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Jesus urgently wants us to stop making excuses and start talking to our neighbor about him.
What excuses do we make? “Why bother telling people about Jesus? It’s the 21st century!” we say. “People have heard about Christianity and rejected it. Science is what they believe in now. They consider religion silly at best, and dangerous at worst.”
To him that excuse sounds as lame as the excuse, “We can’t preach to them. They’re Samaritans!”
In the Fourth Chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus successfully evangelizes a Samaritan woman and then her whole village. When the disciples are surprised, he tells them to stop the mentality that prejudges their neighbors as people who just won’t listen.
“I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest,” he tells them. The hard work has already been done, preparing the people to hear his message. “I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work.”
He tells us the same thing, and the evidence is on his side. Consider these six myths we use to tell ourselves that evangelization is impossible.
Myth One: “The rise of nones proves that people are leaving religion.” Not true!
In 2019, Pew Research Center polling announced that “In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace” and many news outlets took up the story so that it’s now assumed to be true. But in 2020, Robert Knight at the Christian Postsaid, “Not so fast.”
While it is absolutely true more people than ever mark “no religion” on surveys, “The entire change has taken place with the non-attending group,” according to sociologist researcher Rodeny Stark of Baylor University. “This change marks a decrease only in nominal affiliation, not an increase in irreligion.”
In other words: It’s not that more people are skipping church; it’s that people who skip church no longer feel the need to claim to be Christian.
As Focus on the Family’s Glenn Stanton put it, “The nones are simply those who until recently would have identified with a Christian denomination just because that’s what their family has always been.”
Myth Two: “Intense religiosity is increasingly fringe.” Not so.
The Gallup organization in 2018 found that for more than a quarter century, “There has been little change in the percentage of Americans who identify as ‘born-again or evangelical.’”
At The New York Times in 2019, Ross Douthat agreed, sharing “The Overstated Collapse of American Christianity.”
“Lukewarm Christianity may be declining much more dramatically than intense religiosity,” he wrote, citing a 2017 paper by sociologists who found a “persistent and exceptional intensity” in American religion.
Myth Three: “The youngest generation is more irreligious than their parents.” It’s the opposite.
Douthat added, “The waning of Christianity may be still as much a baby-boomer story as a millennial one.” He cited research showing that “Church attendance has been falling among the middle-aged and early-elderly cohorts, but the typical millennial or Gen Z American is slightly more likely to be a weekly churchgoer than a Generation-Xer circa 1995.”
In short, he said, “any recent secularization may reflect the aging-and-dying of the more pious Silent Generation, and their replacement in the 60- to 70-year-old cohort by boomers, as much as it reflects the sudden de-Christianization of the young.”
In fact, the Pew Research Center reported in 2010 that “Millennials remain fairly traditional in their religious beliefs and practices” with regard to heaven, hell, and miracles, and “Millennials say they believe in God with absolute certainty at rates similar to those seen among Gen Xers a decade ago.”
Myth Four: “Gen Z has consciously rejected religion.” They haven’t.
Notoriously, the baby boomer generation did indeed consciously leave religion behind, especially in the 1960s. But that isn’t what happened with subsequent generations.
The real rejection of God in our time hasn’t been by young people assessing it and refusing it, but by their elders never offering it in the first place.
In 2019, the American Enterprise Institute surveyed Americans to see if they were raised in religious households or not. They found that it was rare to find a senior who wasn’t raised in a religious household: only 1 out of 33 was raised without religion. But for young adults, that number is 1 in 5.
Myth Five: “You can blame people’s shortsightedness for leaving religion.” False.
So, what is the cause of the clear decline in religious activity? The sad truth is that the answer is in the mirror. We are.
That’s the conclusion Gallup reported in “Church Leaders and Declining Religious Service Attendance.”
The report said that “Workers don’t quit companies; they quit managers … [and] churchgoers don’t quit churches, but instead quit ministers, priests and rabbis.” Of those who stick with religion, 6 out of 10 liked the preaching; only 4 out of 10 of those who left did. And when people return to church, the vast majority say it is due to “Sermons or talks that teach you more about scripture.”
For Catholics, that has to include also the witness of the laity.
Myth Sixth: “Young people don’t want to know about Christianity.” They do!
If you think that young people are thoroughly secularized and don’t want to hear about God, think again.
“Gen Z exhibits significant openness to scripture,” the American Bible Society found in 2021 polling.
Christianity Todayreported that 13- to 18-year-olds may be skeptical about church organizations “but they’re having deep and personal peer-to-peer conversations” about religion.
In 2023, the Barna evangelical research group looked at teens and Jesus and found that “Over half of Gen Z teens feel motivated to learn more about Jesus.”
So, go beyond the Myths.
The disciples were “amazed” that Jesus was talking to a Samaritan woman. Why would he do that? There was no point!
But they were very wrong. So are we when we decide that the people of our time are beyond reach.
Our neighbors, young and old, in large part have not taken Christianity’s measure and found it wanting. In fact, most of them have not been offered faith at all. They are open — almost too open. They are ready. They are waiting.
God wants me to be the one to tell them that Jesus is real.
This appeared at Aleteia.
Image: Rawpixel Gen Z.