05 Conclusion



There is much to unpack in this study and plenty of implications for how we can encourage more and better spiritual conversations. But perhaps the most potent finding is this:


And, simply put, people are thinking about God less and less.

The decline in spiritual conversations evident in this report tracks with an overall decline in religious belief and practice in America, which Barna has studied for more than three decades.

It may sound dire, but there is also good news: The more people think about God, the more they want to talk about God, about their beliefs and about their faith experiences. Active and engaged Christians remain eager to discuss spiritual matters, even as society around them grows increasingly reluctant to do so.

Church leaders: If you want to increase the number of spiritual conversations your church is having, focus on intentionally developing a rhythm between spiritual conversations and spiritual practices.

It is good news that spiritual conversations are a natural byproduct of spiritual practices. When a nominal Christian is transformed into an active disciple, they start talking. People whose lives are changed by God and who daily interact with him are excited to share their hope with others. This can make them incredibly powerful witnesses in a time when transcendent hope seems hard to come by.

This brings to mind some familiar verses that Christians often reference when talking about faith conversations: “If someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way” (1 Peter 3:15–16).

We tend to focus our reading of this command on the word explain instead of on the word ask. We prioritize giving would-be evangelists information to help them accurately and clearly explain Christian doctrine, rather than equipping them as hope-filled disciples to be gentle and respectful. In our always-connected culture, however, information is cheap. Hope, on the other hand, is a hard-to-find treasure.

With that in mind, maybe we should give a greater part of our attention to living more deeply into Christian hope. Perhaps more people would ask us about it, and we’d be more eager to tell them about it when they do.

Let’s use the rest of this space to look at what it takes to help Christians feel eager and ready—how to overcome the obstacles of today’s world and to embrace its opportunities. Our hope is that, as you talk and pray through these challenges with your team, you will formulate a guidebook of sorts for helping Christians have meaningful faith conversations that fits your context and community.

Pay & Draw Attention to the
Spiritual Dimension of Life

In a recently rediscovered essay first published in 1946, C. S. Lewis celebrates Europe’s move away from paganism to modernity, “from the old fear, the old reverence, the old restraints” to “a universe of colourless electrons . . . which is presently going to run down and annihilate all organic life everywhere and forever.”7 (That’s British humor—er, humour.)

The budding disenchantment Lewis identified in the wake of WWII is now in full bloom. Science explains life, and busyness—work, entertainment, always-on technology—fills it up. Time for contemplation and concern for anything nonmaterial seems pointless to many people. This includes self-identified Christians; only 57 percent strongly agree their faith is very important to their life. Relatedly, the reason most non-Christians don’t have spiritual conversations boils down to this: They just aren’t interested. (Many Christians know it—nearly half say non-Christians don’t have any interest in hearing about Jesus.)

And, as David Kinnaman reported in You Lost Me, many Millennials say they dropped out of church involvement because it no longer felt personally relevant to them. What they did on Sunday morning seemed disconnected from the rest of their lives. For many, their church experience neither equipped them to grapple honestly with the materialist culture “out there,” nor helped them “re-enchant” the everyday, infusing the secular with the sacred.

Christians (especially those who are not yet prioritizing their faith) need help making meaningful connections between everyday life and the life of the spirit—both for themselves and their would-be conversation partners. How can your faith community help Christians follow Jesus with their whole lives and then tell their story in a way that makes sense in a culture less and less attuned to the spiritual dimension of human life and relationships?

Be A Faithful Friend

The vast majority of spiritual conversations, including those that lead to transformative life change, happen face to face with a friend or family member. Yes, mobile technology is a growing part of many people’s lives—but it’s not at all clear that this is for the best. In fact, researcher Jean Twenge makes a compelling case that teen anxiety and depression have skyrocketed in tandem with widespread adoption of the smartphone.8 We may have more ways to communicate than ever before, but they don’t appear to be much help when it comes to cultivating intimacy and connectedness with others—at least, not on their own.

Psychologist Robin Dunbar has compiled persuasive evidence that human beings are cognitively capable of participating in a social network of about 150 acquaintances (“Dunbar’s number”).9 Those aren’t close friendships; according to Dunbar, most of us can only maintain between 5 and 15 intimate relationships—that is, the friends and family members with whom we can share most thoughts and feelings, and they still like us. These close relationships are very often where rich spiritual conversations take place. But, according to recent Barna research among youth and young adults, social media may be more of a hindrance than a help in this regard. Social media is most often about the 150 (or 220, the average number of Facebook friends, at last count10), not the 5 to 15.

Which is fine! Staying connected to the 150, and making new connections, is just fine—as long as it’s not at the expense of the 5 to 15. Unfortunately, it appears that many people (especially teens and young adults) don’t know how to put social media in its proper place in their lives.

When “likes” and comments are the relational gold standard, few can afford to invest in transformative spiritual conversations. This is where churches can help. What are some specific ways your faith community can offer biblical wisdom to people struggling with both online and real-life relationships? And, in the digital age, how can you equip people to use tech tools and online platforms wisely, to expand and enhance the meaningful relationships they are learning how to build?

Never Let a Good
Go to Waste

As we’ve seen, fear of relational tension ranks first on the list of reasons people avoid spiritual conversations, followed closely by discomfort with how religion is politicized. And, granted, there is a lot of cultural and often personal baggage stacked against initiating conversations about faith. As Roxanne Stone wrote in the introduction, “To be against something (or someone) is frowned upon in America today, whether that’s women’s reproductive rights, same-sex marriage or the efficacy of another religion. . . . Walking the fine line between tolerance and one’s convictions is a difficult challenge for many Christians.”

This is where gentleness and respect must come in. As any happily married person can tell you, conflict isn’t the problem; in fact, conflict is often a chance to learn more about the other person, to find out what’s most important to her or him, to draw close and discover what makes them tick. Why let that opportunity go to waste?

Instead of avoiding potential conflict, how can the faith community equip Christians to draw close with gentleness and respect?

Get Confident to
by Sharing

Many of the eager conversationalists we met through this study seem to have a positive-feedback loop of talking about their faith and confidence to talk about their faith. The more they do it, the more confident they feel about doing it. (And the more confident they feel . . . you get it.)

A church’s approach to Christians’ crisis of confidence is often to arm them with more information, such as training them in apologetics. This can be helpful, especially for those who are new to faith, but it doesn’t appear to be a cure-all. What is essential for building confidence in faith sharing is practice. Like praying, sharing the good news of Christ is a skill one learns by doing.

Let’s help people understand that they don’t need to know everything in order to share something. “I don’t know” and “Let’s find out together” are both acceptable answers—even clergymembers should practice them. (Maybe even out loud.)

What Christians need to know and share is what God has done and is doing in their own life—and if they haven’t thought much about this, it’s no wonder they’re not sharing it. Remember, the more people think about God, the more they talk about him. When nonbelievers ask about their hope, how many in your faith community are ready to give their own answer? How can you help them tell their own story of new life in Christ?

This is not an idle question. If redemption and restoration are actually available through the life, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus . . .and if the Spirit of God actually takes up residence in those who call Jesus Lord . . . and if, as Jesus preached, the kingdom of God is actually near . . . then that’s worth talking about.


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Appendix A - Notes

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