Barna Research released new survey results this week that they – and many other Evangelical Christians – are casting in a negative light. However, they’re emphasizing one set of results over against another set which is much more positive.
The report, entitled “Almost Half of Practicing Christian Millennials Say Evangelism Is Wrong“, leads off with the shocking news that Millennial Christians are largely uninterested in sharing their faith with their non-believing friends. [More on this in just a moment].
What the survey also reveals is that these Millennials are MORE equipped than other age groups to actually share their faith with others. Here’s the quote from the survey:
“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%).”
So, it’s not that Millennials don’t know what to say if someone asks them about their faith in Christ. It’s also not that they feel like they aren’t capable of doing so successfully. If anything, Millennials are more confident in the reasons why they have faith in Christ than other age groups, and they are more at ease with the idea of having those conversations if they ever come up.
What’s the problem here? Well, I think the “problem”, as Evangelical Fundamentalist Christians see it, is mostly that they are terrified that this demographic isn’t very interested in perpetuating the Christian faith. They’re afraid that they may one day have to live in a world where Christianity isn’t the majority, or that other faiths might gain popularity and eclipse the Christian worldview.
In other words, Evangelicals are freaking out that Millennials aren’t out there selling Christianity to their friends. What they don’t understand is that it has more to do with the question Barna asked them in this survey, and less to do with any actual desire to share Christ with others.
The question is about evangelism. That word conjures up arguments around the dinner table about who is right and who is wrong. It evokes bad memories of “Us vs Them” confrontations that usually end in tears and someone being told they will burn in hell for their unbelief.
This is what Millennials are not interested in doing.
Here’s another interesting finding of this same survey that is not getting the attention it deserves:
“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.”
Do you see this? Millennial Christians have four times as many non-Christian friends in their life than Boomers or Gen X Christians. Yet, it is those other groups that are more gung-ho about evangelism to non-Christians.
How is it that those groups that are most pro-Evangelism have almost zero connections with non-believers? How is it that the group that is less interested in Evangelism has more interaction and actual relationships with people who are unlike them and practice other faiths, or have no faith at all?
Here’s what the survey is missing completely: Millennial Christians are much more open to loving people who are not inside their circle of faith. They are in daily, constant relationships with non-believers. This is what it means to be “salt and light”, my friends.This is very good news for the future of Christianity, in my opinion. I am very excited to learn that this next generation of Christ-followers is more interested in listening to people who think differently and less interested in having arguments about who is right or wrong.
Love is their mission. Actual relationships are their goal. Friendships with people of other faiths, or even with no faith whatsoever, are more important to them than being right.
If anything, I hope and pray that we could listen to these Millennial Christians and learn from them. This is the future of true Christian practice. If older generations refuse to take note, they will fade into the background and vanish in a puff of smoke. [Actually, they will do so no matter what. But the future is not found by convincing the next generation to be more like us. The future is found in listening to the wisdom of the next generation and empowering them to be who they already are].
If we can learn anything from this Barna survey it’s this: The future of Christianity looks much more loving and Christlike than in any previous generation.
That’s cause for celebration, don’t you think?
Keith Giles was formerly a licensed and ordained minister who walked away from organized church 11 years ago, to start a home fellowship that gave away 100% of the offering to the poor in the community. Today, He and his wife live in Meridian, Idaho, awaiting their next adventure.
His new book “Jesus Unbound: Liberating the Word of God from the Bible”, is available now on Amazon and features a Foreword by author Brian Zahnd.
He is also the author of the Amazon best-seller, “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb” with a Foreword by Greg Boyd.
Keith also co-hosts the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast on iTunes and Podbean.
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