The Troubling New Reality of Evangelism in Western Christianity

Could it be possible to call Jesus Lord, but deny the command to share what I believe on the basis that to do so is immoral? The Barna Group just released some of their latest research, and my guess is that you have seen it pop up on your social media feeds. If not here it is. 

“Almost Half of Practicing Christian Millennials Say Evangelism Is Wrong”

Yeah, you read that right. Nearly half of millennial Christians regard sharing their faith as wrong. The good news, according to the study, is that millennials—more than previous generations—actually feel equipped and still consider sharing Jesus to be an essential piece of what it means to be a Christian. 

To be clear. According to Barna, nearly all Millennial Christians believe in the importance and responsibility of sharing one’s beliefs, but almost half think it is wrong to engage in a conversation intended to change another’s system of beliefs. Meaning the acknowledgment of an absolute and universal truth centered around Jesus would be wrong. Perhaps even immoral. 

These are twenty and thirty-something professionals who were some of the first to become regular users of modern technology, smartphones, and a world that is continuously connected. Millennials are also the pioneers of the social justice warriors on social media and many of the entrepreneurs of socially responsible companies. But during their time in college, we began to see a slow but steady deterioration of healthy academic debate, the dive into post-truth, relativism, and shifting morality. Loving others meant affirming previously immoral lifestyles. Speaking out against a more progressive ideology became the equivalent to spreading hate speech against a minority group. 

What caused such a significant shift? I want to offer a few suggestions that in some ways, I believe, have led the millennial generation down such a path as well as the impact I think it could have on the rising generation and the future of the church. 

Hiding From Disagreement 

I want others to see me as loving.  But if I disagree with them and that disagreement causes the other person some mental or social distress, the natural conclusion to make is I must be unloving—or worse, hateful. As a victim, I want to be kept safe from those who disagree with me. I can only avoid being the offender by agreement or suppression. 

This is the rise of safetyism. It is the creation of safe spaces, the avoidance of intellectual challenges and debate, and microaggressions. It is the dominance, in the academic community, of the ideological patterns of relativism—that every idea carries equal weight. Of course, only to exclude any idea that runs contrary. Speaking out against the majority groupthink unnecessarily discriminates and will likely cause such intense emotional harm to others that it is interpreted as an act of violence. 

This is also known as common-enemy identity politics—when a group or tribe unites and mobilizes to fight against a common enemy. In many parts of academia and the workplace, the Christian worldview and those who ascribe to it are seen as the enemy—if not personally, at least ideologically. 

In their book, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting up a Generation for Failure, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt comment that, “Common-enemy identity politics, when combined with microaggression theory, produces a call-out culture in which almost anything one says or does could result in a public shaming. This can engender a sense of ‘walking on eggshells,’ and it teaches students habits of self-censorship.”

Their point here is interesting. Most of the book and their research is directed at the impact colleges, and their lack of intellectual exercise is having on Generation Z, but I think you can begin to see how it is that nearly half of Christian Millennials arrived at such a conclusion when it comes to sharing their faith. The moral high ground belongs to the culturally tolerant. Keeping one’s faith private and staying in step with mainstream culture, no matter how contrary it may run to one’s belief system is what it means to love others, embrace humanity, and live a morally upright life. 

Evangelism and the Future Church

Think of this way—proclaiming the gospel, confronting people with their sins, even verbalizing that Jesus is the only means of salvation will most likely be seen as hateful and an act of emotional violence on another person or group. Loving another person in our modern western culture no longer means throwing them a lifeline to save them from a destructive life of sin and an eternity without God. Instead, it implies affirmation and celebration of any lifestyle one chooses. The moral high ground now belongs to the one who lives and let lives, puts feelings before facts, and places all worldviews on equal footing. As David Kinnaman noted in the Barna study, “Cultivating deep, steady, resilient Christian conviction is difficult in a world of ‘you do you’ and ‘don’t criticize anyone’s life choices’ and emotivism, the feelings-first priority that our culture makes a way of life.”

It is one thing to be apprehensive, even fearful of sharing what we believe. But it is an entirely different thing to believe in sharing our faith in Christ to be wrong. On the one hand, I see Millennials as incredibly sensitive to the beliefs and experiences of others, but on the other hand unwilling to proclaim the absolute, objective truth of Jesus. If the church has any hope in communicating the truth of Jesus to the world, we need to learn to engage culture where they are, not where we think they ought to be.

The Rising Generation

I am not talking about Generation Z. They are no longer the rising generation. We have to look earlier. We have to look at Generation Alpha. These are the kids of the Millennials. There are about 2.5 million Generation Alpha babies around the world, born each week. And they are born into families with Millennial parents—soon to overtake Baby-boomers as the largest generation. So what does this mean for children raised in Christian families where the gospel does not leave their homes? Moreover, young Christian families teaching children they ought not to share their faith. 

To borrow from Dr. Ross Hastings, a professor of theology at Regent College, in his book, Missional God, Missional Church: Hope For Evangelizing the West, “The challenge the western church faces is that it is often enculturated in ways that it ought not to be, and that is not inculturating the gospel in ways it ought to be.” I think it is clear that we continue to see western culture negatively impact the church and its missional mandate. 

“As much as ever, evangelism isn’t just about saving the unsaved, but reminding ourselves that this stuff matters, that the Bible is trustworthy, and that Jesus changes everything.” – David Kinnaman

Published by stevenmkozak

Steve has been an experienced and dedicated youth ministry and non-profit leader for more than 15 years. Steve has taught in the classroom, local church, and parachurch organizations. Steve holds a masters degree in theology from Moody Theological Seminary and a masters in Christian apologetics from Biola University. He speaks and writes on youth ministry, youth culture and apologetics. He resides in northern Indiana with his wife and four children.

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