Tuesday, 22 September 2015

They like us!

Delighted to be at the Hope Vision Day this week ... 

I’ve just heard a presentation of the recent research conducted by the Barna research group: Perceptions of Jesus, Christians and evangelism in the UK. The immediate five most striking things (for me) are:

1. People like us!

Most non-Christians (67%) in England know a practicing Christian. That’s a massive chunk of the population and reminds us we’re not starting at square one by a long way. More importantly, the impression we’re making has been very positive. 65% said we were ‘friendly’, 51% ‘caring’, 46% ‘good-humoured’, 38% ‘generous’ (that’s quite telling especially) – obviously some way to go, but this is a very different to the picture the popular press, even the Christian press, present us with. Also, when you bear in mind only 10% highlighted ‘hypocritical’, 7% ‘homophobic’, 4% ‘invasive’ it helps clarify we've been fed a fair bit of misleading information.
The likelihood is, therefore, most people you know well enough will be thinking positively towards you as a follower of Jesus Christ .... the biggest barrier in sharing the gospel is coming down. Use this research is build more confidence in the gospel and your sharing of the good news.

2. We are living in days of great opportunity.

Yes the Church is still shrinking, but the fields ‘are ripe to harvest’. We often talk about the missing generations, but the number of practising Christians, as a percentage of the total population is greater for those between 18 and 34 than between 35 and 54. Is this reflected in our Baptist Churches? I suspect not, but it is a surprise, a challenge and a reminder we have a great opportunity. People’s perceptions of ‘church’ appear to be far less negative than 20 years ago, when it was a bigger barrier for more people. At the same time, Jesus is good news – even in the perceptions of those who don't yet follow him. 21% believe he is ‘God in human form who lived among people in the first century’ – 1 in 5 of your friends and family already believe Jesus is the Son of God. Just under half (43%) believe Jesus was resurrected from the dead. Have you been thinking you daren't mention Jesus name for fear people won't have a clue what you're talking about? Think again.

3. Church is not as bad as we think!

Can I say, I’m tried of listening to people’s so-called mission initiatives, which end up consisting of re-configuring church in a style, which suits them? I am aware we get a lot of things wrong, but I still believe the local church is the hope of the world …. and this research reminds us we’ve not got it all wrong!
28% of Christians found faith as a result of attending a church service other than a wedding or a funeral. 27% as a result of reading the Bible for themselves. 36% as a result of a conversation with a Christian. This is no time for complacency, but maybe a quick celebration – preferably at your next baptismal service!

4. It’s not true to suggest ‘younger people are not interested’.

I'm fed up with hearing the above, so it's good to have some research based evidence to reply with. 31% of 18-34 year olds felt more positive about Jesus after a conversation about Jesus. 41% of practising Christians attribute their faith to growing up in a Christian home. Whilst the percentage of the total population of practising Christians, of 18-34 year olds, remains very small, it is a marked increase on the 35-64 year old age groups.
How much energy are we putting, collectively as a church community, towards growing relationships with people  aged 18-34?

5. Many of our friends and family already believe God exists … they’ve just not recognised him yet.

If most existing practising Christians credit their friends for introducing them to Jesus, why don’t we start with ours? It’s clearly worthless expecting our leaders to do our evangelism for us (only 1% of UK adults know a Christian leader).  What’s more 42% of non-Christians are glad we’ve taken the trouble to share something of our faith with them. A whopping 67% know a practising Christian. Just think about that for a moment – we are already in touch with the majority of the adult population, through our family, friendship, work and social networks.
Where do we need to open our eyes to see what God might be doing right under our nose?

There’s a lot in the research, which I think will be hugely encouraging. Don't get me wrong, there’s no room for complacency, the church is still shrinking in the UK, but there are some really positive indicators the harvest is ripening. The survey results are available at www.talkingjesus.org and include an animation, which churches can show to congregations. I’m really hoping every one of our churches will have a look, but then spend some time reflecting and asking where they might need to adjust their strategies.

If you want to download some useful helping resources, such as:

A 2 minute video animation.

The A5 booklet outlining the summary of the research.

PowerPoint & PDF presentations, plus other things, go to:

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