Faith Sharing and Invitation Amongst Australian Baptists
Crossover commissioned a number of “Baptist-only” questions related to evangelism in the 2016 NCLS survey that went to Baptist churches.
The first question related to faith sharing readiness. Attenders were asked how well equipped they felt to share their faith. Only 14% felt they were “very well equipped,” 30% felt “well equipped” and 4% indicated they were not at all equipped. The majority (36%) indicated the middle or “neutral” option on the five-point Likert scale. And so, even though it is encouraging that 44% felt equipped or very well equipped, the survey suggests that over half of Australian Baptists are not sure they are ready to share their faith. It has been postulated that one of the reasons that Christians do not share their faith is that they do not know how, and this result would tend to confirm that theory.
The second set of questions addressed another hypothesis: that the reason Christians do not share their faith is because they do not have many meaningful relationships with non-Christians. The first question was, “If a friend is defined as someone you share a significant personal conversation with at least once a month, how many non-Christian friends do you have?” Only 8% of Australian Baptists indicated that they had no such friends. The largest group (42%) had 1-5 such friends, while 18% indicated they had 16 or more such relationships! This would indicate that, at least on this measure, Australian Baptists are not disengaged with the non-Christian world, but have significant numbers of meaningful relationships.
The next question focussed on hospitality: “How often in the last year have you intentionally shared a meal with a non-Christian?” Of the respondents, 14% indicated never, 52% occasionally, 19% monthly, 10% weekly and 5% daily. Hence it appears that while 34% of Australians Baptists intentionally share a meal with a non-Christian monthly or more, 66% do not. In other words, over two-thirds of Australian Baptists do not regularly share a meal with non-Christians. This is puzzling because when asked, “When are you most likely to share your faith?”, most (52%) responded, “In a relaxed environment with people I know (e.g. sports, meal, men’s shed, etc.)”
Another question focussed on “frontline” evangelism. Attenders were asked how often in the last year they had shared their faith with someone they knew through a secular workplace, club, school etc. Most (61%) indicated occasionally, but 18% indicated “never,” and only 21% shared their faith on a monthly basis or more often. Baptists were even less likely to invite their non-Christian workmates or colleagues to church: only 7% had done so on a monthly or more frequent basis.
Attenders were also asked, “How often in the last 12 months have you shared on social media/web content from your church for evangelistic purposes?” The great majority (92%) indicated occasionally or never. Given the great usage of social media by younger people, this is concerning.
A final hypothesis explored in the commissioned questions was that Christians are nervous about inviting their non-Christian friends and relatives to church because of the style of the church services. Attenders were asked: “To what extent do you feel that this church is a good one to invite a (non-Christian or enquiring) friend to?” The majority (61%) indicated that “It’s a great church for beginners.” Only 1% indicated “This church may do more harm than good to a beginner.”
So, what can we conclude from this survey? About half of Australian Baptists feel equipped to share their faith and most have a good number of meaningful friendships through which they could share that faith. Generally, Baptists are comfortable about inviting a non-Christian friend or relative to their church. However, we are hesitant about sharing our faith on our frontlines. And we appear hesitant in our exercise of hospitality with two-thirds not having regular meals with non-Christians.
As we seek to reverse the decline of our denomination (not to mention fulfilling the Great Commission!) we can be encouraged that Baptists have not withdrawn from the world and feel comfortable to invite their non-Christian friends and relatives to church. However, we need to do more to equip ourselves to share our faith with confidence, especially on our frontlines (work, clubs, schools etc.) and through the use of social media. And we need to rediscover the value of hospitality as the venue where our faith can be expressed in word and deed.
This article forms part 2 of a three part series. Click here to read part 3: Hospitality & Evangelism – A Lost Secret?
Click here to read part 1: Satellite Perpsectives – a snapshot of Australian Baptists in our NCLS focused PRAC Magazine ‘Research Driven Mission’.
By Ian Hussey, Lecturer and Director of Post-Graduate studies at Malyon College, Brisbane. Ian was a pastor for 17 years before commencing at Malyon. He completed his PhD on the engagement of Newcomers in church attendance based on the NCLS data. He enjoys working with local churches to understand and implement the NCLS findings