When Christians attempt to engage in conversation with non-believing friends and family, they should not rush the effort to evangelize, says a study by the Barna Group.
The study found that for non-Christians who are willing to talk about faith with their Christian peers, their preferences for dialogue often fall short of their experiences.
Barna posted a sample of their report Reviving Evangelism on their website on Feb. 19, which included a survey of what non-Christians prefer to have in their conversations with their Christian friends.
The survey found that while 62 percent of non-Christian and lapsed Christian respondents wanted to talk with a practicing Christian friend or family member who “listens without judgment,” only 34 percent said that this practice was found among practicing Christians they know personally.
Likewise, 50 percent of non-Christian and lapsed Christian respondents said they wanted to dialogue with someone who “does not force a conclusion,” however only 26 percent said that applied to practicing Christians they knew.
The data came from a nationally representative study that interviewed 1,001 U.S. adults who met Barna’s criteria for being either a lapsed Christian (someone who has not attended church in more than a month) and a non-Christian (someone who identifies as not being Christian), with a margin of error of ±3 percentage points.
Brooke Hempell, senior vice president of research at the Barna Group, told The Christian Post that the findings showed that “as we find popular culture increasingly distanced from Christianity, non-Christians may need a lot more time to digest and come to terms with what the Gospel proposes or offers them.”
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“Not everyone may be ready to go from A to Z in a single conversation, and pressing the topic forward may feel forced to the non-Christian — to the point of turning them away,” said Hempell.
“Allowing the other person to draw their own conclusions leaves open the possibility that they may leave the conversation without making a decision for Christ — by some evangelistic measures, that conversation would be a failure.”
Hempell cited her own personal experience, explaining to CP that before she became a Christian, she required a “listening ear” and “many conversations.”
“Ultimately it landed me with an incredibly solid commitment to my faith — I believe stronger for having taken the time to wrestle with certain points,” noted Hempell.
“We have to go slow! Take the time to build familiarity and appreciation of the non-believer's context first, then build trust, then discuss — not just lecture.”
Earlier this month, Barna released research which found that nearly half of millennial-aged Christians, born between 1984 and 1998, feel that it is “wrong” to evangelize.
"Almost half of Millennials (47%) agree at least somewhat that it is wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith. This is compared to a little over one-quarter of Gen X (27%), and one in five Boomers (19%) and Elders (20%)," read the report.
"Younger Christians tend to be more personally aware of the cultural temperature around spiritual conversations. Among practicing Christians, Millennials report an average (median) of four close friends or family members who practice a faith other than Christianity; most of their Boomer parents and grandparents, by comparison, have just one."