Whether they stem from a place of certainty and presumption or from a place of curiosity and inclusion, opportunities for spiritual conversations are many, Barna’s research suggests.
This article, an excerpt from our latest Spiritually Open release—available exclusively in Barna Access Plus—explores how often cross-faith conversations might be occurring and what non-Christians are looking for when having faith conversations with followers of Christ.
Honesty, Care & Understanding—What People of No Faith Hope to Find in Conversations with Christians
Relationships between Christians and people of no faith are fairly common—and they often involve talking about Jesus. In fact, 65 percent of people of no faith personally know someone who follows Jesus, and 45 percent say such a peer has talked with them about their Christian faith.
Knowing that cross-faith conversations and friendships are organically occurring, and that they might be catalysts for spiritual openness, it’s wise to examine the intentions, quality and outcomes of these connections.
What do people of no faith hope these spiritual conversations look like?
In our survey, responses are clear: The top thing people look for in a conversation with a Christian is that they “listen without judgment.” People of no faith are also hoping for honesty about questions and doubts, and they don’t want forced conclusions. The best learning environment, they express, is one marked by care and consideration.
Unfortunately, that isn’t always what people of no faith find.
Our survey also probed actual experiences of spiritual conversations and how they were received by people of no faith.
Even within the seemingly warm environment of a casual one-on-one conversation about faith, there are mixed responses when Christians explicitly share about their faith with people of no faith. Notably, people of no faith tend to say they do not want to know more about Jesus after such a conversation or that they do not want to talk about this topic again with their friend. Further, these conversations don’t often promote closeness. While some people do walk away feeling more positively toward Jesus, these conversations are as likely to make someone of no faith feel unheard as heard, as imposed upon as cared for.
These responses remind us that spiritual conversations can’t be divorced from the relationships in which they can occur. When they go poorly or are simply ineffective, it may not only limit curiosity about Jesus but also hinder connection between the individuals.
Given these insights, the task becomes helping Christians learn how to build relationships and have conversations that honor these values and create spaces where there is mutual care, respect and authenticity.
For further findings on what people of no faith are looking for in spiritual conversations with Christians, read “For Good Faith Conversations, Try Talking Less” on Barna Access Plus. An accompanying field guide, “Keys for Better Spiritual Conversations,” offers faith leaders some pointers on how the Church might better equip Christians for healthy conversations with people of no faith. 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.
Further Reading & Resources:
- For more data on what people of no faith are looking for in spiritual conversations with Christians, read “For Good Faith Conversations, Try Talking Less” on Barna Access Plus.
- Check out “Keys for Better Spiritual Conversations: A Field Guide for Faith Leaders” in Barna Access Plus. Created to accompany the article mentioned above, this field guide offers faith leaders some pointers on how the Church might better equip Christians for healthy conversations with people of no faith.
- Interested in what Gen Z thinks about faith conversations with non-Christians? Read “Actions, Invitations, Storytelling: How Gen Z Approaches Evangelism” which highlights some key findings from Reviving Evangelism in the Next Generation.
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.
© Barna Group, 2023.
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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