A recent Barna research study that surveyed believers on the topic of the Great Commission found some surprising and somewhat disheartening results.
The Great Commission is of course the appeal issued by Jesus before his ascension that called his disciples and all future believers to “Go forth and make disciples.” This, in essence, means to share one’s faith. While believers in the original Barna study issued in 1993 agreed that sharing their faith should be of paramount importance to believers, today’s Christians didn’t have quite the same convictions.
Lutheran Hour Ministries and Barna partnered in 1993 to research the topic of “engaging in intentional outreach.” They surveyed individuals who called themselves believers. The answers they were given in 1993 painted a picture that showed most believers did feel intentional outreach was an individual responsibility.
In fact, only 10% of Christians back in 1993 agreed with the following statement:
“It is the local church’s job to convert people to Christianity, not an individual believer’s.”
Twenty-five years later, the same group revisited the study to survey believers once again. Today, some 29% of believers when asked said they agreed with the statement. To clarify, that is an increase of nearly threefold. However, this wasn’t the most shocking change…
Twenty-five years prior and again recently, believers were asked if they agreed with the following statement:
“Every Christian has a responsibility to share their faith.”
The results in 1993 found nine out of every 10 people surveyed agreed with this statement — some 89%. Today, only 64% of those surveyed agree, which is a 25-point drop. This shift in personal responsibility when it comes to sharing one’s faith is surprising.
Likely everyone surveyed would offer a slightly different reason for their answers. However, some additional stats might shine a light on what could be a barrier for some believers when it comes to sharing their faith.
For example, more modern Christians feel that social barriers get in the way of sharing their faith when compared to believers in 1993. Even more of today’s believers admit they would avoid a conversation involving spiritual matters if they felt a non-Christian friend would reject them due to their efforts. There is also a general assumption that “most non-Christians have no interest in hearing about Jesus” is true today, with 28% of believers agreeing with the statement. By comparison, in 1993, only 5% of those surveyed agreed with this statement.
Another possible cause of the shifting numbers in this survey has to do with the desire to be open, loving and not step on anyone’s toes. In today’s ultra politically correct society, it’s easy to see why modern believers might struggle to share their faith if they feel their efforts might be misconstrued as “judgmental or disrespectful.” Some 61% of today’s believers say they don’t share their faith if they feel the recipient would feel judged or disrespected in the process. This number was only 48% of believers in 1993.
Other common barriers mentioned by today’s believers is the desire to honor someone’s wishes if “they have asked you not to share” or the “timing might be inconsiderate.”
“So what’s happening here? Why are Christians so reluctant to talk about their faith? The overarching cultural trends of secularism, relativism, pluralism and the digital age are contributing to a society that is less interested in religion and that has marginalized the place of spirituality in everyday life,” Barna Group said in a statement.
“As a result, Christians in America today have to live in the tension between Jesus’ commands to tell others the good news and growing cultural taboos against proselytizing — a core part of Christianity from its origins and something many practicing Christians believe is essential for the salvation of their listeners.”
As believers, this information can be taken a few ways. A believer might look at it as a sign of the times. Believers are now more afraid to offend others when it comes to their faith and therefore, more reluctant to open up in this area.
Of course, it could also indicate a simple shift in the way believers live and share all aspects of their lives in today’s society, making them neither better or worse than those who came before, just different. Regardless, the data is an interesting look at the way Christians have shifted over the past 25 years when it comes to sharing their faith.
~ 1776 Christian