When our research team interviewed over 100 church and denominational leaders across Canada from Catholic, mainline, and conservative Protestant contexts, they identified evangelism, among ten other variables, as key to a flourishing congregation. In recent months we launched a national congregational survey – open to congregations of any size, whether they see themselves as flourishing or not – to tease out various elements of our evolving flourishing congregations construct. Data collection is still underway (and we urge you to sign up your congregation, and to encourage others in your sphere to do the same). Here is a sneak peek into four early survey findings on evangelism.
Before we do so, a few words about the sample of 800+ individual congregants to date. The three regions most represented in the sample thus far include Alberta (50%), Saskatchewan (27%) and Ontario (10%). The three denominations best represented to date include United Church of Canada (29%), Christian and Missionary Alliance (29%), and Anglican (15%).
Evangelism is Important
Nearly 70% strongly agree or agree that a church that “practices evangelism” is integral to a flourishing congregation. Fewer than 10% strongly disagree or disagree with this sentiment. When asked in the context of their congregation, nearly 20% claim evangelism is a high or essential priority, nearly 25% say evangelism is a moderate priority, and slightly over one-third say evangelism is somewhat, low, or not at all a priority.
Actions over Words
When asked how frequently one shares their faith with others, around 35% share their faith verbally with others weekly or more, an additional nearly one-third do so monthly, and just over 17% share their faith verbally annually. Around 15% never share their faith verbally.
The figures look radically different when people are asked about showing their faith through actions to others. Nearly 90% say they do so weekly or more, with fewer than 3% saying they never do.
How often do people invite those who they do not believe are Christian to church? Slightly over 40% never do, just under 40% say they do annually, 15% do so monthly, and just over 6% do so weekly or more.
Strategies and Barriers to Evangelism
We asked congregants to identify up to three strategies in their congregation that they believe are most effective for evangelism (understood as the proclamation of the Gospel to non-Christians and lapsed believers). Nearly half indicated children/family/youth, almost one-third highlighted small groups, and one-quarter noted special occasions (e.g., rites of passage).
We also asked congregants to identify up to three of the biggest challenges that they personally confronted in evangelism. Just over 40% said they lack confidence, one third highlighted increased antagonism or resistance to Christian values, and just under one third noted the fear of rejection (this was closely followed by those who say they have few nonbelievers as friends).
Few Converts in the Pews
Only 2.5% said this is the first congregation they have ever attended, and an additional 11.4% revealed they had returned to regular church involvement after a period of not attending. The rest of congregants in our sample were either raised in that church (8%), transferred from a neighboring church (29.3%), and 44.5% started attending their congregation after relocating to that area from another city/town.
Much could be said about these data. We will eventually slice and dice these and other findings in many ways. For now, we lay these findings bare for you to consider, question, and grapple with. At our national gathering on November 26 at Ambrose University, we plan to share more findings like these from our survey – and then include some preliminary observations and analyses. We hope you will join us at this event, and in the meantime, share your thoughts with us as you interact with the data presented above.