Rick Richardson: Why Do 47 Percent of Christian Millennials Hold a Negative View of Evangelism?

There is something about a good statistic that can capture our attention and ignite debate. Seemingly more than an opinion or an anecdote, it tells us something concrete about the way our world is and how our experience of our world relates to broad trends outside of our narrow slice.

So it’s not surprising that a new statistic is making the rounds on social media and in church board rooms across the United States. A new research study out of Barna found that “47% of Millennial practicing Christians think it is wrong to share one’s beliefs with a person of another faith in hopes that the person will come to share one’s beliefs.”

Moreover, 40 percent of practicing Millennial Christians believe that “if someone disagrees with you, they are judging you.” More concerning, these are not nominal or cultural Christians that we can dismiss as not the real deal. These are “practicing Millennial Christians” by which Barna means they, “identify as Christian, agree strongly that faith is very important in their lives and have attended church within the past month.”

While the first stat is garnering the majority of the headlines, the combined message is that many young Christians hold a clearly negative view of evangelism.

Yet with this statistic—like every startling number that reinforces a bias or stirs up controversy—we need to look beyond the number to consider the causes and our reactions. Barna has given the church a much-needed wake-up call to the state of evangelism in the church, particularly among its younger adults. However, it is up to us to interpret what this means and to chart a pathway forward to greater gospel effectiveness.

Over the course of two articles, I want to do just this. In Part Two, I’m going to outline four principles of evangelism that we need to drill down on in light of the fact that many young believers have strong reservations. But first, I want to explore the Barna study itself and provide some greater context and clarity.

Millennial attitudes toward evangelism are complex

While many of the articles responding to the Barna study focused on the 47 percent, it is crucial to note that other findings in the same study seem to contradict or at minimum offer a more complex picture of millennial evangelism. Delving deeper into the study, three statistics jump out that should give academics, pastors, and everyday Christians pause in jumping to a conclusion.

1 – Millennial practicing Christians feel as strongly as other generations that being a witness is part of faith, at a rate of 96 percent.

2 – Millennial practicing Christians feel just about as strongly that the best thing that could ever happen to others is to come to know Jesus, at a rate of 94 percent.

3 – Millennial practicing Christians feel more confident in their ability to share their faith than other generations (73 percent contrasted with lower rates for other generations).

This data is hard to reconcile to the dire narrative on the future of evangelism. At a bare minimum, these three statistics tell us that young believers are not against sharing their faith. Rather, they recognize the underlying principle behind evangelism that the highest good for others is for them to come to saving faith in Jesus and see this goal as deeply connected to the practice of their own faith.

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Source: Christianity Today