Talking Jesus this week published a survey of just over 2500 'normal' people and 1500 Christians. The findings are going to General Synod later this month.
Here are the questions the research was trying to get at:
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?
The work was a joint project between the CofE, Evangelical Alliance, and other Christian agencies. Some of the findings:
- 40% of the general population believe the Bible is God's word
- 60% think Jesus really existed, 25% of under-35s think he is a fictional character
- 21% think he was God, the majority believe Jesus was a spiritual leader/normal human being
- just over 40% think Jesus was raised from the dead
A key focus of the survey was evangelism, how Christians are seen and how we share (or don't share) our faith:
- 2/3 of people know a 'practising Christian', and 60% of them enjoy that persons company. That means 40% don't/didn't know
- When asked to describe their Christian friend/acquaintance, positive characterstics scored much higher than negative ones (hooray!) - caring, friendly, generous, good-humoured were all about 5x more common than hypocritical, narrow minded, uptight and foolish.
Here's the really worrying bit: the majority of Christians feel comfortable to some degree in talking to others about Jesus, look for opportunities to do so, and have done so in the last month. But as for the fruits.....
More than half of English non-Christians who know a Christian
(58%) have had a conversation with them about Jesus. Younger
adults 18 to 34 (61%) are somewhat more likely than adults over 35
(54%) to report having had such a conversation. Two out of every five
non-Christians say evangelism made them glad not to be a Christian
(42%). Another two in five don’t know how they felt about it (42%), while
only 16 per cent felt sad, after the conversation about Jesus, that they did
not share the Christian’s faith.
When Christians talk about Jesus, the response is mixed. One in five
non-Christians say they, after such a conversation, felt open to an
experience or encounter with Jesus. But almost half say they were not
open to such an experience (49%) and six in 10 didn’t want to know more
about Jesus (59%). One in five did want to know more (19%); 16 per cent
felt sad that they did not share the Christian’s faith; nearly one-quarter
felt more positive about Jesus (23%) or felt closer to the Christian with
whom they had the conversation (26%).
Whilst Christians who share their faith feel positive about having done so, the clear majority of those on the receiving end are turned off Christian faith, and the one telling them about it, by the experience. Christians think that the effects of their talking about Jesus is positive, but that's not what most of their hearers think.
The recommendations from the survey don't reflect any of this. They pick up on some of the positives (that there are millions who believe Jesus was real, was God and rose from the dead, but haven't joined the dots, that Christians are generally seen in a positive light), but there is nothing that addresses our inability to share our faith in a helpful way in the majority of cases. Though the full report mentions a goal of (enabling) Christians to have millions more sensitive, positive, culturally-relevant conversations about Jesus that could be deeply effective in evangelism, I don't actually see anything that explores what sensitivity and cultural relevance look like.
For many Christians, talking with a friend about their faith and about Jesus is a key part of their journey into faith. Sadly it sounds like for many non-Christians, such a conversation could also be a key part of their journeying away from faith. The solution is not to stop talking about Jesus, but to find out how to do it well, in a sensitive and relevant way.
There are many encouraging findings in the report, but I wish that there was a bit more engagement with the discouraging ones. I'm with Andrew Brown - there's no point encouraging more of us to talk about Jesus if we're not doing it very well. It's very helpful research, and the powerpoint summaries are really useful, but there's no point doing the research if we ignore one of the key findings.