So you may have seen that some new research has just come out looking at perceptions of Jesus, Christians and evangelism in England. Called ‘Talking Jesus’ the research was done by the respected Barna group and commissioned by the Church of England, Evangelical Alliance and Hope.
My mother in law actually flagged this up to me, as she arrived to see us today clutching a piece clipped from the Telegraph. In the paper the story is shortened and immediately got up my nose, with the implication it gave that sharing one’s faith does more harm than good. The full version here has more info and seems a little more balanced. But it is this kind of reporting that irritates me most. The media has a role to give us the news, not their version of it. If you actually read the full report it is actually very positive, so it’s just typical that the Telegraph has highlighted the negative stats.
For example, the report begins with these questions:
What do people in this nation know and believe about Jesus? What do they really think of us, his followers? Are we talking about Jesus enough? And when we are, are we drawing people closer towards him, or further away?
and goes on to say this:
This piece of research had the potential to equip every Christian to have these conversations. But we wanted to make sure. So denominational leaders agreed to fund further, more comprehensive, research… This piece of research should provoke us to prayer as our hearts are heavy with the reality of how little our friends and neighbours understand about who Jesus is. But there are glimmers of hope; we are excited about this unique opportunity to understand the landscape we are in. This is not a quick-fix strategy, but a long-term commitment to changing the story in our nation, so that people might meet Jesus, love him and follow him.
Hardly an overall summary that sharing one’s faith does more harm than good, more that perhaps we should do it more. The report doesn’t just look at evangelism it also looks at who people think Jesus was and what their perceptions are of the faith. But as evangelism is something I’m passionate about I want to highlight that.
So to balance it out, here’s a few positives:
66% of practising Christians have talked about Jesus to a non-Christian in the past month
72% of practising Christians feel comfortable talking to non-Christians about Jesus
44% of practising Christians credit their friends for introducing them to Jesus
Woah, so 66% of Christians have actually talked to someone else about their faith in the last month? How encouraging is that!? I’m always hearing people say they find it hard to talk about their faith or they would feel awkward or wouldn’t know what to say. But these stats seems to show people do still do it! And what’s more it is clearly having an impact as 44% of Christians credit friends with helping them come to faith.
There are some negatives so here’s a few:
40% of people do not realise Jesus was a real person who actually lived
One in four 18 to 34-year-olds thinks Jesus was a mythical or fictional character
This is sad but not unexpected, so perhaps we need to change the way we are having these conversations rather than stop them completely! The Great Commission in Mathew 28 tells the disciples to share the good news and to teach believers to do as they are doing, so then it is our commission too, to tell people about Jesus. We cannot deny it. I’m sorry if you are a quiet ‘my faith is personal’ type., because that’s just not biblical I’m afraid (yes yes you can disagree but how do you think people will know about Jesus if we don’t tell them…?). The report says this:
Each of us is called to take part in the Great Commission. As followers of Christ, we should be vocal about our faith, and it seems many of us are. Our research showed that 95% of practising Christians believe “it is every Christian’s responsibility to talk to non-Christians about Jesus Christ”. That’s why so many of us are often talking to people about Jesus.
However it also says this:
More than half of non-Christians (54%) who know a Christian, have not had a conversation with this person about faith in Jesus. Two thirds (64%) of 45-54 year olds who know a practising Christian say they have never had a conversation with any practising Christian about their faith in Jesus Christ.
This is more what I expected to see to be honest. But despite this, figures also show that generally Christians are liked and well received, for example friendly and caring, with much lower numbers saying Christians were, for example, narrow minded or hypocritical.
As the report also points out, not everyone had a positive reaction even to Jesus himself. Heck, even in his own town he was nearly thrown from a cliff! (Luke 4) So perhaps that should give us some encouragement too. The bible shows us that not everyone will respond to the gospel, so we shouldn’t expect everyone to. Our commission is to tell people, not drag them into the kingdom kicking and screaming! And that can be tough of course. For those close to us, for those in true need, we so long for them to know Jesus, to see their lives transformed by him. But we must also remember others salvation is not our responsibility. My heart is currently breaking for a few people who I long to turn to Jesus. They are broken, in need, struggling with life and yet something holds them back…
The report ends with this:
What this study reveals is that people are far more open than we might realise. After we’ve had conversations with non-Christians about Jesus, one in five of them is open to finding out more about him…
So we need to talk about him: to more people, more often, and more relevantly. The research shows that so many of us are already talking about Jesus. We are not ashamed of the gospel, despite some of us feeling ill-equipped to talk to our not-yet Christian friends and family members about Jesus.
So, let’s focus on that, let’s be encouraged, let’s share the good news that we know can transform people. Let us not be put off by scaremongering Journo’s with nothing better to do that knock the church some more…