NCLS Research

A Profile of People Who Share Faith

Evangelism has long been a cornerstone of church belief and culture, but exactly how are everyday church attenders going in this great commission of making disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19,20)? What is the profile of a faith sharer? The 2006 National Church Life Survey asked church attenders about patterns of faith-sharing that covered both opinions and actual behaviour, including the following question:

figure 1

Q. Which of the following best describes your readiness to talk to others about your faith?

  • I do not have faith, so the question is not applicable
  • I do not like to talk about my faith; my life and actions are sufficient
  • I find it hard to talk about my faith in ordinary language
  • I mostly feel at ease talking about my faith and do so if it comes up
  • I feel at ease talking about my faith and look for opportunities to do so

In Australia 16% of church attenders in 2006 feel at ease talking about their faith and look for opportunities to do so. 51% mostly feel at ease, and talk about faith if it comes up.

Another 19% find it hard to talk about their faith, and 13% believe that their life and actions are sufficient. This means 33% do not describe themselves as consistently or mostly ‘at ease’ when sharing their faith verbally with friends and family.

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Characteristics of Faith Sharers

What is the profile of those who are at ease, who look for opportunities and prepared to share faith with others? Characteristics of these ‘faith sharers’ are people who:

  • Are in a ministry or leadership role (74% vs 61% not in a role).
    Research has established a clear link between church involvement and readiness to discuss matters of faith (Mission Under the Microscope, p.63)
  • Attend church more regularly and who attend an extra group at church (faith based or social).
    They express a higher sense of belonging to church and show significantly higher levels of faith sharing
  • Express a strong personal faith
    They have experienced ‘much growth’ in personal faith in the last year (78% of them are at ease sharing their faith, compared with 57% who say they have experienced only 'some growth' or 'no growth').
    When churches focus on growing the faith of attenders, other crucial areas of church life (such as faith-sharing) also benefit.
  • Help others in informal ways.
    This highlights how faith-sharing as a core quality of church life is intertwined with other qualities, such as ‘Practical and Diverse Service’.

Age differences

Research shows that older attenders are more likely than young attenders to prefer not to talk about their faith, believing their life example is sufficient.

A barrier for young people in sharing faith is they often find it difficult to talk about their faith in ordinary language (Mission Under the Microscope, p.61).

Denominational differences

Attenders in different denominations do vary in their patterns of personal faith-sharing. This is shaped by differing theological heritages and outreach emphases

Pentecostal attenders are most likely to look for opportunities to share faith with others (29%) and are least likely to find their faith hard to talk about (16% vs 19% for the overall church)

Catholic attenders also have fewer than average who find their faith hard to talk about (16%), however they have fewer than average who look for opportunities to talk about their faith. They have the highest proportion who believe their life and actions are sufficient (18% vs 13% overall)

Baptist attenders most often agree they find it difficult to communicate their faith in every day language (27%) followed by the Churches of Christ, Lutheran and Presbyterian denominations (all 25%).

Faith-Sharing in Families

The impact of issues of faith being discussed and modelled in the family environment significantly affects one’s faith journey.

the influence of parents is the most powerful predictor from a person’s childhood of their current religious involvement (Why People Don't Go To Church, p.27).

44% frequently discuss matters of faith at home. (14% discuss faith in formal ways, through family or household devotions, 6% of church attenders do not talk about their Christian beliefs with other members of their household).

for the majority of Anglican and Protestant attenders, first contact with the Christian faith is provided by their parents or family. These familial ties are the most significant in bringing attenders to faith (Taking Stock, p.60). In the Catholic Church importance is placed on the role of parents educating their children in the faith (Taking Stock, p.66). Churches that support parents in this role are more likely to retain youth.

Young adult retention in church life is an issue: among church attenders in Australia who have children aged 15 and over still living at home, 40% of those children do not attend any church. Discussing faith at home, along with the presence of church programs oriented at youth, and a larger church size, are all factors that lead to a higher level of young adult retention (Enriching Church Life, p.55).

parental patterns of church attendance, importance of their faith and whether both parents share the same religion impact on a child’s faith journey (Why People Don't Go To Church, p.27).

Inviting People To Church

The most common way in which people join religious groups is because friends and relatives invite them. Two-thirds of Australian Protestant newcomers first joined their church through someone inviting them (Enriching Church Life, p.26, 52).

In the 2006 NCLS church attenders were asked:

Q. Would you be prepared to invite to a church service here any of your friends and relatives who do not currently attend a church?

  • Yes, and I have done so in the past 12 months
  • Yes, but I have not done so in the past 12 months
  • Don’t know
  • No, probably not
  • No definitely not
figure 2

Inviting people to church:

  • 73% of church attenders were open to inviting someone
  • 36% have invited someone in last 12 months. Additional 36% willing to invite someone but hadn’t.
  • 14% of church attenders probably or definitely would not invite someone
  • 13% said they did not know if they would be prepared to invite someone
  • Pentecostal groups have highest percentage of attenders inviting others (59%). Salvation Army also high (47%).
  • New arrivals to church more likely than long-term attenders to invite others
  • Switchers (those who have changed denominations) are particularly strong inviters (49%) as are newcomers (those new to church life or returned after a long absence), 44% of whom have invited in the last year.
table 2

Reasons people don't invite others to church:

  • lack of connection with people outside church life
  • belief that ‘Those I could invite may not be interested', (selected by 20% of Protestant church attenders).
  • belief that 'Those I could invite may not like the style of worship here' and 'Lack of confidence in talking about my faith' (both 11%).

Sources
Sam Sterland, Ruth Powell, Michael Pippett with the NCLS Research team.

References
This fact sheet was based on Occasional Paper 13: Faith-Sharing activites by Australian Churches.


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