In my last post I reported the findings of research into what blocks engagement with Christianity for Australians. The research also provided insight into what fosters engagement.
First, while half the population are not open to changing their religious views, half are, including a significant minority (7%) who are very open.
Second, the methods most likely to engage those who do not currently identify with the Christian faith but are open to changing their views are:
- philosophical discussion and debating of ideas (54% somewhat attracted to this and 18% strongly attracted);
- seeing first hand people who live out a genuine faith (53% somewhat attracted by this and 8% strongly attracted).
Lots of people share Sydney Morning Herald columnist Peter Fitzsimons’ distaste for celebrities who talk about their faith. Seventy percent of those who are open to changing their views found this repelled them. The same was true for stories about modern day miracles, which repelled sixty percent. Surprisingly to me personal stories/testimonies were not terribly attractive. Only 3% found them strongly attracting and just over half were repelled by them.
What to make of this? Does the attraction of debating ideas mean that the relativism of post-modernism is waning, that people want more than a story that works for them, that if they change their views they want to change to something intellectually credible? And if this is what people who are open to change want, how are we providing it? Surely it suggests Sunday services with a sermon and testimony are not our best method for helping people consider faith, that we need to create forums that are genuinely participatory, where everyone is able to be heard and to contribute?
And what of the power of seeing faith lived out first hand? In an era where the church as an institution is on the nose is this not the main way Christian faith will establish credibility? And that is good news, for it matters not whether my church is large or small, has great preachers or lousy ones, a polished worship band or tone deaf vocalists. What really makes the difference is lives lived with integrity and conviction.
The report, Australian Communities Report. Research into the Key Belief Blockers and Questions About Faith, Christianity and God Held by Australians Today can be purchased from olivetreemedia.com.au