Why do Americans avoid spiritual conversations?

(Carson Weitnauer) #1

Hi friends,

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  • Religious language and jargon feels cheesy or outdated: 4%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…

  • Aggressive,
  • Available,
  • Avoidant, or
  • Ambivalent
    … 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:

  1. Does this seem like a reasonable grid for better understanding your friends and neighbors?
  2. What practical wisdom have you learned for respecting and engaging with someone from one or more of these spiritual attitudes?

(Renee Yetter) #2

I think this is a very interesting question, and cannot do it justice with a brief response, but here are a few quick thoughts:

  1. I like your grid - it’s a good starting point.
  2. It seems to me a few of the terms might require clarification that might matter as we look to introduce religious conversations or think of questions to ask as we explore worldview. Do people avoid because they are wrestling with internal doubts, anxiety, confusion, or because they’ve had prior bad experiences in religious conversations? By ambivalent do we mean they have mixed feelings about joining such a conversation, or because they are disinterested?
  3. I love that you are exploring ways to get a feel for where the person might be coming from. It’s hard to imagine developing a road map to converse with them if we don’t have an sense of where they are.
  4. I am reminded once again of the importance of building relationships!

(Megan Lykke) #3

This is very interesting. I can see that I have felt all of those things at different times in my life. I found something interesting in taking the RZIM Academy core module. If I told people at work I was taking an apologetics class that said “what?” If I told people that I was taking a christian class it was immidiently dismissed. If I said I was taking a philosophy class or even a “religious philosophy” class people were interested. So can I use better wording to engage people without shying away from the truth, probably.