Driving the Church Underground in the U.S.: The Decline in Personal Evangelism

It’s taking place amongst American teenagers, even Evangelical ones, according to a recent Barna survey:

The most striking change was the fact that teenagers today seem much less inclined to have spiritual conversations about their faith in Christ with non-believers. The survey question specifically asked if the survey respondent had “explained your religious beliefs to someone else who had different beliefs, in the hope that they might accept Jesus Christ as their saviour.” Among born again Christian teenagers, the proportion who said they had explained their beliefs to someone else with different faith views in the last year had declined from nearly two-thirds of teenagers in 1997 (63%) to less than half of Christian teens in the December 2009 study (45%).

Kinnaman noted: “Christian teenagers are taking cues from a culture that has made it unpopular to make bold assertions about faith or be too aggressively evangelistic. Some of the Barna Group’s other research shows that the vast majority of these students agree with the statement it is ‘cool to be a Christian.’ Yet fewer young Christians apparently believe it is worthwhile to talk about their faith in Jesus with others.”

Anyone who has had contact with people in an area where Christianity is legally proscribed knows that one of the first things one notices is a lack of training and initiative in sharing their faith with others, or at least in an open way.  This is understandable; in many of these places, doing so with the wrong person (especially if they’re working for the police) can land you in a great deal of trouble.  The gospel is spread and the faith is shared in places like this, to be sure (China is example #1,) but not in the way we’re used to in the U.S.

Kinnaman’s statement that “Christian teenagers are taking cues from a culture” is a typically American way of papering over the reality that’s in front of us.  A “culture” just doesn’t wake up and decide that it doesn’t like something or someone, it’s pushed.  Where we’re at in this country is the result of that simple fact that those who own and operate this place (and if they’re in the government, operate the place when they don’t own it) don’t like Evangelical Christianity and have taken the appropriate steps to make their beliefs the norm in our society.

This amounts to a de facto driving the church underground.  The most recent prominent example is the University of Illinois adjunct professor who got the boot for stating that the Catholic Church’s view of natural law deemed homosexuality immoral, but there are others.  Our “guaranteed” freedoms are trumped by the control that hostile people have over our institutions, especially our judiciary.  We as Americans refuse to see what’s going on for what it is, but we (and in reality our opponents, who proffer explanations full of “tolerance”) are lying to ourselves.

I can’t say that what Christian teenagers are doing is particularly admirable, but it’s understandable.  And it’s noteworthy that the gospel is spread in places where it is legally (and, let’s go ahead and say it, “culturally”) restricted.  To do so here will take a paradigm shift in the American church, but if that’s what it takes, then so be it.

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