!
Significantly, only 36% of those aged 18-29 never wonder if they will go to Heaven, which means that, despite laments about young people leaving the church, this is an issue for nearly two-thirds of them (64%).
The regional breakdowns are also interesting. In the so-called Bible Belt of the South, 50% of the population never wonder if they will go to Heaven. (Again, this probably includes both secularists and Christians who know they will get there.) In the lesser-churched West, the percentage of those who never ask that question is 52%. In the Midwest, it’s 45%, which means that a majority of 55% do wonder. And in the ostensibly secular Northeast, supposedly the most secular part of the country, only 31% never ask that question. Over two-thirds of the population, including New Yorkers and New Englanders, 69%, the largest percentage surveyed, do wonder about their eternal destiny.