Skip to content

Perceptions of Jesus, Christians and Evangelism

November 7, 2015

TJ 2Disaster or opportunity?  The spin of the secular press is that people hate being evangelised. The report actually suggests that they are open to discussion. Go for it!

What do people in this nation know and believe about Jesus? What do they really think of us, his followers? Are we talking about Jesus enough? And when we are, are we drawing people closer towards him, or further away?”

 The survey found that the majority of non-Christians know a Christian and think well of them: they are most likely to describe them as ‘friendly’, ‘caring’, ‘good-humoured’, ‘generous’ and ‘helpful’. And one in five non-Christians is open to finding out more about Jesus after hearing Christians talk to them about their faith.

However, just nine per cent of those Christians would be described as ‘practising’ – reporting regularly praying, reading the Bible and attending church at least monthly.

The survey highlighted, however, a worrying lack of religious literacy among the general English population, raising calls for religious education in schools to be better supported.

Two out of every five people in England (39 per cent) do not know Jesus was a real person who actually lived. And under-35s were more likely (25 per cent) than older people to think Jesus was a fictional character. This may reflect the change in school RE from biblical topics to world religions.)

In total, 22 per cent of people think Jesus was a mythical figure, while 17 per cent are unsure whether he was real or not.

Of those who consider Jesus to have been a real person who walked the earth, three out of five also believe in his resurrection from the dead, as documented in the New Testament. Overall, some 43 per cent of English adults believe in the resurrection, the survey found.

When asked to pick words to describe Jesus, non-Christians were most likely to say he was ‘spiritual’, ‘loving’ and ‘peaceful’.

The survey of 3,000 people was carried out by ComRes and Barna Group on behalf of a coalition of church groups made up of the Church of England, the Evangelical Alliance and HOPE. The study, carried out mainly in England, is particularly significant in light of the changing face of faith in Britain because, unusually, researchers will track the data over the next 30 years.

According to the study, most non-Christians know a Christian and think well of them. They are most likely to describe them as friendly, caring, good-humoured, generous and helpful. One in five non-Christians is open to finding out more about Jesus after hearing Christians talk to them about their faith (but a surprising number of Christians, 72%, DO talk about their faith to others. And a higher percentage of practicing Christians are university graduates than the population generally and they are more likely to live in the South and Midlands than in the North).

However, just nine per cent of Christians can be described as practising in terms of praying regularly, reading the Bible and attending church at least monthly.

The study, Perceptions of Jesus, Christians and Evangelism, also showed a lack of religious literacy. Two in five people did not know that Jesus was a real person, with those aged under 35 most likely to believe Jesus was fictional.

Dr Rachel Jordan, mission and evangelism adviser for the Church of England, said: “The survey shows that the Church is well-connected throughout society. This connection is through the myriad of relationships that Christians have with the majority of the population in normal, everyday ways. What is more, people like their Christian friends and family members and they enjoy being with them.”

She added: “Followers of Jesus are good friends and they are fun. It is here in these relationships that we have conversations about faith, in a place of trust and friendship, and 20 per cent of our friends and family members want to know more about our faith in Jesus.”

Over 40% of practicing Christians grew up in Christian families. Only about 15% had sudden conversions. Christian Unions at uni. only account for about 6%

Roy Crowne, executive director of HOPE, an organisation that brings churches together in mission, said: “Church leaders can often get discouraged by reports of declining numbers. But these results show that Christianity in Britain is diverse, full of life, and many people are passionate about sharing their faith. The research also shows there are some big challenges for churches to face if we are to see loads more people becoming Christians and joining the Church.”

Steve Clifford, general director of the Evangelical Alliance, said: “There is overwhelming evidence in the New Testament and independent, non-biblical sources indicating Jesus was a historical figure and any historian worth their weight will agree with this. That nearly 40 per cent of people in this country are unsure of this or think Jesus was a mythical character paints a worrying picture of our education system. While it’s great to see that non-Christians think positively of Jesus, it would be even better if they realised the significance of his life, death and resurrection for their own lives today.”

Dr James Carleton-Paget, senior lecturer in New Testament Studies at Cambridge University, said: “The argument that Jesus never existed, which has had a number of advocates since the 19th century, was not one that the enemies of Christianity in the ancient world ever used. While technically, we shall never be able to prove that Jesus existed, the real difficulty with arguing that he did not lies in explaining how it was that the central character of the New Testament was dreamed up by those who became his followers. The tale of a crucified Jewish saviour, in spite of arguments to the contrary, is simply too unlikely, even outrageous a story, to have had its origins in no more than the frenzied imaginations of a group of ordinary Galilean Jews.”

Roy Crowne, executive director of HOPE, said: “It is the first time that a study like this has been done. The results are a game-changer for churches wanting to share the good news of Jesus. Church leaders can often get discouraged by reports of declining numbers. But these results show that Christianity in Britain is diverse, full of life, and many people are passionate about sharing their faith. The research also shows there are some big challenges for churches to face if we are to see loads more people becoming Christians and joining the Church.”

Yemi Adedeji, associate director for HOPE and director of the Evangelical Alliance’s One People Commission, said: “This invaluable research will give confidence to churches from across denominations, regions and ethnicities and the insight it provides will enable us to answer the questions people are asking of us, not the ones we think they are.”

People are more open to faith than is generally thought. And friendship is important in that process so Christians need to get out of endless church meetings and befriend ‘ordinary people’

A reservation: cause for concern about the re­liability of this research because the definition of a “practising Christian”, basic to the study, is more reflective of the theology of the partners (Barna Group, the Evangelical Alliance, and HOPE) than the breadth of the Church of England. “Practising” means regular prayer, attendance at a church service, and reading of the Bible, at least monthly in each case.

Unsurprisingly, the figures sug­gest that Bible-reading is the tightest category. So Jack, who occasionally dips into his Bible-reading app or attends an evening service, is “practising”, whereas Marjorie, a regular communicant for 50 years, who chairs a local charity, misses the mark — even though she hears more scripture in a month than Jack reads in a year. Mark Hart Church Times 18.xii.15

TJReccommendations:

  1. We need to pray for the Church in our nation. We are faced with an enormous challenge but also great opportunities. Simply improving our skills or commitment will not be enough, we need God’s intervention, prayer alongside any action is essential.
  2. Resurrection is recognised by so many people but they clearly don’t recognise the impact it has on their lives. Let’s together increasingly highlight the significance of Easter and its implications for all those in England.

It’s not a technical report full of careful statistical analysis and it’s definitely a booklet written for an evangelical audience and there’s something odd seeing a lot of statistics presented following a Scriptural quotation.

The document can be found here

return to the home page

Advertisements
Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: