The headline reads, “Almost Half of Practicing Christian Millennials Believe Evangelism Is Wrong,” and at first glance, it’s a startling one.
While past generations can recall televised sermons of evangelist Billy Graham leading mass crusades in packed stadiums or Oral Roberts’ revivals spanning radio in the late 1940s to vast television viewership in the 1950s and ’60s, it’s a seismic shift of thinking to imagine nearly half a generation turning away from evangelism as we’ve known it.
According to recent Barna research, some 65 percent of millennial Christians (those age 20 to 34) believe people today are more likely to take offense to faith-sharing than in past generations. And in a trend that has seen a dramatic jump from both the baby boomers (ages 54 to 72) and Generation X (ages 35 to 53), some 47 percent of millennial Christians now believe it’s wrong to share their personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they would one day share that same faith.
Shocking stats, some say. But hold tight.
Before we decry the potential of the younger generations to lead the global church as we hand the baton of evangelism, there’s a spark of hope that the next generations could be—and are—just as confident in sharing their faith as those who have come before. In fact, that same Barna report shows that some 96 percent of Christian millennials still believe part of their faith means sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and when questioned about the merits of their faith, 86 percent say they know how to respond.
In a culture of on-demand knowledge-share and global news headlines with social injustice splashed on social media platforms up to the minute they occur, it’s no wonder the favorable opinion of evangelism is changing. Our younger generations understand faith-sharing through a lens not of what they’re told to believe, but instead build a foundation based on what they see, hear and personally experience of Christ and Christ-followers.
With this shift, how do we bridge the widening gap between merely possessing the ability to share our faith, with the call Jesus gave us in Matthew 28:18-20 to step out and boldly do it?
The call to, “‘Go therefore and make disciples of all generations…’” (Matthew 28:18 NKJV) isn’t something that worked once for past generations and now leaves us doomed for future ones.
Just the opposite.
We have the perfect model for evangelism in a changing world in the person of Christ: Jesus told stories.
He taught in parables—stories meant to impart wisdom and spiritual truths about God’s Kingdom—on a number of issues. Those issues are some of the same that affect us today: money, marriage, the cost of discipleship, broken relationships, sin.
Just like reports with click-worthy headlines, both the best (and worst) human interest stories have the potential to go viral.
They can pick up speed on a social media highway. But if leveraged with truth and authenticity, they give those confident millennial Christians evidence they can see, hear and personally experience—the hope of Jesus Christ they’ll share up-to-the-minute with a broken world around them.
If you are of a generation who remembers evangelism as it was when Graham or Roberts televised the Gospel message to packed crusades and living rooms in the 20th century, take heart. Our millennials (and soon to follow, Generation Z) are still packing stadiums to hear the Gospel message. They are confident in their ability to share who Jesus was, and is, and could be for the lost of their generation. But what can we do to help them cross the divide between knowing how to share their faith and doing it?
Be open, authentic, vulnerable. Practice sharing that all-important testimony we each have with the generations who are hungry for it. It has been said few things speak louder than a life changed; if it’s a life changed by Christ, that story is one with the power to resonate.
At first glance, reports with eye-catching headlines or shock-worthy stats could have the potential to leave us fearful for the future of the global Church. But if we see the whole portrait and share the stories of who Jesus is to us—how He’s the greatest hope we have—there is all the potential in the world for our next generations to flip the script on evangelism and redefine what it means to be passion-filled disciple-makers in a broken world.
Kristy Cambron is the Women’s Ministry leader at Southeast’s Blankenbaker Campus and an author with HarperCollins Christian Publishing.