By Scott Hildreth
Most Americans are interested in conversations about Christianity, but few Christians seem willing to talk about their faith, according to a recent Evangelism Explosion study conducted by Lifeway Research.
Why aren’t Christians more willing or proactive to discuss their faith? In my years teaching evangelism in the local church, on the mission field, and in academic settings, I’ve learned there are several reasons Christians are silent about their faith.
1. Christians stay silent because of a desire to be friendly
Evangelism is a loving act of telling someone why you have hope in a broken world. It’s talking about something (or someone) important to you. However, for too many, evangelism conjures a negative image; it feels unkind.
We have no problem talking about our kids, grandkids, new cars, or even a television series we’re watching. But when it comes to talking about Jesus and the difference our faith makes in our lives, we freeze. We’ve accepted the idea that evangelism is unfriendly, so we remain silent.Evangelism practiced in love and with a winsome personality would be a welcome part of most conversations and friendships. — @dshildreth Click To Tweet
Research shows 51% of Americans say they’re curious and wanted to know why faith is important to others. In other words, the cringe is inside us. Evangelism practiced in love and with a winsome personality would be a welcome part of most conversations and friendships.
2. Christians stay silent because of fear
It’s human nature to avoid uncomfortable things. In fact, it keeps us alive. For many, evangelism is a frightening prospect. I’ve observed this fear takes three forms.
Fear of failure
According to Mohsin Shafique, “Fear of failure is the number one reason people don’t set goals or try new things.” An article in the LA Times noted fear of failure plagues 31% of adults. This is greater than the fear of spiders (30%), being home alone (9%), or even ghosts (15%). Instinctively, we know most of our conversations about Jesus will not end with someone confessing faith in Christ. If we define a successful evangelistic conversation as one that ends in new birth, we’re setting ourselves up for failure, something most of us would rather avoid.What if we understood that successful evangelism is a cooperative effort with multiple people and multiple encounters—sowing and watering, then reaping when God gives the growth? — @dshildreth Click To Tweet
What if we shifted our definition of successful evangelism? What if we followed the guidelines given by Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:6-8 where he writes:
“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So, then, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his own reward according to his own labor” (CSB).
What if we understood that successful evangelism is a cooperative effort with multiple people and multiple encounters—sowing and watering, then reaping when God gives the growth?
With this new definition, failure is almost impossible.
Fear of not knowing enough
We usually couch this fear in a sentence like, “I am afraid someone will ask me a question I don’t know the answer to.” This is a legitimate concern. The Bible is a big book, and there are so many complicated theological and ethical questions that no one can really know it all. However, we can’t let this fear keep us silent.Unanswered questions rarely, if ever, keep someone from becoming a Christian. After all, you’re a Christian, and not knowing the answer didn’t stop you from trusting Christ. — @dshildreth Click To Tweet
- According to Romans 1, it’s the gospel, not our well-thought-out answers, that is God’s power for salvation.
- “I don’t know,” is an acceptable answer. In fact, it’s a great answer because it communicates honesty and provides a reason for a follow-up conversation when you find the answer.
- Unanswered questions rarely, if ever, keep someone from becoming a Christian. After all, you’re a Christian, and not knowing the answer didn’t stop you from trusting Christ.
Fear of Saying the Wrong Thing
Several months ago, my wife and I were in a big box store, and a man stopped us to ask if we knew where the bathroom was. We pointed to the back of the store, and he walked off. Then we realized we’d sent him in the wrong direction.
What a terrible reality to discover you’ve given someone bad directions. However, as with the other fears, this one is often exaggerated in our minds. I’m not suggesting that content is not important in evangelism. However, God uses our efforts to accomplish his purposes.
3. Christians stay silent because of a tendency toward forgetfulness
I think this is the number one reason Christians don’t talk about Jesus. We’re just too busy or too distracted to remember to do so. A 2019 study from Lifeway Research discovered 55% of those who attend church at least monthly say they haven’t shared Christ with anyone in the past six months, although nearly the same percentage (56%) say they pray for opportunities to share at least once a week. And 23% say they pray daily for evangelistic opportunities.We are surrounded by people who need Jesus, and research tells us they’re open to talking. — @dshildreth Click To Tweet
What’s happening here? Are we to assume these Christians didn’t talk with any unbelievers? Are we to believe God refused to answer these prayers? I doubt this is true. My guess–through personal experience–is most of these folks started their day with good intentions, but then, as events unfolded, they simply forgot.
What can you do to remember to share Christ?
- Make a list of names and pray specifically for them.
- Make plans to share. Make this part of your schedule.
- Create a team, those you can partner with for evangelism.
We are surrounded by people who need Jesus, and research tells us they’re open to talking.
Scott is the George Liele Director of the Lewis A Drummond Center for Great Commission Studies and assistant professor of Missiology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Before SEBTS, he and his family served with the International Mission Board in Europe and Central Asia.