Interestingly, in the midst of this focus of evangelism at our church, a new study was released by the Barna group noting a major cultural barrier we have to break through in this work. The study uncovered an astounding statistic that nearly half of Millennials believe it is wrong to evangelize! Despite believing they are more equipped to share their faith than any other generation, they also firmly believe that if “someone disagrees with you then it means that they are judging you.” Therefore, they don’t share their faith because they don’t want it to come across as judgement upon others.
They are more likely to ‘evangelize’ through actions and lifestyle, believing others will see how they live and will be drawn to it. While commendable and true, such an approach is not enough. The quote often attributed to St. Francis, “preach the gospel and when necessary use words,” does not mean we shouldn’t use words but that our words and actions should be consistent. Throughout Scripture we are reminded that one cannot know what they have not been taught or heard (see Romans 10:14-15). Our Faith does need to be communicated in action, but words as well.
Yet to do so we need to recognize the cultural barriers we have to break through and perhaps those in our own lives. The study seems to point to a deep seated mentality that evangelism is combative, confrontational, and all together off-putting. The problem seems to lie not in evangelism, but the way in which we’ve gone about it. It cannot be seen as a sale to close, a deal to make, or a box to tick.
We must remember that a soul is at stake. And if we deem the eternal destination of the lives of those around us of the utmost importance, we must take the time to invest in them for the sake of the Gospel. Jesus’ model of investing in the lives of others was not hurried, and when He confronted their sins and shortcomings it often came through the context of those relationships (though not always!).
We perhaps need to continue to rethink evangelism. We are called to it as followers of Jesus, but the way in which we go about it is uniquely applied to the lives of those we engage. It takes as much a knowledge of them as it does our knowledge of the Faith, and of course a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, to present, guide, and walk with them in it. May God give us grace in such a high calling to not be those who shrink back, but with Faith persevere in reaching out into the lives of others.