Alpha recently partnered with Barna Group in surveying 1,200 young people between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, leaning into their thoughts about evangelism. What we learned has filled us with hope for the future.
While the term evangelism, and all that it conjures up from previous generations, seems to be going out of style, the practice of sharing one’s faith with others is not. Nine out of ten Christian teens agree “sharing my faith with others is an important part of following Jesus” (47% strongly, 40% somewhat).
While Gen Z Christians aren’t shying away from sharing about their faith, they also aren’t approaching evangelism the same way that previous generations have. Their approach is softer, less loud, and more centered on authentic action, long-term relational connection, and mutual understanding.
Gen Z has a strong belief in authenticity and that your life should be a witness, not just your words.
Half of Gen Z Christians (50%) consider “letting your actions speak rather than using words to explain your faith” to be an act of evangelism. But these young people aren’t silently living their lives, hoping others will see their faith simply through their actions, they’re speaking up as well. Seventy-eight percent of Christian teens have had at least one faith conversation with a non-Christian in the past year. Furthermore, three in five Christian Gen Z who had a spiritual conversation with a non-Christian in the last year have had a follow-up conversation as well.
They aren’t just sharing their faith and walking away, they are engaging in a more continuous evangelism that includes both their actions and ongoing conversations about faith.
Of note: while Gen Z isn’t having massive amounts of faith conversations with large numbers of people, the conversations they are having tend to be ongoing and very relational.
Gen Z also seems to have a strong understanding that disagreement is a part of life, making them more comfortable to have discussions across faith lines.
The vast majority of teens (four in five) do not think they are being judged when someone disagrees with them, and half of them (52% Christian Gen Z, 47% non-Christian Gen Z) report that talking about faith made them feel calm. In fact, they very rarely associated negative emotions with faith conversations.
Perhaps part of why these conversations are often calm for Gen Z teens is that they tend to also be very low pressure. In fact, 38% of Christian Gen Z agree “it is wrong to share one’s personal belief with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith.”
When Christian teens share their faith they are not often doing so with the goal of persuading someone. Both Christian and non-Christian teens feel the best outcome of faith conversations is for both individuals to better understand the other person’s point of view (54% Christian, 63% non-Christian). This soft approach could be concerning, but we believe it can also leave a lot of room for the Holy Spirit to act.
One pastor Barna interviewed for this study put it this way:
“It’s not the evangelist’s job to convince, but rather to share what God has been saying and doing in their life. Allow the Holy Spirit to convict and convince. This takes so much pressure off. Then it’s not primarily about having the right answers or knowing all the potential answers to questions others may have first.”
Luke is a high school student from Yamhill, Oregon who started running his own Alpha Youth as a way to socialize with his peers during COVID. He was able to bring a ton of his friends from his sports teams to discuss faith and life in a pressure-free environment.
There is one result of the study that seems particularly surprising at first glance and that is Gen Z’s preference for in-person conversations rather than digital ones.
Over half (58%) said they prefer faith conversations to happen in person, rather than online. This may seem surprising at first glance, due to how much time and energy this generation spends online, but it is in keeping with the general trend of a more relational evangelistic approach.
It’s easy to say anything online and have your words be disconnected from your actions. Gen Z has a strong belief in the connectivity of faith and actions. They don’t want to be preached at or to preach at others, they want genuine relationships and understanding. In fact, four in five (82%) believe that faith conversations are most effective when there’s already an established friendship.
They seem to understand that the digital space is not the best space for an authentic relational conversation to take place.
So, what are teens looking for when it comes to having relationally driven faith conversations?
A non-judgemental environment seems to be at the top of the list. Sixty-six percent of Christian teens and seventy-two percent of non-Christian teens said someone who listens without judgment is someone who’s comfortable sharing their faith. Non-Christian teens are also looking for someone who doesn’t force a conclusion (57%) and who demonstrates interest in other people’s stories (47%).
This desire for a non-judgmental person to talk with about faith extends even further, with many non-Christian teens saying they would be more interested in Christianity if Christians were less judgemental of their personal beliefs (42%) and lifestyle (32%). This is in keeping with other Barna reports that showed 88% of non-Christian young adults (18-35) considered present-day Christianity to be judgemental either “a lot” or “some of the time.”
In contrast to this, non-Christian teens find Christianity most appealing when Christians live out their faith (23% very appealing, 32% somewhat appealing) and talk about their own personal experiences with coming to Christianity (10% very appealing, 27% somewhat appealing). This again highlights the importance of that relational, embodied approach to evangelism, and faith in general.
That kind of relational approach is very much what Alpha has always been about.
“For youth, it’s very difficult to follow the Great Commission. Especially since talking to other teenagers can be awkward when sharing the gospel. But Alpha is a very tangible way to do that.” -Teen from Orange County, CA
“The whole Alpha mission really appealed to me to have a place and time to talk about things that are so important in our lives yet people never really seem to make the time to talk about it. So I wanted to build this community to see who we could invite” -Teen from Orange County, CA
Overall, this report leaves us feeling hopeful for the future of the church. Every generation has its strengths and its blind spots and Gen Z is no different. But today’s teens are showing an openness to the things of God and a compassion toward one another that gives us a lot of hope.
We believe the Holy Spirit is at work in this next generation and we are honored that we get to partner in coming alongside today’s teens and guiding them in a faith that is gentle, yet strong and resilient.
Learn more about how Alpha Youth supports the rising generation (and their leaders!) in holding these authentic faith conversations.
Get the full report, created in partnership with Barna Group—Reviving Evangelism in the Next Generation.