Is It Getting Harder to Talk About God?

(Carson Weitnauer) #1

Hi friends,

In a recent op-ed for The New York Times, Jonathan Merritt present a variety of evidence that spiritual language is in decline:

He commissioned a Barna survey of 1,000 American adults that showed:

More than one-fifth of respondents admit they have not had a spiritual conversation at all in the past year. Six in 10 say they had a spiritual conversation only on rare occasions — either “once or twice” (29 percent) or “several times” (29 percent) in the past year. A paltry 7 percent of Americans say they talk about spiritual matters regularly.

But here’s the real shocker: Practicing Christians who attend church regularly aren’t faring much better. A mere 13 percent had a spiritual conversation around once a week.

Merritt says that similar data can be found from the Google ngram (“a collection of millions of books, newspapers, webpages and speeches published between 1500 and 2008”):

A study in The Journal of Positive Psychology analyzed 50 terms associated with moral virtue. Language about the virtues Christians call the fruit of the spirit — words like “love,” “patience,” “gentleness” and “faithfulness” — has become much rarer. Humility words, like “modesty,” fell by 52 percent. Compassion words, like “kindness,” dropped by 56 percent. Gratitude words, like “thankfulness,” declined by 49 percent.

Why is this? The survey showed the following reasons:

Some said these types of conversations create tension or arguments (28 percent); others feel put off by how religion has been politicized (17 percent); others still report not wanting to appear religious (7 percent), sound weird (6 percent) or seem extremist (5 percent).

A few reflections on his op-ed:

First, I appreciate the research he has done on the subject. It helps to have clarity and specificity about the issue.

Second, I think that what we are practicing in RZIM Connect can be part of the solution. By learning (or re-learning) how to communicate with respect, kindness, and empathy in this community, we will be more prepared for the same approach outside of this community. This is an ideal environment to ask questions, listen well, and habituate ourselves to the skills of a great conversationalist. Just watching and learning from the examples of other members is a valuable training exercise.

(If you want additional practice and training, I do recommend the Everyday Questions small group curriculum that RZIM offers).

Third, I’d be curious to hear how each of you are wisely engaging in spiritual conversations with your friends. What are you seeing that works? Where are you getting stuck?

Fourth, if you aren’t in the American context, I’d love to take this conversation to a global perspective. Do you see similar trends in your culture and place? Or are things moving in a different direction?

(Roger Greene) #2

This is a hard thing to quantify since we’re all limited to our own experiences, which will inherently be a very small sample size. But personally I’d say these conversations are getting easier, not harder.

While the state of the world appears to be deteriorating: environmentally, socially, etc. people are left to wonder why. I also think this current generation in the USA that seemingly feels compelled to have an opinion on everything, leaves many doors open for discussion. People want to share their opinion, and while not everyone is inclined to hear an alternate view, the opportunities are there to engage in the discussion.

It may also be that I have personally grown more comfortable and confident sharing my faith, but I’ve noticed a lot more people seeking out answers to questions like: how do we fix the problems with society, why are we here, what is life’s purpose. Or even, the increasing popular “why would a smart person believe in Christianity?” I had someone ask me that question verbatim. I was quite flattered that he thought I was smart. Ha!

I think a big part of the trends you outline may have more to do with Christians not evangelizing rather than people not being receptive.

(Sven Janssens) #3

Great question :slight_smile: Liking it and hope it might inspire others to open up on the street, workplace, at the table and so on.

A couple of weeks ago I challenged our church youth group to launch a question on their social network.
“Do You Believe in God? Yes/No - Why?”

Of course I had set the example and actually someone at our church who is a young christian, place it on here wall on FB.
But none of our youth group actually shared it. Why? Ego. They didn’t want to blemish their ego.

I explained them that a question like that doesn’t say anything about what you believe or not. It only asks a question for research or social experiment. It might even open up some doors.

Two weeks later one of the boys came to me and told me that a in class “World Orientation” the teacher asked about who believed in God. LOL … :slight_smile: I loved it of course.
And actually he had raised his hand and told he was protestant and that he goes to church.
The funny thing is that nobody actually judged him and asked him questions about it. And through this question his teacher had asked he found out that another student in class was partially connected to the evangelical church. :slight_smile: That girls’ mother goes to church while she herself doesn’t really believe in God.

