From global outreach to spiritual conversations over cups of coffee, in-person methods of evangelism were largely placed on hold during the global pandemic last year. Now, as pastors and their congregants emerge from COVID-era church, in-person evangelism is once again an option.
On the Intersection of Evangelism and the Church’s Reputation
After listening to Kinnaman present stats from recent Barna studies on evangelism (including Reviving Evangelism, Five Changing Contexts for Digital Evangelism and Reviving Evangelism in the Next Generation), Springer’s initial response is to remind listeners that the Church’s reputation in society matters when it comes to sharing the gospel.
In Reviving Evangelism (2019), data show that non-Christian’s would be more open to considering Christianity if the Church had a better reputation. Springer notes, “As Christians of different generational cohorts—[Gen] X, Boomers, Elders—we want the younger generation, Gen Z, to be empowered to share their faith more and more effectively.” He continues, “We can talk about how we can train and model, but let’s be real to say the reputational legacy that we create now in an inflamed society matters. It’s setting the stage for what our children and their children’s effectiveness in evangelism will have to battle against.”
“[The Church’s reputation] is going to change the next generation’s ability to effectively reach their friends for Jesus,” Springer concludes. “I want to make sure we all hear that point loud and clear.”
On How Millennials and Gen Z Feel About and Practice Evangelism
As the conversation moves on, Nieuwhof notes that while evangelism was “very much a verbal thing in the ‘90s,” evangelism among younger Millennials and Gen Z seems to be more “ethical” and “holistic.”
Springer brings up data from Reviving Evangelism once more, noting the sobering finding that nearly half of Christian Millennial respondents in 2019 (47%) believed that sharing their faith with a non-Christian was wrong. However, 94 percent of these same Millennials also said that the best thing that could ever happen as a result of a spiritual conversation would be that the non-believer would come to know Jesus. Though these findings seem to contradict one another, Spring offers some insight.
“[Millennials] are passionate about Jesus and believe that knowing him is important, but there’s something about the methodology and how we’ve [taught them] how to share,” says Springer. “Millennial Christians have more non-Christian friends than any other prior generation. They’re more plugged into the reality of the world. They report being more equipped at how to share their faith than [older generations]. In the Reviving Evangelism with the Next Generation study, Gen Z reports being even more personally equipped to share their faith than even Millennials were.”
Springer shares, “[The next generation] is saying, ‘I know how to do it. I know what you’re asking me to say. I just don’t want to share it. I don’t want to do it your way. … I want someone to know Jesus, but I can’t confront them or proclaim the way you’ve trained me. I won’t do it that way. I need to find another way.”
On Older Generations’ Perceptions of Evangelism
As congregations begin meeting in-person once more and taking time to discuss the future of evangelism both digitally and face-to-face, younger and older generation alike have something to bring to the table. Springer encourages older Christians to re-evaluate the way they perceive and practice evangelism, especially as they train up the next generation.
“[When it comes to embracing the new dynamic of evangelism,] the most important shift is the shift from proclamation alone to conversation,” notes Springer. “There are so many different avenues that this wisdom is illuminated through. One is through the life and ministry of Jesus. [In the gospels,] he asked 307 questions, he was asked 183 questions and he only directly answered eight questions. He created space for conversations in his interactions.”
Springer concludes, “Create space for conversation about your evangelism strategies in your churches. Train your people to be like Jesus, to be 40 times more likely to listen during an interaction with someone than to drive home a proclamation. Create cultures of listening both in and around your churches and in your congregations.”
About the Research
Reviving Evangelism data: Research for this study included two nationally representative studies of U.S. adults. The first was conducted using an online panel May 8–17, 2018, with 992 practicing Christians. A similar study was conducted online with a nationally representative study of 1,001 U.S. adults who do not meet the criteria for practicing Christians. Both lapsed Christians and non-Christians were interviewed. Both studies have margin of error of ±3 percent at the 95-percent confidence level. Respondents were invited from a randomly selected group of people matching the demographics of the U.S. population for maximum representation. Researchers set quotas to obtain a minimum readable sample by a variety of demographic factors and then minimally weighted the data by ethnicity, education and gender to reflect their natural presence in the known population, using U.S. Census Bureau data for comparison.
Gen Z were born beginning in 1998, though an end date for this generation has not formally been decided yet.
Millennials were born 1984 to 1998.
Gen X were born 1965 to 1983.
Boomers were born 1946 to 1964.
Elders were born before 1946.
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
© Barna Group, 2021