Your religiously unaffiliated friend may be hesitant to talk about faith, but some “nones” are willing to have those conversations.
By Aaron Earls
Your religiously unaffiliated friend may be less likely to want to talk about faith than your Christian neighbor, but even some “nones” are willing to have those conversations—especially with someone they know.
An Evangelism Explosion study conducted by Lifeway Research found most Americans are open to having a faith-centered discussion. But most also say their Christian friends rarely bring up the topic.
When examining only those from non-Christian religions or nones, who make up a growing percentage of the U.S. population, there’s more hesitancy to engage in those types of conversations. However, even they are often ready to talk about religious beliefs.
In particular, the religiously unaffiliated are among the least likely to say they’re concerned about finding hope, peace, and purpose and fulfillment or having certainty they’ll go to heaven or have eternal life. The nones are also the religious group least likely to say they’re open to having faith conversations with others. That doesn’t mean, however, all of them are always opposed to talking about faith.More than half of religiously unaffiliated Americans (52%) and those of other religions (55%) say many of their Christian friends rarely talk about faith. Click To Tweet
More than half of nones (52%) and those of other religions (55%) say many of their Christian friends rarely talk about faith. Many non-Christians are also curious about the faith and devotion of others.
Religiously unaffiliated Americans (60%) are more likely than the average American (51%) to say they’re curious why some people are so devoted to their faith. Young adults, the least religious demographic, are also more likely than older Americans to express curiosity about others’ religious devotion.
Half of American nones (50%) say they wouldn’t think about faith unless a friend or family member brought it up. There are a few factors that increase the likelihood a non-Christian will be willing to talk about faith with someone.
1. Friends top strangers
This is true of almost every demographic group, including non-Christians. If people are going to have a conversation about faith, they’d rather talk to someone they know.
Among the religiously unaffiliated, 38% say they’re not open at all to having a faith conversation with a stranger. And 45% say the same about a specifically Christian conversation. When asked about having those conversations with a friend, the percentage who completely reject the option drops dramatically.
Around 1 in 5 nones (20%) say they’re not open at all to having a faith conversation with a friend, and around 1 in 4 (26%) say they have no interest in a distinctly Christian conversation with a friend, an 18 and 19 point drop respectively as compared to conversations with strangers.45% of religiously unaffiliated Americans say they're not interested at all in talking with a stranger about the Christian faith. That drops to 26% when asked about having the same conversation with a friend. Click To Tweet
Still, 20% of nones say they’re very open to having a conversation about Christianity with a friend, and 14% are very open to talking with a stranger about it.
2. In-person tops social media
Non-Christians would rather speak with a stranger about religious issues face-to-face than try to have that discussion on social media.
Americans in general are hesitant about having those discussions in that digital venue. Around a quarter (26%) say they’re very open to having a conversation about faith on social media. Among nones, the least supportive demographic, the percentage drops to 16%. More than 2 in 5 Americans without Christian beliefs (42%) say they’re not open to those conversations on social media.
Yet, 1 in 5 of those without Christian beliefs (19%) say they’re very open to having those discussions on social media. In-person is better, but there are online evangelistic opportunities.
3. Personal testimony tops forced discussion
Half of Americans of non-Christian religions say they’re very open to hearing the life story of someone new (49%), even if that story includes faith (50%). More members of other religions are very open to listening to those stories than the average American (42%).Half of Americans of non-Christian religions say they're very open to hearing the life story of someone new (49%), even if that story includes faith (50%). Click To Tweet
While just 33% of the religiously unaffiliated say they’re very open to hearing the life story of someone new and 23% are very open to life stories if they include faith, those are still higher than the percentages who are very open to other types of religious conversations.
4. Conversation tops presentation
If possible, Christians should simply talk about faith with non-Christians instead of relying on presentation tools. Conversations create a personal connection while tools often cause people to disconnect.
Around half of American nones said they would be less interested in continuing a faith conversation with someone if the person shared a brochure or pamphlet with some of the information written down or illustrated (55%), showed an app with some of the information they were talking about (51%), or quested from their religious text (46%).Research indicates non-Christians are often more on guard when Christians treat evangelistic encounters as presentations rather than conversations. Click To Tweet
That doesn’t mean people will end the conversation if a Christian reads from a tract or quotes a Bible verse. It does mean, however, that non-Christians are often more on guard when those things happen.
Christians should be considerate of differing perspectives of those around them while still being attentive to the Holy Spirit. God can and does draw people to Himself through random conversations with strangers, social media discussions, and prepared presentations using a brochure.
Be aware of areas that may cause unnecessary tension in any evangelistic conversation, and seek to demonstrate concern for the other person as an individual made in the image of God, not as a project to finish or—even worse—an enemy to defeat.
Aaron is the senior writer at Lifeway Research.