A CONVERSATION about Jesus Christ is more likely to put non-Christians off the Christian faith than to convert them, a new piece of research to be discussed by the General Synod this month suggests.
The report Talking Jesus, carried out by ComRes and the Barna Group for the Church of England, the Evangelical Alliance, and Hope UK, says that, after a conversation with a Christian about his or her faith, 42 per cent of non-Christians said that they felt glad not to share the faith; and 30 per cent said that they felt more negatively about Jesus.
In contrast, only 16 per cent said that they felt sad not to share the faith; and 23 per cent said that the conversation made them feel more positively about Jesus.
Barna Group and ComRes conducted an online survey of 2545 "carefully screened" English adults for the main survey. The participants were representative by age, gender, region, and socio-economic grade.
Further research was conducted through an online survey of 1529 English "practising" Christians. The report defines these as "those who report regularly praying, reading the Bible, and attending a church service at least monthly".
The raw data shows that 36.5 per cent of the group were Anglicans, 16.6 per cent were Roman Catholic, and 10.1 per cent were Baptist. Some 4.7 per cent of the "practising Christian" group said that they did not know which denomination they were part of.
Most of the participants — 93.2 per cent — said that they had been a Christian for 11 or more years. The research did not break down the respondents by church tradition.
The survey shows that one-third of practising Christians had talked about Jesus with a non-Christian in the week preceding the survey; and another third had done so in the previous month. Seven per cent said that they had not done so in the previous year.
Most non-Christians (67 per cent) know at least one practising Christian, but many say that they have not spoken with them about their faith. And two-thirds (64 per cent) of non-Christians aged 45 to 50 who know a practising Christian say that they have never had a conversation with any practising Christian about their faith.
The research also asked people about their perceptions of Jesus. Some 40 per cent of the population did not know that Jesus was a real historical figure; 43 per cent believe that Jesus rose from the dead.
"Many of the research findings reinforce what many in the Church knew anecdotally," the Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Mike Hill, said. "Other findings help us to develop a fuller and more nuanced picture of the culture within which our vocation to mission and evangelism is lived out.
"A few findings have been greeted with disbelief. But we cannot simply dismiss research which does not bear out our preconceptions."
The survey will be presented to the Synod in the form of a presentation, and will be followed by "questions and discussion" rather than a debate on a motion.
A separate report, The Problem of Proselytism, published by the religion-and-society think tank Theos, suggests that public bodies continue to fear "proselytism" by faith-based organisations, despite there being "little evidence to suggest that agencies are using their work amongst the worst off to try to convert them".
The report’s author, Paul Bickley, said that "accusations of proselytism tend to be attempts to restrict faith-based social action. . . If we understand it properly, and respond to it maturely, the problem of proselytism should be recognised as what it is — no problem at all."
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