Let us imagine… For several weeks now Leon has been deepening his relationship with Rashid one of his work friends from his Personal Network Map. As well as praying daily for him he catches up with Rashid for a drink every Thursday evening after work. During this time, Leon has encouraged Rashid to share about his life, interests and concerns. As Leon has listened and prayed he’s been sensing Rashid is on a spiritual quest for fulfilment, meaning and purpose in his life (see Stories Series #2; Listening – Your Story).
Leon’s heart goes out to Rashid because Leon can see how Rashid’s search resonates with a story from his own life experience. But how can he share it in a way Rashid can hear? Besides, will Rashid be open to receive what Leon has to say?
McCrindle Research in their 2022 Report, The Changing Faith Landscape of Australia, gives us strong encouragement at this point. Their research indicates that around 80% of Australians are ‘open to a spiritual conversation that may involve different views to their own’. In fact, 21% are extremely open, 25% very open, 26% somewhat open and 8% slightly open. Moreover, younger Australians are more open than older generations as shown below:
- 53% of Gen Z (born between 1995-2004) are open;
- 53% of Gen Y, also known as Millenials, (born between 1980-1994) are open;
- 47% of Gen X (born between 1965-1979 ) are open;
- 34% of Baby Boomers (born between 1946-1964) are open and
- 41% of Builders (born 1945 or earlier) are open
Beyond just engaging in a faith conversation (if presented in the right circumstances and with what they consider to be sufficient evidence) McCrindle also found 58% are at least slightly open to changing their religious beliefs with almost half (46%) extremely or very open. Again this is especially so for younger Australians (73% Gen Z, 70% Gen Y, 54% Gen X, compared with 45% Baby Boomers and 36% Builders).
In fact only around 21% of all surveyed said they were not open to having such conversations. There’s a strong chance then that the people you’ve been praying for will be open to having a spiritual conversation with you.
The 2019 Australian Community Survey revealed some further interesting statistics: 28.4% of Australians have had a spiritual or mystical experience (not necessarily Christian). A further 8.7% hadn’t themselves, but knew of someone who had. Another 29.9% hadn’t but believed such experiences were possible, while 9.9% were simply unsure. Only 23.1% believed spiritual experiences couldn’t occur! These statistics suggest that at least two in three Australians are open to having spiritual conversations. Yet sadly, the 2006 National Church Life Survey showed only 16% of church attenders claimed to be at ease and seek opportunities to share their faith with people outside the church community.
In light of such overwhelming encouragement how should we go about sharing ‘My Story’ (i.e. your experience of Jesus) with friends who don’t see themselves as Jesus’ followers?
Once you’ve listened deeply to your non-Christian friend (and that probably will be over several conversations) and been able to reflect back their thoughts and feelings in ways that they have owned and affirmed, it’s probably time to share ‘My Story’, i.e. your own personal story of Jesus that could be relevant to your friend. Each of us has our own personal story of God’s grace and hope in our lives. In sharing ‘My Story’, the key question to ask yourself is:
What is it about my experience of Jesus that would be good news to my friend?
In considering the answer to that question check firstly these 4 R’s:
- Relevant – Is the experience I’m thinking of sharing relevant to this person’s spiritual
needs, i.e. their spiritual quest; or what aspect of it might be relevant. It should not be your conversion story if that’s not relevant at this stage to where your friend finds her/himself. And your ‘My Story’ doesn’t have to be exactly the same as your friend’s spiritual quest to make it relevant. The key thing is, is it relevant to where your friend is at right now? For example, while your friend’s quest may be for fulfilment and meaning, your experience of Jesus may have been about receiving particular guidance for making a critical decision that would affect your future. As a result of receiving such guidance, you have found meaning and purpose in following the direction you sensed Jesus showed you. So that’s the story you share.
- Real – Would my friend be likely to find my story believable, authentic and real?
- Relational – How can I share my story in a way that maintains and strengthens our relationship? (Being humble, vulnerable and not forceful are important here – see 1Peter 3: 15.)
- Really Good News – Will my friend hear my story as really good news, as a story of grace and hope and not one of judgment or condemnation?
If your experience of Jesus checks all those 4 boxes, ask your friend if they want to hear it.
Research from the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Church indicated that only 8-10% of Christians regularly share their faith. Reasons given for not doing so:
- 35.5% of those surveyed said they were either afraid of rejection or too embarrassed;
- 21.7% were afraid of not having answers to people’s questions;
- 19.2% rarely think about it;
- 17.3% don’t know what to say and
- 8.3% were uncomfortable doing so.
It can be seen from these statistics that the main reason most Christians don’t share their faith in Jesus with non-believers is due to fear. However, the New Testament assures us that we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit to witness to Jesus (Acts 1:8) and there’s no reason to fear because: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment” (1John 4:18a).
As we’ve already seen from the McCrindle research, about 80% of Australians are open to a faith conversation with almost half claiming to be either extremely open or very open. Most people are genuinely open and interested in hearing your experience of Jesus provided it’s shared sensitively, lovingly and is relevant to their situation. Moreover, as we’ve also seen from the 2019 Australian Community Survey, 28.4% of Australians have had a spiritual or mystical experience and another 8.7% hadn’t themselves, but knew someone who had. (Interestingly, secular UK research has shown an increase from 48% of British people claiming to have had a religious or spiritual experience in 1987 to 76% in 2000. Maybe such experiences are more common than the Australian Community Survey has indicated!)
In my next article we will be exploring how to connect your friend’s story (‘Your Story’) and your own experience (‘My Story’) with God’s Story, the Gospel.