Barna Survey: Evangelism Most Effective to Youth

''Families, churches and parachurch ministries must recognize that primary window of opportunity for effectively reaching people with the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection is during the pre-teen years''

According to recent surveys conducted by the Barna institute, there are roughly 43 million evangelizers in the United States – roughly half of the 98 million “born again” adults and children in the country. The majority of these evangelizers, according to Barna, accepted Christ before their adulthood. The survey also found that in general, young people responded more positively to different outreach influences than did people who “embraced Christ later in life.”

“For years, church leaders have heard the claim that nearly nine out of ten Christians accept Jesus as their savior before the age of 18,” the Oct. 11 Barna release stated. “If that statistic was accurate in the past, it no longer depicts U.S. society.”

The new study revealed that only about two out of three born again Christians (64%) made their commitment before their eighteenth birthday; 13% professed their faith while 18-21, and only 23% embraced Christ after their 21st birthday.

Barna also found that people who became Christian before their teen years are “more likely than those who are converted when older to remain absolutely committed to Christianity.” However, these younger professors were less likely to believe the Jesus Christ is the only way to get to heaven, and less likely to share their faith through exploratory dialogue with their friends.

Those Americans who profess during their teen years were found to be least likely to describe themselves as “deeply spiritual” and were found to be less likely to engage in lifestyle evangelism. They were also found to donate substantially less money to churches than do other Christians.

Americans who accept Christ after their 21st birthday, meanwhile, were found to be “more apt to attend church services and read the Bible in a typical week, and are more likely than other Christians to be politically conservative.” They were also found to evangelize more than the professors in the other groups.

The forms and ways of evangelism also differed among these “born again” Christians. According to Barna, the most popular method of evangelizing was by prayer: 43 percent of evangelists did so by praying for others’ salvation. Next method was to “live in such a way as to encourage questions about their faith at 40%. About 38% of evangelists also engaged in interactive conversations about moral and life issues that hopefully lead to spiritual conclusions. The least widely used forms of outreach included sending letters or e-mail that encourage readers to accept Christ – at only 11 percent - and public preaching – at 6%.

Upon analysis of the data, George Barna – the lead surveyor - explained that the modes of evangelism has been seemingly changing over the past few decades of American history.

“Just as our nation’s culture has changed dramatically in the last 30 years, so has the way in which people come to Christ,” he explained. “The weekend church service is no longer the primary mechanism for salvation decisions; only one out of every ten believers who makes a decision to follow Christ does so in a church setting or service. On the other hand, personal relationships have become even more important in evangelism, with a majority of salvation decisions coming in direct response to an invitation given by a family member or friend.”

Barna also took note of the challenges faced by those who come to Christ late in their life.

“Notice that when someone is born again during their adult years, their beliefs are an inconsistent blend of biblical and non-biblical ideas that lead to some unusual lifestyles and some questionable evangelistic explanations. However, those adult converts are also more likely to be involved in church activities and to be serious about sharing their faith with non-believers,” said Barna.

He went further to underscore the importance of family outreach.

“Families, churches and parachurch ministries must recognize that primary window of opportunity for effectively reaching people with the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection is during the pre-teen and teen years. It is during those years that people develop their frames of reference for the remainder of their life – especially theologically and morally. Consistently explaining and modeling truth principles for young people is the most critical factor in their spiritual development,” said Barna.

The data for this report were collected throughout the year by two nationwide telephone interviews and one online survey. In total, 2,632 adults were interviewed, of which 992 qualified as “born again Christians.”

According to Barna, “Born again Christians” were defined in these surveys as people who said they have made “a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today” and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as “born again.” Being classified as “born again” is not dependent upon church or denominational affiliation or involvement.

The Barna Group, Ltd., and its research division (The Barna Research Group), is a privately held, for-profit corporation that conducts primary research, produces visual media and books, and facilitates the healthy development of leaders, children, families and Christian ministries. Located in Ventura, California, Barna has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.

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