Today Barna released a report on why American adults tend to avoid spiritual conversations.
Here’s their summary:
People who don’t talk very often about faith offer different reasons, but most of these fall into two broad categories: avoidance and ambivalence. For instance, the two avoidant responses (among the top four) given for not engaging in conversations are: “Religious conversations always seem to create tension or arguments” (28%) and “I’m put off by how religion has been politicized” (17%). The other two responses indicate ambivalence: “I’m not religious and don’t care about these kinds of topics” (23%) and “I don’t feel like I know enough to talk about religious or spiritual topics” (17%). Here’s the full list of options:
- Religious conversations always seem to create tension or arguments: 28%
- I’m not religious and don’t care about these kinds of topics: 23%
- I’m put off by how religion has been politicized: 17%
- I don’t feel like I know enough to talk about religious or spiritual topics: 17%
- I don’t want to be known as a religious person: 7%
- I don’t know how to talk about religious or spiritual topics without sounding weird: 6%
- I’m afraid people will see me as a fanatic or extremist: 5%
- I’m embarrassed by the way religious language has been used in popular culture: 5%
- I’ve been hurt by religious conversations in the past: 4%
- Religious language and jargon feels cheesy or outdated: 4%
I wonder if it might be helpful to seek to empathetically understand each particular person: are they…
- Avoidant, or
… about spiritual conversations?
If they are aggressive, then the challenge might be remaining respectful and the wise approach might be to ask them questions that lead them to examine the perspective from which they are criticizing Christianity.
If they are available, then the challenge might be to find gentle invitations to explore the subject together without becoming aggressive ourselves. A primary approach might be to bring your friend into comfortable environments where it is safe to ask questions, hear the gospel, and give consideration to following Jesus.
If they are avoidant, then you might want to build trust by showing that you are the kind of person who disagrees well and in a pleasant way on other subjects. It would also be important to simply build trust by faithfully showing that you care and that you are a good friend.
If they are ambivalent, then I think it is roughly the same pathway as someone who is avoidant. However, I think there may be more opportunity to disclose your own experiences of God and of living life as a Christian. Sharing stories about how you see God at work in your life and community may give them a new imagination for the beauty and joy of following Christ.
Questions for Discussion:
- Does this seem like a reasonable grid for better understanding your friends and neighbors?
- What practical wisdom have you learned for respecting and engaging with someone from one or more of these spiritual attitudes?