Much has been said in recent years about Millennials and their impact on the Church, but new research from the Barna Group, published this week, offers this startling new insight: Almost half of practicing Christian Millennials say evangelism is wrong.
Specifically, millennials believe 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 insight is particularly troubling since Millennials are poised to become the next generation of leaders in the Church. And spreading the Gospel is one of the clearest mandates given in Scripture. In fact, the last thing Jesus said on earth before His ascension was to take the Gospel witness to “Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
So why are millennials opposed to evangelism?
What the Research Does Not Indicate
It might be tempting to look at the research and conclude—at first glance—that Millennials are lazy, apathetic, or noncommittal when it comes to their faith. A minority of millennials, after all, remain active in church.
Yet, millennials who do remain faithful to church actually prove to be more authentic and more committed to their faith in many ways than fellow churchgoers from other generations. According to the research, for instance, Christian millennials maintain very strong beliefs about Scripture and read it faithfully. A 2016 Barna study found that 87% of Millennials reportedly read the Word multiple times every week.
And it isn’t a lack of confidence—or even unpreparedness—that prevents millennials from sharing their faith. The same Barna study revealed that 73% of millennials are ready and able to respond to someone who questions them about their faith.
So given their strong commitment to the Bible—which clearly and repeatedly tells believers to share the good news of the Gospel—and their lack of inhibition about answering questions, what drives these beliefs that personal evangelism is wrong?
What the Research Does Indicate
According to the study, “Sharing the Gospel today is made harder than at any time in recent memory by an overall cultural resistance to conversations that highlight people’s differences.”
In other words, millennials—Christian and non-Christian alike—have been raised for most or all of their life in a culture that values diversity above most everything else. The schools teach it, the workplace mandates it, and much of the Church has been indifferent or silent about it. The rising cultural expectation is that we will all respect each other’s religious beliefs and refrain from expressing any judgment when it comes to personal choices.
And this expectation has created a generation that knows what they believe, but also knows they should not expect others to agree.
While the research is troubling, it does not have the final word on the future of the church. Here are 3 takeaways:
1. The discomfort stems from a culturally-generated misunderstanding.
In the same Barna study, Christian millennials were twice as likely as their Gen X counterparts and four times as likely as Baby Boomers to agree to this statement: ”If someone disagrees with you, it means they’re judging you.”
Millennials are sensitive enough not to want to make someone feel judged. Sensitivity isn’t wrong, but a misunderstanding of sensitivity can be dangerous.
2. Misplaced or misdirected frustration could be costly.
Jumping on the anti-millennial bandwagon is neither beneficial nor Christlike. Millennials have many good things to bring to the Church—just as God designed.
3. The Church can (and should) address the issue is a helpful way.
Younger Christians, especially, are more sensitive to the culture and what it expects in terms of spiritual conversation. But millennials who attend church faithfully are also interested in personal growth and will listen to leadership they respect.
The Christian life and witness is growing increasingly more challenging in a culture that promotes “you do you” and is hostile to anyone who believes there is only one way to God.
Sharing the truth of the Gospel—even done in the most compassionate way—can be offensive because the Gospel is offensive. Galatians 5:11 refers to the Gospel as “the offense of the Cross.” And yet, God calls His people—unapologetically—to take the Gospel into all the world.
We have a responsibility to teach the next generation of Church leadership how to take the Gospel into the world in a loving yet urgent way.
Bottom line: We should not seek to offend anyone, but if the Gospel offends—let it offend.