The Church of England’s Talking Jesus survey revealed that while evangelism is extremely important, it can be counter-productive:
‘Christians who speak openly about their faith with friends and colleagues are three times more likely to put them off God than attract them’ read The Times’ report. ‘The survey of more than 2,500 adults discovered 42% “felt glad” they did not share their friends’ faith after talking with them and 30 per cent felt “more negative” about Jesus.’
Okay folks, let’s take a step back here...Indeed given the apocalyptic news we are typically surrounded with concerning the Church of England’s imminent demise, should we not be celebrating the remarkable finding that Christians actually have friends?
But seriously, what is perhaps more shocking is that - given we Christians have friends and that people are still willing to listen to us – more often than not we succeed in actually putting them off Jesus, the Son of the one true God and cornerstone of Western civilization.
What on earth have we been saying?
Let us imagine, for the sake of argument, a typical encounter...A Christian and a non-Christian walk into a bar (excuse the comic format). They get a drink and begin to talk. After a while the Christian says to the non-Christian, ‘Sarah, you know we’ve been friends a long time, and well, I’m a Christian, and Christianity has really helped me in my life…. Now this might seem completely irrelevant to you, but hear me out – there is this perfect person called Jesus who is going to be there for you your whole life, if you need him.’
This seems fair. But how does Sarah reply? Perhaps she looks back sympathetically: ‘Sam, You don’t really believe all that stuff do you?’
‘I mean all that Jesus stuff?’ Sam is taken aback, but the conversation continues. Perhaps he grows abashed ‘no, no, of course not, I know, it’s silly, even so…’, or perhaps he grows passionate in his defence ‘Ignorance is sin!’.
Either way, statistics show that Sarah is likely to leave him at the end of the evening with a condescending pat on the shoulder either ‘feeling glad she does not share his faith’ or even ‘feeling more negative towards Jesus’.
The comedy of the situation – as with so many meetings of the Christian and non-Christian worldviews – resides in the fact that one person’s sublime treasure can be to the other just a dusty old box. And the truth is, no matter how well we convey the Good News, we have some significant, rather irritating obstacles to overcome.
These involve not only deep-rooted misconceptions about the meaning of words such as ‘faith’, ‘belief’, ‘God’, even ‘news’, but also an insipid kind of associative framework which renders unto social suicide the statement ‘I am a Christian.’ (This is particularly frustrating for those recent converts among us who know how much goodness is contained within the Christian faith, and how difficult it can be to drag yourself to church.)
So how should we talk about Jesus? Common wisdom has it that the best way to evangelise is to live out fully Christian lives, refraining from seeming too desperate or weird, simply hinting at the abundant riches of the gospel, and leaving it at that. Nobody likes a smug know-it-all, and certainly we should be sure of who we are in Jesus before telling anyone else who we think they should be.
But neither should we look for comfort. Evangelism is important, as the Talking Jesus survey has shown: 36% of practising Christians said that a conversation with another Christian was important in their coming to faith, while 44% credit their friends for introducing them to Jesus. In fact, so far as evangelism is concerned, 40% of people in England do not realise Jesus was a real person who actually lived! (Perhaps this would be a good slogan for next term’s Alpha course?)
I remember one of the first friends I told about my faith answered me completely flatly saying, ‘You know it’s all bollocks, right?’ I laughed, and indeed most people seem to get along fine without Jesus. But so long as we know deeply and truly what our friends are missing, the passion of our evangelism should not, and will not be deterred!