The Barna Group has shared some interesting items the last couple of weeks, excerpts from their report Reviving Evangelism. On February 5 they published an excerpt which discussed how Millennial Christians feel like they are prepared to share their faith, but 47% of them feel it is wrong to do so. Given that Christianity is generally an evangelistic faith, this generated some controversy in evangelical circles. Barna itself lamented this situation, but did not discuss reasons why Millennials might feel this way, or that there might be serious problems with the perceptions about evangelicals and evangelism. (Paul Louis Metzger and I discussed some of these concerns, unrelated to the Barna reporting on Millennials, in a previous post on Paul's Patheos blog.)
"Nearly all non-Christians (identify with a faith other than Christianity or no faith at all) and lapsed Christians (identify as Christian but have not attended church within the past month) have a friend or family member who practices and prioritizes Christianity—but these believers may not be their ideal conversation partners when it comes to faith. For instance, more than six in 10 non-Christians and lapsed Christians (62%) say they would be open to talking about faith matters with someone who listens without judgment—the top quality they value—but only one-third (34%) sees this trait in the Christians they know personally. Similarly, their hopes of talking with Christians who do not force conclusions (50% vs. 26%), demonstrate interest in other people’s stories (29% vs. 17%) and are good at asking questions (27% vs. 16%) appear to go unfulfilled."
So while non-Christians are interested in conversations with Christians about religion and spirituality, we don't possess the skills or character traits that others are looking for. I believe this trend will continue to develop as the ranks of the Nones grows, as America continues in the direction of post-Christendom and pluralism, and as evangelicalism continues to lose credibility.
Our ministry couldn't be more timely. While I don't know if Barna truly understands this challenge, the work of Evangelical FRD and Multi-faith Matters meets this need. We have the knowledge base, experience, and resources to equip congregations for conversations and discipleship in the 21st century.