I told this boy if it had hurt him in anyway. He had this big funny playful smile, because he likes to joke a lot, and said; Nope.
He learned something that day.

Church seems to be looking for ways to make it easier to talk to people. Trying to have more coffee and activities. But, people don’t mind knowing about God or talking about God. They just don’t like it pushed down their throat. And they want honesty. We can say we are Christian, but how different are we from the world.

I am going to be very open here. Sometimes I have a hard time - am scared to be a Christian among … people who say they are Christians. It sometimes scares me to be christian in a place where we should be able to be christian - Church.
Why? I don’t like compromise. We do not have to compromise to spread the gospel. Yes, we might hurt people and yes we might get hurt, but that’s part of the deal. But I see churches and Christians compromising their faith in order to bring people to Christ.
And then I ask myself and question the motives of church and Christianity. Why are those new people in church? Are they really born again? or do they just feel comfortable with the social part of the church?
Why is it so hard to talk about faith and discuss faith and spiritual subjects with people that are supposed to be Christians?

I am not so much worried about the world out there. I don’t mind being a Christian and being different. :slight_smile: People are open for conversation and there is a whole new generation standing up, curious about Christianity.
And like rgreene said:

Belgium is rock hard and has its history and scandals and Church has a bad taste. Yet we can be an example of Christ, to be different.

I believe if God is your focus and live by His “rules” you will be recognized and people will come and ask question and doors will open. I share this from experience. People just walking up to me saying: You are different - or - At least you have a life - or - are you a Christian? - etc … and that while never actually sharing the gospel or speaking about faith/church/christianity or other. Just like that, because God shines through.

I love the question and hope we will wake up sharing the gospel no matter what. I hope it will inspire you, help you, encourage you. Bless you :slight_smile:

(MaryAnne Hommel) #4

I haven’t read the Merritt article, so I may be outside the scope of his definition of spiritual conversation. Is he talking about evangelism or any type of spiritual conversation with anyone? While concerns over evangelistic engagements are always valid, I would find those numbers alarming if he is also referring to conversations among believers with believers. Spiritual conversations among believers are critical to our learning (thank you Connect), our edification and sanctification. If we aren’t having them in our homes or with our Christian friends, it is doubtful we’ll be having them elsewhere.

(Brittany Bowman) #5

Perhaps we present a gospel too weak? We’ve so sought to create a gospel presentation that is culturally relevant, we have failed to explain how the Gospel undergirds culture itself. Topics like AI give me a chance in class to discuss deeper thoughts like what defines human existence. I can’t present the sinner’s prayer in class, but I do think the human mind and our communication is crafted by our Creator to lead us to his Truth the more we allow for questions. Learning about those topics here help me understand enough to put a pebble in my professors’ and classmates’ shoes and to show true Christianity doesn’t require to leave our brains at the church door. I wonder if in a culture abundant with answers from Google and Siri, we’ve lost the art of ending a conversation with a question. When I get stuck, it’s normally because I try to provide a solution to someone’s symptoms without helping them realize the larger context. We can deliver someone an answer for why their marriage would be better as a Christian or why they would finally find internal peace. However, how does even the concept of marriage or indescribable peace point us towards our Creator? When someone understands this answer, their symptoms are solved. However, to only treat the symptoms is to make them reliant on short-term fixes without understanding those solution’s source.

When someone truly realizes the Gospel for its fullness, it’s kind of like staring at the sun. They can choose to stop staring at it. However, their sight will forever be changed, and they will realize thereafter in everything they look the sun is the reason they can see anything else in life at all.

(Winston Jones) #6

To reply to your fourth reflection, Mr Weitnauer, about spiritual conversations in other countries, here is what I see in New Brunswick, Canada where I live.
There is lots of talk of spirituality of the New Age kind or Eastern religions kind or communing with nature kind, etc., but do not talk of the Holy Spirit of Christianity or else…
Friends at the Church I attend say this is so even in their children’s schools.
Christianity is losing ground in Canada rapidly. It is not politicized in Canada like it is in the US, in my opinion, but it is scandalized by child
sexual abuse and the Residential Schools debacle, among other problems common to most well-off countries.
It is time for us to stop being “The Embarrassed Believer”, a book by Hugh Hewitt that i found challenging and helpful.
This is an interesting topic. Hope to read more.
Winston Jones