Jan Butter is The Point’s vicar in training and you may remember earlier this year when he asked us to take part in a survey on Evangelism as part of his course at St Mellitus College. His research project was to investigate people’s attitudes towards personal evangelism and to find out how best to help The Point family in our efforts to share the Good News. Here Jan shares some reflections on those results…..
The trouble began when I told a colleague that I was a Christian. I was 23, only weeks into my first job, and already the incessant mocking was making life unbearable; it seemed everyone in the office was in on it. I had joined a family-run business with no HR and was afraid that if I made too much fuss I’d be fired.
Then, one day, they hired a new employee. He was five years older than me with an air of such cool confidence. We all took him to the pub for a welcome drink and, sure enough, a few minutes in a colleague pointed at me and said, “Guess what? He’s a Christian!” Everyone erupted with laughter. Except the new guy. He just took a sip from his pint and said, “Yeah? Me too.” The laughter died, people looked away and quickly changed the subject. I was never teased about my faith at work again.
A few months ago many of you kindly filled in my survey for theology college on the challenges and opportunities of evangelism, of sharing your faith with others.
The results were encouraging. More than 90% of those who did the survey had spoken to a non-Christian about God/their faith in the past six months and 74% had invited someone to church or a church event. Of a list of Jesus’ instructions ‘make disciples’ (Matthew 28:19) was selected as the second most important. ‘Pray’ (Matthew 6:5-15) was number 1.
Yet, by far and away the biggest block to sharing faith with others was ‘being afraid of people’s reactions’. One third of everyone surveyed said they were concerned about this and several cited increasing secularisation and hostility to people of faith as particular worries.
The college essay I am writing about the (anonymous) results of the survey and the challenges/opportunities of evangelism have revealed some interesting truths. First, while the UK is becoming more secular, according to research fears of a hostile response is largely unfounded, that secularisation doesn’t equal intolerance and that many Brits have positive or neutral views of people of faith.
Next, according to experts, genuine personal relationships appear to be at the heart of effective evangelism, a “dominant motif” in people making a commitment to Jesus Christ. According to one writer, 70% of Christians in England came to faith primarily through relationships with other Christians.
Third, Jesus is a model for evangelism, not just his intimate, personal approach with people, but also the fact he didn’t just carry a message but was himself a messenger who came to “testify to the truth”. His message was no less strange then as it is now, but the Gospel was (literally) who he was and he made no apologies for that.
All of this challenges me to, like my new colleague in the pub, have deep confidence in and to embody Jesus Christ and his message; to deepen my existing relationships with friends, colleagues and family so they will ask about Christ in me; and to keep telling people about this “stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,” because we know “to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (Corinthians 1:23,24)