Aug 16, 2023

How Are Christians Learning to Share Their Faith?

Barna data shows that many Christians feel a calling to share their faith. In fact, half of practicing Christians (52% of those who attend church at least monthly and say their faith is important to them) strongly agree they personally have a responsibility to tell others about their religious beliefs.

Can churches equip people for more fruitful conversations about faith? This article—an excerpt from the sixth issue in our Spiritually Open series—offers a glimpse at what churches are currently doing and which practices might be effective.

Spiritually Open Series

Cultivating Curiosity & Conversation About Jesus

Just 12% of Pastors Say They Are Very Effective in Encouraging Christians to Share Their Faith
Today, there is a general sense of opportunity for spiritual conversations, even about Jesus specifically. Unfortunately, though, our research has found that interactions between Christians and non-Christians aren’t always going as hoped.

Barna surveyed pastors to discover how they view the effectiveness of their church’s evangelism and discipleship efforts. An incredible 95 percent of pastors believe they are effective (36% very much so) at helping Christians grow in their faith over time. Other church efforts like developing the faith of new Christians or encouraging Christians to invest in others are also seen as largely successful.

When it comes to activities that relate more directly to outreach or evangelism, however, pastors are less optimistic about their effectiveness. For instance, about two in five pastors believe their church is effective at reaching out to non-Christians or inviting people to become Christians, with few going so far as to say they are “very” effective.

If you were to think about these focuses as a discipleship pathway or cycle—moving from welcoming people outside the Church, to nurturing people inside the Church, to preparing mature congregants to then be “sent out,” and so on—you can see the ebb and flow of confidence among pastors. Whether because of a lack of attention or a lack of equipping, pastors don’t see their churches as being very strong in hospitality, outreach or evangelism with non-Christians (at least not compared to more internal activities among new converts and Christians).

What’s more, Barna has tracked pastors’ confidence dwindling over time; between 2015 and 2022 alone, there was a 24-point drop in the percentage of pastors who felt their church was at least somewhat effective at reaching out to the unchurched (63% in 2015 vs. 39% in 2022).

16% of Pastors Say Their Church Doesn’t Offer Formal Training on How to Share Faith
In this shaky area of ministry, churches point to just a few forms of formal training. By and large, pastors see their sermons as the main form of training for faith-sharing, with three-quarters (74%) sharing this as the top method in their church. After that, nearly half of pastors share that formal training happens in classes (48%) and small groups (47%). Local outreach and short-term mission trips round out the top training methods. Meanwhile, 16 percent of pastors say their churches don’t offer any formal training to help Christians share their faith.

While it’s understandable that a very common offering of churches—that is, a regular message from the pulpit—is seen as a primary medium for communicating about evangelism, Barna has also observed that pastors may overestimate either the centrality or the impact of their own sermons.

While pastors love to be in the pulpit (it’s their favorite part of the job, in fact), they aren’t always covering what their congregants or visitors hope to hear about. Spiritually open non-Christians—many of whom have some personal history with Christianity—are often skeptical of Church teachings and say they don’t or simply cannot answer their questions. As Christians and non-Christians alike highlight room for improvement for sermons, pastors should think carefully about how their teachings accomplish formal training for spiritual conversations, especially if other more personal, dynamic and focused offerings are not available or emphasized.

Promisingly, pastors do feel that the training offered through their churches focuses on equipping Christians to share stories, listen well and build meaningful relationships—all things non-Christians tell Barna they respond well to. People hope to be met with honesty about questions and doubts and a lack of judgment or forced conclusions.

If churches are indeed preparing Christians for healthy dialogue, that could be a strong foundation for moving forward. As it stands, non-Christians are just as likely to disagree (44%) that Christians are good at listening as they are to agree (43%). And, after having heard about a Christian’s faith, they don’t always walk away feeling heard, cared for or open to more information. When it comes to faith-sharing, there may yet be a disconnect between churches’ training and Christians’ execution.

People of no faith are clear that they are looking for understanding, empathy and belonging. If the Church can share Jesus in a way that honors these needs, more meaningful connections may take place.

Spiritually Open Series

Cultivating Curiosity & Conversation About Jesus

For further findings on how churches are currently training Christians to have faith conversations with non-Christians, read “How Churches Can Coach Christians to Share Their Faith” on Barna Access Plus. An accompanying field guide, “Evaluating Your Church’s Training for Spiritual Conversations,” dives into three areas—communication, conversation and congregation—to offer a holistic view of what this training might look like. Subscribe to Barna Access Plus to explore the entire Spiritually Open series, which includes in-depth reporting on spiritual openness and evangelism, helpful field guides and exclusive video interviews with experts and practitioners.

About the Research

The Spiritually Open project is based on a survey of 2,005 U.S. adults and teenagers (ages 13–17) conducted online from December 13–22, 2022 via a consumer research panel. The margin of error for the sample is +/- 2.0 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. Quotas were set to representation by region, race / ethnicity, education, age and gender based on the U.S. Census Bureau. Minimal statistical weighting has been applied to maximize sample representation.

Photo by Worshae on Unsplash

© Barna Group, 2023.

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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