There’s been a lot of discussion in the last decade about the state of evangelism. Pessimistic voices in the church have been accusing Millennials of abandoning evangelism in favor of social justice concerns.
But is that accurate?
Have Millennial Christians stopped sharing the gospel? Has their focus on caring for the poor and marginalized in society hurt its spread?
Evangelism in the 80s and 90s
While there were some great organizations doing evangelism in the 80s and 90s, there was a lot of imbalance, too. Relationships were deemphasized for less personal methods of sharing the gospel. People were encouraged to leave gospel tracts in restrooms, car windows, and tip jars for waitresses (often instead of the tip). In fact, one company created tracts that looked just like a folded $20 bill, but when someone picked it up, they discovered it was a gospel pitch.
In addition to these methods, there was a huge push toward apologetics. The purpose of apologetics was to provide thoughtful answers to genuine questions about faith—and to explain the difference between orthodox Christian teachings and alternative beliefs. But these tools became fodder for attempts to debate and argue people into God’s Kingdom.
It’s hard to lay all the changes in evangelism at the feet of Millennials when many of the changes are needed mid-course corrections. Across the board, the focus of evangelism has become a lot more relational. Millennials have definitely taken up the torch.
Millennials Are Leading the Way
A report from the Barna Group entitled “Is Evangelism Going Out of Style?” asks whether or not evangelism is truly in decline. What they discovered is pretty shocking.
When looking at evangelism over a three-year period and across various generations, they discovered that the practice of sharing the gospel has either declined or remained static—except for one demographic: Millennials.
There was a nine percent increase in evangelistic interest among Millennials, while both Busters’ and Boomers’ interest in evangelism had fallen.
What Part Does Social Justice Play?
While many in the church might believe that social justice is a distraction from the gospel, Millennials don’t see it that way. In fact, they’d argue that justice is the flip side of the gospel coin. Evangelism without concern for the poor and oppressed focuses on life after death and fails to communicate the value God places on human life in the here and now.
When the church demonstrates that it cares for the present needs and concerns of people, it softens their hearts toward the gospel and the church. Many people aren’t opposed to Christianity for any reason other than they’ve had bad experiences with the church. Practicing justice doesn’t make caring for others an evangelism tactic, but it does have a dramatic impact on how the church is perceived, and how the gospel is received.
Evangelism Is a Process
In the recent past, the focus of evangelism was a conversion experience. If you could get someone to accept the gospel, your work as an evangelist was complete. But Millennials see sharing the gospel as more of a process than an event. While the gospel is ultimately about discovering and following Jesus, it can’t always be tied to one decision or moment in time.
Building relationships with people and inviting them to come along as you serve others allows you to share the gospel in a way that others can see clearly. This practice of allowing people to belong before they believe can help conversions stick. It moves people beyond emotional responses to evangelistic messages and gives them an opportunity to see what the gospel looks like.
The church is moving toward a holistic form of evangelism that has more in common with discipleship than conversion, and Millennials are leading the way.