Research amongst UK Christian young people and youth leaders into the methods and perceived effectiveness of peer-to-peer evangelism and outreach amongst teenagers.
This research is the result of a partnership between Alpha, Church Army, Church of England, Hope Together, Scripture Union, Youth for Christ and Youthscape. 9 Dot Research was commissioned to lead the project, which had three elements:
- A seven-day online learning community with 16 young people aged 14-18
- An online survey with 480 young people aged 13-18
- An online survey with 255 youth leaders
You can download the report to explore the findings in depth, but here are some headlines that give you a flavour of what we found.
The role peers play in young people becoming Christians
38% of Christian young people surveyed said that other Christians around their own age were ‘a big influence’ on them becoming a Christian, while 39% said they had ‘a little influence’.
Those from unchurched backgrounds were slightly more likely to say that Christians their own age were either a ‘big’ or ‘little’ influence on them becoming a Christian (85%), compared with those from churched backgrounds (76%).
The top ways young people reported being influenced themselves were peers helping them develop their own faith (56%), friends telling them about their faith, and being invited to something (51%).
What we know about young Christians sharing their faith with peers
A third (34%) of young Christians told us they share their faith regularly. Most young people reported influencing their non-Christian peers to explore Christianity either ‘a little’ (49%) or ‘not much’ (30%).
When asked how they thought they influenced non-Christian peers, 71% said they told them about their faith, followed by 41% showing friends what it is to be a Christian, and 35% inviting peers to something.
In contrast youth leaders place more emphasis on ‘inviting’, with 81% of youth leaders saying their church encouraged young people to invite their friends to something (81%), followed by encouraging young people to show peers what it means to be a Christian (58%) and then encouraging them to talk to peers about faith (49%).
Just under a third of young people surveyed (31%) said they share their faith on social media.
The barriers to young people sharing their faith, and how we can support them
The top barriers to faith-sharing perceived by young people were not knowing answers to difficult questions (38%) and peers not being interested (36%).
But 70% agreed or agreed strongly that they should try to encourage others to become Christians and just over half (51%) agreed that sharing their faith ‘helps me remember why I am a Christian’.
77% of youth leaders saw lack of confidence amongst young people as a barrier to faith-sharing, but only 31% of young people identified this as a challenge.
65% of young Christians surveyed agreed or agreed strongly that they had the confidence to share their faith with others, and 80% either agreed or agreed strongly that they would like to have more confidence to share faith with others.
The top ways young people wanted support were to talk to others about sharing faith (40%) and to hear about other people’s experiences of doing so (39%).
The role of the church
While young Christians are fairly positive about sharing their faith, the data suggests that churches are more focused on retaining churched young people than reaching out to unchurched young people
Half (49%) of the youth workers we surveyed told us their churches had no ‘active disciples’ from a non-Christian home, and a quarter said their churches had no contact with any young people from a non-Christian background, regardless of their level of engagement.
39% of youth workers told us their church youth ministry was focused ‘solely’ or ‘mainly’ on retention (helping disciple young people primarily from the church community), compared with 8% whose sole or main focus was on outreach.
87% of the young people taking part in the research were from a churched background, where they and/or members of their family attended church services regularly.
The report highlights a range of implications this research may have for youth ministry in the UK. Here are just a few.
The research invites us to take an honest look at our youth ministry, and whether we are reaching out to those beyond the church.
Having Christian friends is clearly important for young people’s faith, so peer support for those growing up in the church is vital. But our faith is also there to be shared. This may be a moment to pause and reflect on what it is, within us and in our organisations, that feels like a barrier to being more outward focused? What are your own experiences, and beliefs about peer evangelism – and how are these shaping the young people you support?
Make time to talk and listen to young people about sharing faith
The research suggests that many young Christians are open to sharing their faith and want to talk about it. How can you create contexts where young people can hear and tell stories of faith-sharing? Sharing the research directly with young people could provide an opportunity to affirm and encourage the various ways it’s possible share faith with friends – disrupting the idea that there is one way to influence others.
Encourage young people that they are, and can be, influencers
Young people aren’t sure they have much of an influence on their peers, and it’s very hard to know exactly what difference we do make. But what we can do, is help young people understand that the way we speak, act and treat people is noticed and does matter. Young people don’t need to have all the answers, have unwavering faith or be perfect, to tell friends there’s something good about this Christianity thing. How can we support them on that journey?