A majority of churchgoers in the U.S. believe that it's essential to share their faith with non-believers, but a large number of those are not doing so, according to a recent study of American Protestants conducted by LifeWay Research.
"When it comes to discipleship, churchgoers struggle most with sharing Christ with non-Christians," says LifeWay spokesperson Jon D. Wilke.
The study found that 80 percent of those who attend church one or more times a month believe they have a personal responsibility to share their faith, but 61 percent have not told another person about how to become a Christian in the previous six months.
The research project focused on measuring spiritual maturity in individuals and revealed eight biblical attributes consistently evident in the lives of maturing believers. Of those eight, "Sharing Christ" has the lowest average score among Protestant church attendees, according to LifeWay.
Three-quarters of churchgoers say they feel comfortable in their ability to effectively communicate the Gospel, while 12 percent say they don't feel comfortable telling others about their faith.
Despite a vast majority believing it's their duty to share their faith and having the confidence to do so, 25 percent say they have shared their faith only once or twice, and 14 percent have shared three or more times over the last six months.
The survey also asked how many times they have personally "invited an unchurched person to attend a church service or some other program at your church?" Nearly half (48 percent) of church attendees responded "zero." Thirty-three percent of people say they've personally invited someone one or two times, and 19 percent say they've done so on three or more occasions in the last six months.
"Many times we've been told new Christians are most active in sharing their faith," said Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research. "In reality people who have been a Christian longer have higher responses for Sharing Christ than newer Christians. While new Christians may find it natural to share their new experience, mature Christians do it intentionally," said Stetzer.
Stetzer said that he believes that "praying more frequently for the status of people who are not professing Christians is the best indicator of more spiritual maturity in the entire 'Sharing Christ' factor."
Twenty-one percent of churchgoers said that they pray every day for people they know who are not professing Christians. Twenty-six percent say they pray a few times a week. One-fifth (20 percent) say they rarely or never pray for the spiritual status of others.
"If you are going to be intentional about sharing your faith, praying for others is a great way to start. We often acknowledge the importance of prayer in people coming to faith in Christ, but we also found it has an impact on the person praying," he said.
LifeWay Research plans to release the results from each of the eight attributes during the coming months. The findings are part of the largest discipleship study of its kind, the organization states.
The study's data was used to develop a questionnaire for believers, called the Transformational Discipleship Assessment (TDA). The assessment is designed to help pastors, churches, and individuals measure spiritual development.
This online evaluation gives reports on spiritual maturity using the eight factors of biblical discipleship. The TDA also provides helpful and practical suggestions on appropriate next steps for spiritual development, LifeWay says.
"The Transformational Discipleship Assessment not only captures the literal action of verbally sharing one's faith, but also measures how ready and willing a person is to do so. While most believers accept personal responsibility to share their belief in Jesus Christ with non-Christians, far fewer are seeking these opportunities," Stetzer explained.