You read that correctly: Almost half of practicing Christian millennials believe that evangelism — what likely brought many of them to faith in the first place — is wrong.
That was among the biggest findings in a new report titled, Reviving Evangelism, released Tuesday from renowned faith-based research outfit the Barna Group. The study examines faith-sharing experiences and expectations of Christians as well as non-Christians alike, Barna reported.
The good news?
Almost all practicing Christians — 95 percent to 97 percent among all generational groups — believe part of their faith means living as witnesses for Jesus and that the best thing that could ever happen to people is knowing Jesus (94 percent to 97 percent), the study said.
Almost three-quarters of millennials say they know how to respond when others ask about faith (73 percent), and that they are gifted at sharing their faith with others (73 percent) — and that's more than any other generational group: Gen Xers (66 percent), Boomers (59 percent), and Elders (56 percent), the study added.
The not-so-good news?
Almost half of millennials (47 percent) agree at least somewhat that it's wrong to share one's faith with a person who's of a different faith in the hope that the other person will end up sharing the same faith, the study found. The numbers were much lower for Gen Xers (27 percent), Boomers (19 percent), and Elders (20 percent).
In addition, the study found that 40 percent of millennials said that if others disagree with you, it means that they're judging you.
More from the study:
Younger Christians tend to be more personally aware of the cultural temperature around spiritual conversations. Among practicing Christians, millennials report an average (median) of four close friends or family members who practice a faith other than Christianity; most of their Boomer parents and grandparents, by comparison, have just one. 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.
Society today also casts a negative light on proselytization that many older Christians do not fully appreciate. As Barna found in research published in Spiritual Conversations in the Digital Age, three out of five Christian millennials believe that people today are more likely than in the past to take offense if they share their faith (65%) — that's far higher than among Boomer Christians (28%). Millennials are also either two (Gen X) or three times more likely (Boomers and Elders) than any other generational group to believe that disagreement means judgment.
What's the upshot?
David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, said the study findings show that "we must pass on resilient faith to Christian young people."
"Even after they are committed to sustaining resilient faith, we must persuade younger Christians that evangelism is an essential practice of following Jesus," Kinnaman added. "The data show enormous ambivalence among millennials, in particular, about the calling to share their faith with others."
Research included two nationally representative studies of U.S. adults: The first was an online panel from last May with 992 practicing Christians; the second was conducted online with 1,001 who don't meet the criteria for practicing Christians, Barna noted, adding that both studies have margin of error of ±3 percent at the 95-percent confidence level.
Practicing Christians identify as Christian, agree strongly that faith is very important in their lives, and have attended church within the past month, the study said. Lapsed Christians identify as Christian but haven't attended church within the past month, with only 4 percent of them considering their faith very important, Barna noted, while non-Christians identify with a faith other than Christianity ("religious non-Christians") or with no faith at all ("atheists / agnostics / nones").
Millennials were born 1984 to 1998 (ages 20 to 34); Gen-Xers were born 1965 to 1983 (ages 35 to 53); Boomers were born 1946 to 1964 (ages 54 to 72), and Elders were born before 1946 (ages 73 and over), the study added.