By Aaron Earls
In 1993, online ads began appearing on the World Wide Web, Jurassic Park debuted in theaters, and many Christians were apprehensive about sharing their faith. Twenty-five years later, not much has changed.
According to a new study from Barna, compared to 25 years ago, Christians today say they try to be more intentional about sharing their faith, but fewer say evangelism is the responsibility of every believer.
In 1993, 9 in 10 Christians (89 percent) who had shared their faith said every Christian has a responsibility to share their faith. Today, only two-thirds (64 percent) of Christians who had a conversation about faith agree—a 25-point drop.
When asked about how they share their faith, modern Christians are more likely to stick to a set formula or certain strategy than were Christians in the early ’90s. More than 4 in 10 Christians in 2018 (44 percent) say they use the same basic approach each time they have an evangelistic conversation, compared with 33 percent in 1993.
The most common approaches today are asking questions about the other person’s beliefs and experiences (70 percent) and sharing their faith through their lifestyle (65 percent).
Those methods were common a quarter of a century ago as well, with 74 percent saying they ask questions and 77 percent saying they share with their lifestyle rather than their words.
The most common method in 1993, however, has since fallen out of favor. Almost 8 in 10 of Christians who had a conversation about faith (78 percent) said then they spoke about the benefits of accepting Jesus. Today, only 50 percent do that.
Other approaches that are no longer as popular include quoting Bible passages (59 percent in 1993 vs. 37 percent today) and challenging others to defend their beliefs (43 percent vs. 24 percent).
Like 25 years ago, most Christians say opportunities to share their faith usually happen unexpectedly. In 1993, 75 percent said that it was mostly happenstance. Today, that number is still a significant majority, but it has dropped to 61 percent.
The largest jump is among Christians who say they actively seek to create evangelistic opportunities. Compared with 11 percent in 1993, 19 percent today say they do this.
With this increased intentionality, modern Christians are more likely to say there are barriers to sharing their faith compared to those in 1993.
Today, 47 percent say sharing their faith is effective only if they have a relationship with the person, compared to 37 percent in 1993. Similarly, 44 percent of Christians today say, “I would avoid discussions about faith if my non-Christian friends would reject me.” Twenty-five years ago, 33 percent felt the same.
Christians now are more likely to be pessimistic about non-Christians being interested in their faith. Today, 48 percent say most non-Christians have no interest in hearing about Jesus—slightly more than the 45 percent in 1993.
But a LifeWay Research study of the unchurched found they aren’t as uninterested as many Christians believe. Almost 8 in 10 say if a friend really values faith, the unchurched don’t mind if the friend talks about it.
“I don’t find people are less interested in talking about spiritual things today than 25 years ago,” says Alvin Reid, evangelism professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
“As I talk with unchurched people regularly, I’m convinced Christians today live in an incredible time to talk with people. Most are interested in spiritual conversations, but they understand the gospel less than at any time in American history.”
Reid maintains: “Lost people are more amazed at our silence than offended by our message!”
- How to Share Jesus Without Freaking Out
- Who Are the Unchurched and How to Reach Them
- Infographic on the Unchurched
- Who Are the Unchurched? New Research Reveals the Answer
AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.