Do you share the gospel?
A new Barna poll finds that over the past 25 years a growing percentage of Christians believe sharing the gospel is optional. And it appears one of the biggest factors in that decision is the cultural belief that telling someone Jesus Christ died for their sins is judgmental.
Barna researchers asked these same questions in 1993 and compared the results to today.
Just 10 percent of Christians in 1993 who had shared about their faith agreed with the statement “converting people to Christianity is the job of the local church”—as opposed to the job of an individual (i.e., themselves). Twenty-five years later, three in 10 Christians who have had a conversation about faith say evangelism is the local church’s responsibility (29 percent), a nearly threefold increase.
The most dramatic divergence over time is on the statement, “Every Christian has a responsibility to share their faith.” In 1993, nine out of 10 Christians who had shared the gospel agreed (89 percent). Today, just two-thirds say so (64 percent)—a 25-point drop.
In an effort to explain changes over the years, researchers asked if there are conditions that make sharing the gospel unacceptable. Non-Christians tend to have more of a “buyer beware” stance when it comes to religious conversations. They are also more likely to say talking about one’s religious beliefs is “always unacceptable” (7 percent) than practicing Christians (3 percent) or non-practicing Christians (1 percent). On the flip side, practicing Christians are twice as likely as non-Christians to say there is never a time when sharing religious beliefs should be off the table—that is, spiritual conversations are always acceptable (26 percent vs 12 percent).
When it comes to specific conditions that make talking about religion unacceptable, six out of 10 non-Christians say a person must not share if their religious beliefs are “disrespectful or judgmental” (61 percent). Beliefs perceived as disrespectful or judgmental are the top reason sharing views on religion would be uncalled for: about half of all adults agree (48 percent). This is the case for all faith categories, including Christians, but they are less likely than non-Christians to say so. Practicing Christians seem to be more concerned than other groups about what’s going on inside the person who is sharing; 41 percent say talking about faith in anger makes sharing unacceptable. Other common barriers are when “someone has asked you not to” and “if the timing is inconsiderate.”
Roxanne Stone, editor in chief at Barna Group concludes:
“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,” continues Stone. “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, many practicing Christians believe, is essential for the salvation of their listeners.”
The data might also be instructive to church leaders in how they present ways to evangelize in a constantly changing America.