Barna research indicating nearly half of U.S. millennial Christians believe evangelism is wrong reflects the church’s failure to disciple them, say two Southern Baptist evangelism leaders.
“The great reason for a loss of passionate evangelism is faulty discipleship,” said Sammy Tippit, president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists. “The early days of my ministry took place in communist countries where generations of youth where forced to study atheism in schools. The social and cultural pressure to not speak about one’s faith was overwhelming.
“Yet, Christian young people in Romania would ‘gossip the gospel’ at great risk to their future,” Tippit told Baptist Press in written comments. “What was the difference in them and today’s youth? Absolute surrender to Jesus. Taking up their cross and following Him. They were taught from the beginning that it costs everything to follow Jesus. We’ve given simplistic solutions and called for comfortable Christianity.”
Johnny Hunt, the North American Mission Board’s senior vice president of evangelism and leadership, said millennials’ reticence to share their faith “is what all of our generations are exhibiting in the church today. Believers of all ages are not evangelizing and that is what we are trying to turn around.”
Among U.S. millennials who are practicing Christians, 47 percent agree “it is wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith,” according to research by the Barna Group released Feb. 5. Millennials’ level of agreement with that statement was higher than among Generation X (27 percent), baby boomers (19 percent) and elders (20 percent).
Still, a full 96 percent of millennial Christians in the U.S. believe part of their faith is “being a witness about Jesus,” Barna reported. Ninety-four percent say “the best thing that could ever happen to someone is for them to come to know Jesus.”
Barna defined millennials as individuals born between 1984 and 1998 (ages 21-35).
Millennial Christians’ belief that evangelism is wrong came in spite of high self-confidence about their witnessing abilities. Barna reported 86 percent of millennials said they know how to respond “when someone raises questions about faith,” and 73 percent said they are “gifted” at sharing their faith.”
Hunt, a former Southern Baptist Convention president, said believers should “be careful not to hit the panic button over a single answer to a survey” because millennial believers “have the potential to have a huge impact for Jesus. I have met so many who are sold out to Jesus and serious about having an impact for Him.
“More than anything, this report should cause us to look at our churches and ask ‘What are we teaching our young people? Are we effectively passing the faith baton to the next generation?’ In most cases the answer is ‘we need to do better,’” Hunt said.
Tippit likewise cautioned against painting “an entire generation with a broad brush when we see studies like the Barna one.” Yet cultural and church-related trends “have played a role in producing a spirit of fear and timidity about evangelism among millennials.”
“Today’s culture seduces this generation with a thought process that says that all faiths are equal,” said Tippit, an evangelist based in San Antonio, Texas. “Today’s philosophy says that it doesn’t matter what you believe or don’t believe, and anyone who says it does matter must be a bigot.”
Within churches, Tippit said, part of the failure to disciple millennials is not exposing them “to the huge multitude of Christian youth” around the world “who once were Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and atheist” and have come to Christ through “great moves of the Spirit of God” in “places like China, Iran and India.”
Global millennial believers are “on fire” for Christ, Tippit said.
U.S. millennials’ lack of exposure to global Christians is “paradoxical because millennials are a generation that is multi-cultural, multi-national and multi-ethnic,” Tippit said. “… We need to build networks through social media, the internet and communication technology that enable this generation to rub shoulders with those who have the smoke of heaven in their hearts.”
LifeWay Research’s 2018 State of Theology survey, sponsored by Ligonier Ministries, found 90 percent of 18- to 34-year-old evangelicals say it is “very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior.” LifeWay Research’s survey did not ask about millennials’ practice of personal evangelism.