By Diana Chandler
CHICAGO — Gen Z Christians prefer to share their faith by example rather than exhortation, according to a new Barna Research study in conjunction with Alpha USA, an evangelism program popular among many churches including Southern Baptists.
More than half of Gen Z Christians, 53 percent, have a very positive view of letting the way they live be the primary witness of their faith to non-Christians, compared to 40 percent who have a very positive view of sharing their faith by testimony, Barna said Aug. 17 in the online study of 1,342 teenagers in 13-18 years old. Non-Christian members of Gen Z also prefer to see Christians share their faith by example, Barna said.
Still, the majority of Christians in Gen Z, 78 percent, told Barna they had a conversation in the past year to share their faith with a non-Christian, and those teens typically conducted some type of follow-up with those they spoke with.
“In an increasingly secular culture that prizes individualism and is skeptical of the Church, evangelism – the term and its more aggressive connotations – is falling out of favor,” Barna said in its report. “But there is warmth toward a more general faith-sharing, which begins with respect for and acceptance of the other. It’s a relational, long-term process. You do you, I’ll do me, and we’ll share along the way.
“At the moment, they seem to be hyper-considerate conversation partners, driven to listen and learn from others and preferring to ‘prove’ their faith in their actions, not their words.”
Non-Christian teens “largely reject having scripture quoted at them as evidence for Christianity or being prayed over as part of the conversation,” Barna said. Nearly half of non-Christian teens surveyed, 47 percent, expressed at least some interest in learning more about Christianity.
Researchers sought to learn how Gen Z members view evangelism, the group’s commitment to sharing their faith, and how non-Christian Gen Z members respond to evangelism.
“We are heartened by the results of this study and what it says about Gen Z’s openness to the Gospel, especially in the relational context in which Alpha excels,” Jordan Biere, Alpha USA national youth director, said in a press release. “It gives us hope for the future, and we believe by the power of the Holy Spirit, that we will see the revitalization of the Church and the transformation of society in this generation.”
Among other key findings, Barna reported:
- Many members of Gen Z, 38 percent, agree “it is wrong to share one’s personal belief with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith;”
- Gen Z values relationships, with 82 percent agreeing that having a conversation about faith is most effective with those with whom they’ve already established a “significant relationship;”
- Just 19 percent of Christian Gen Z members have received training in evangelism.
Most study participants identified as Christian (70 percent), followed by 12 percent who identified as “nothing in particular,” and 7 percent who said they were spiritually open. Others were agnostic (3 percent), atheist (3 percent), and 1 percent each of Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim or another faith. No participants identified as Jewish, Barna said of the 1,324 teens surveyed in the online study March 5-April 21.
Alpha USA, which promotes itself as active in more than 6,000 U.S. churches across every major denomination, mobilizes 50,000 volunteers annually with 500,000 participants. Rick Warren, who founded Saddleback Church in California, has described Alpha USA as “one of the most effective evangelism tools for the 21st century.” B&R