A major finding from Barna’s existing research on evangelism is that even Christian Millennials are conflicted about—if not opposed to—sharing their faith. Are today’s teens following their lead? A new Barna Group study among Gen Z seeks to find out. In an effort to better inform leaders about the emerging generation’s perceptions of evangelism, Alpha USA and Alpha Canada partnered with Barna to create two country-specific reports on Reviving Evangelism in the Next Generation.
When compared to older generations, Gen Z teens—ages 13–18—in both the U.S. and Canada think about and approach spiritual conversations in their own unique way. Today’s article offers research on how this group defines evangelism and feels while sharing their faith, offering necessary context for church leaders who are pondering how to activate this next generation in their faith-sharing endeavors.
Half of Teens Lean on Actions Rather than Words When Sharing Their Faith
How do U.S. Christian Gen Z define acts of evangelism? Half believe “letting your actions speak rather than using words to explain your faith” and “inviting someone to attend a church service with you” (50% each) are acts of evangelism. Other actions they largely view as evangelism include “telling your personal story about how you came to be a Christian” (48%), “telling someone about benefits / changes experienced when following Jesus” (48%) and “praying with someone” (47%). Despite being the most digital-savvy generation, just under three in 10 Christian Gen Z (28%) say sharing digital / online content with someone is a form of evangelism.
When faithful Gen Z think about the preferences of recipients of evangelism, the theme is similar. Over four in five U.S. Christian Gen Z teens (83%) note “letting your actions speak rather than using words to explain your faith to someone” is most likely to create a positive response among non-believers.
Unlike Millennials, Gen Z Rarely Associates Negative Emotions with Faith-Sharing
What does it feel like to talk about faith identity with someone who does not share your point of view? According to half of all U.S. Gen Z (52% Christian Gen Z, 47% non-Christian Gen Z), talking about faith makes them feel calm. Roughly one in three (37%, 30%) agrees they feel peaceful when talking about their faith with someone of a different religious identity. Even so, one-quarter of Christian teens (27%) and over one in three non-Christian teens (37%) admit they feel awkward during this experience.
Comparing U.S. Christian teens to their non-Christian peers, the former are far more likely to say faith conversations make them feel happy (23% vs. 13%) and excited (21% vs. 11%). Non-Christians are more likely to say these conversations make them feel annoyed (13% vs. 7% Christians).
In general, however, Gen Z rarely associates negative emotions with discussions across faith lines. This may be because Gen Z is not worried about feeling judged when it comes to conversations on faith. Unlike the Millennials who came before them, these teens accept that not always seeing eye to eye is a fact of life, with over four in five (81%) refuting that “if someone disagrees with you, it means they’re judging you.”
Overall, Gen Z come and go from faith-sharing conversations without friction or confrontation, truly desiring to listen and connect, and are likely to circle back again.
Additional Barna Content on the Next Generation:
- To learn more about Reviving Evangelism in the Next Generation, our latest reports produced in partnership with Alpha USA and Alpha Canada, visit Barna’s online store or read the digital reports on Barna Access Plus
- For more information on Barna reports that offer research on Gen Z, check out Gen Volume 1, Gen Z Volume 2, The Connected Generation and The Connected Generation Country Reports
- Check out Kara Powell’s blog post on How Leaders Can Help Young People Make a Purpose Pivot, or listen to her share on a recent ChurchPulse Weekly episode
- Watch recent ChurchPulse Weekly episodes about how Gen Z is approaching evangelism, what resilient discipleship among young adults looks like post-pandemic and the current challenges and opportunities of student ministry
About the Research
U.S. data: Research for this study, conducted in partnership with Alpha USA, is based on an online survey of 1,324 13–18-year-olds currently residing in the U.S., between March 5 and April 16, 2021. A random sampling methodology was observed for parent recruitment. Quotas and minimal weighting were used to ensure data are representative of known Census ethnicity, gender, age and region. Error rate is plus or minus 2.8 percentage points at the 95-percent confidence level.
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