Which Part of the Great Commission Is Optional?

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What is "optional" for Christians? Church attendance, going to Bible studies, tithing, giving to charity? As it turns out, many Christians say it's becoming increasingly "optional" to share their faith in Christ with others.

This is the finding of a new survey from social science researcher George Barna, who is a friend of the American Pastors Network (APN, americanpastorsnetwork.net) and frequent guest on its popular daily radio program, "Stand in the Gap Today."

"Our world has changed," said APN president and "Stand in the Gap" radio and TV host Sam Rohrer. "Decades ago, sitting with our friends, family members, neighbors and fellow believers, often talking about our faith in God, was commonplace. Today, with how technology has drastically changed the way we interact, those conversations don't happen nearly as much. How does this impact our faith—and the potential saving faith for others? Our good friend George Barna explores this question and gives insight on Christians feels about sharing our belief in and reliance upon Jesus."

In 1993, Barna partnered with Lutheran Hour Ministries to research reasons why people did and did not engage in intentional outreach. Much has changed since that initial study, so 25 years later, researchers asked follow-up questions to see if talk of faith has become labored in a culture that is more digital, secular and contested than ever. The results are contained in Barna's new report,"Spiritual Conversations in the Digital Age."

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"When was the last time you had a conversation about God?" Barna wrote to introduce the follow-up study. "For most people, the unfortunate and surprising answer to that question is not very often. Spiritual conversations are exceedingly rare for most Americans, and even for Christians, who are at best reluctant to have them."

Barna's research found that a growing number of Christians don't see sharing the Good News as a personal responsibility. Just 10 percent of Christians in 1993 agreed with the statement "converting people to Christianity is the job of the local church"—as opposed to the job of an individual. Today, nearly three in 10 Christians (29 percent) say evangelism is the local church's responsibility—a threefold increase. This jump could be the result of many factors, Barna reported, including poor ecclesiology (believing "the local church" is somehow separate from the people who are a part of it) or personal and cultural barriers to sharing faith.

An even more dramatic divergence occurred on this statement: "Every Christian has a responsibility to share their faith." In 1993, nine out of 10 Christians (89 percent) agreed, but today, just two-thirds say the same (64 percent)—a 25-point drop.

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