What do people know and believe about Jesus? What do they really think of us, his followers? Are we talking about Jesus enough? And when we are, are we drawing people closer towards him, or pushing them further away?
These are just some of the questions HOPE, the Church of England, and the Evangelical Alliance commissioned Barna Group and ComRes to ask on our behalf. But this was not just for curiosity’s sake. We were believing, hoping and praying that this study – the first of its kind – would be a major catalyst for effective and focused evangelism in the years to come.
One of the key facts we found was that conversations with Christians are one of the most important influences in bringing people to faith. And we discovered that Christians are not always confident in putting their faith into words. So Talking Jesus – The Course was created to inspire Christians to share faith in naturally and relevantly.
It all began in March 2015, when we gathered more than 40 key leaders of denominations and networks, as well as key influencers from across the spectrum of the English Church. For 24 hours, we prayed and we talked. We shared our heart for mission; our collective longing to see God move in this nation. We reflected on an initial piece of research of adults in England, which we had commissioned Barna to undertake. The results of this first piece of research were shocking.
As we talked and prayed together, we reflected on how the power of the Holy Spirit was needed alongside the hard work of contextualising the gospel: not an institutional response but a people movement; something simple that enabled Christians to have millions more sensitive, positive, culturally-relevant conversations about Jesus that could be deeply effective in evangelism.
There are rare moments in Church history where the unity of God’s people is tangible. This was one of those moments. Aware that this piece of research had the potential to equip every Christian to have these Jesus conversations, denominational leaders agreed to fund further, more comprehensive, research.
We released the adult Talking Jesus report in September 2015. And since then, Christians and church leaders across the country have been unpacking the findings together, reflecting on the challenges and opportunities for sharing Jesus today.
We’ve heard stories of individuals and churches re-inspired in sharing Jesus after considering the findings – realising that Christians are liked, and that one in five of the people we talk to about Jesus is open to an experience or encounter with Jesus following our conversation.
And we’ve seen unity movements across the nation responding to the challenge of making Jesus known in their village, town or city – working together to see more people understand that Jesus was a real person, and that his resurrection can have an impact on their lives today. Some of these stories are shared in our new summary booklet, Talking Jesus: what can I do?
Aware of the impact of the adult research, the HOPE Revolution Partnership commissioned ComRes to conduct similar research into the views and experiences of 11-18 year olds (the HOPE Revolution Partnership includes HOPE, Soul Survivor, Youth for Christ, The Message Trust, Urban Saints, PAIS, Limitless, the Church of England and Tearfund). These youth findings are released in our new booklet and report, offering an encouraging insight into how many young people are sharing their faith, and how teenagers are responding to conversations about Jesus.
In presenting these youth findings alongside the adult results, we can see some of the unique challenges and opportunities before us, as we seek to equip the next generation to talk about Jesus and reach out to their friends, family and acquaintances. And we’ve also dug deeper into some interesting differences between white British and black and minority ethnic (BME) respondents.
We believe this research will continue to inspire and encourage Christians up and down the country to make Jesus known through their everyday interactions and conversations with people.
And we continue to be excited about this unique opportunity to understand the landscape we are in – aware that this is not a quick-fix strategy, but a long-term commitment to changing the story in our nation, so that people might meet Jesus, love him and follow him.
Rev Canon Yemi Adedeji, director, One People Commission of the Evangelical Alliance and associate director of HOPE
Steve Clifford, general director, Evangelical Alliance
Roy Crowne, executive director, HOPE
Dr Rachel Jordan-Wolf, national mission and evangelism adviser, Church of England
About the surveys
The adult research
The adult research was carried out in 2015 by Barna Group and ComRes. Barna Group is a visionary research and resource company located in Ventura, California. Started in 1984, the firm is widely considered to be a leading research organisation focused on the intersection of faith and culture. ComRes is a market research consultancy operating in the United Kingdom and internationally. Established in 2003 as Communicate Research Ltd., ComRes was founded to bridge the gap between communications strategy and traditional market research.
The researchers designed an online survey to administer among a carefully screened sample of 2,545 English adults ages 18 and older who were nationally representative by age, gender, region and socioeconomic grade. The sample error on this survey was plus or minus 1.9% points at the 95% confidence level. Additional data were collected through an online survey among an oversample of 1,497 practising Christians* in England. The sample error on the oversample data was plus or minus 2.5% points at the 95% confidence level.
*It’s important to note that the definition of ‘practising Christian’ has been revisited since the 2015 report was issued, and the data in the new 2017 publications (Talking Jesus: what can I do? and Talking Jesus: dig deeper) uses a tighter definition – see below under ‘definitions’.*
The youth research
ComRes interviewed 2,000 people, aged 11-18, online between 7-19 December 2016. Data were weighted to be representative of this audience by age, gender and region.
For consistency, respondents were recruited using equivalent online panels to those used in similar studies of adults, and parents of young people in this age group were asked whether they and their children were happy for their child to participate. This established equivalent methodology and rigour to enable comparison with similar research among adults, while also gaining access and consent.
Definitions for the 2017 publications
Practising Christians: those in England who report praying and reading the Bible at least weekly, and attending a church service at least monthly. [*It’s important to note that this is a tighter definition of ‘practising Christian’ than that used in the 2015 Talking Jesus report, which referred to those who pray and read the Bible at least monthly, and attend a church service at least monthly.*]
Non-practising Christians: those in England who identify as ‘Christian’, but do not qualify as ‘practising’ under the criteria above.
Non-Christians: those in England who selected any option other than ‘Christian’ when asked to identify which religion, if any, best describes their religious faith.
Age groups: In the youth study, 11-18 year olds were surveyed. In the adult study, six age groups were used (18-24; 25-34; 35-44; 45-54; 55-64; and 65+).
Young people: those aged 11-18, who took part in the youth survey in England.
BME: black and minority ethnic respondents – those who selected their ethnicity as Asian/Asian British, Black/Black British or mixed race.
The BIG Church Survey – find out about the trends affecting the UK Church
The BIG Church Audit – use this tool to track how your church is doing in evangelism