Discipleship in Canada: Sharing Faith and Making Relationships at Church
I'm up in Calgary this week, and will actually return to Canada several times in the next year, to talk about our Transformational Discipleship study of Canadians. Through extensive testing (the largest research project of its kind ever done), the LifeWay Research team has discovered certain attributes visible in the lives of believers who are progressing in spiritual maturity. These eight attributes are biblical factors that consistently show up in the life of a maturing believer. Results from each of the eight attributes of spiritual maturity will continue to be released over the coming months.
LifeWay Research surveyed a representative sample of 1,086 Canadian adults as part of the Transformational Discipleship study. Participants attend a Protestant church at least once a month. The sample included churchgoers from a range of Protestant denominations, including mainline and evangelical churches. Interviews were conducted in English, Spanish and French. A demographically balanced online panel was used for the interviewing.
A number of organizations have been publishing the results as they come out, particularly the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, who were interested in how Canadians seek God, talk about their faith, and build relationships in church.
In the past, I have blogged about the intentionality of the Christian life as it relates to our Canadian research, and today I want to take a closer look at evangelism and relationships within the church in Canada.
In the next year, I will be sharing this data at national meetings of the Evangelical Free Church, the Congress of Apostolic Ministries, the C2C Network, and the Fellowship Baptists.
For now, here's a summary of our two most recent releases.
Talking About Faith
Researchers looked at eight attributes they say are common to spiritually mature Christians. Among them is "Unashamed"—a measure of how public believers are in talking about their faith.
The idea is based on a passage found in the New Testament book of Romans: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God's power for salvation…." (Romans 1:16).
Being unashamed means being bold in talking about faith and living it out, said Scott McConnell, vice president of LifeWay Research.
"There are two elements to this discipleship attribute: being unashamed of Jesus Christ around nonbelievers and showing transparency among other Christians," he said. "This transparency is seen when a mature disciple is open to spiritual accountability and willing to share about challenges with other believers.
Canadian churchgoers say they are transparent about their faith in public.
Only three in 10 agree with the statement, "Many people who know me are not aware I am a Christian." More than half (51 percent) disagree.
More than half also say they want feedback about their faith from other churchgoers. Fifty-four percent agree with the statement, "I expect my Christian friends to challenge me if I make unwise choices."
But faith isn't a normal part of day-to-day conversations for many churchgoers, according to the survey.
About half (48 percent) agree with the statement, "Spiritual matters do not tend to come up as a normal part of my daily conversations with other Christians." A third (31 percent) disagree.
Less than half say they share their doubts and struggles with other Christians. Forty-four percent agree with the statement, "I openly share about difficulties I am experiencing when I talk with Christian friends." One in three (33 percent) disagree.
"It is easy for Christians to put their 'church' face on at church and pretend everything is fine," McConnell said.
By doing so, however, McConnell said churchgoers miss out on the chance to grow their faith with the help of other believers.
McConnell said reading the Bible more often, being mentored one-on-one by a more spiritually mature Christian, and having a habit of confessing sins to God, tend to predict higher scores in the "Unashamed" category.
Building Church Relationships
In addition to looking at the "Unashamed" attributed, researchers looking at the "Building Relationships" attribute.
Just over three quarters (68 percent) of those surveyed agree with the statement, "I have developed significant relationships with people at my church."
Nearly six in 10 say they also intentionally get to know new people they meet at church.
But most neglect regular classes for adults like Sunday school, Bible studies, or other small group activities.
Two thirds (64 percent) say they don't attend such adult classes. And only about one in four (28 percent) intentionally spend time with other believers in order to help them grow in their faith.
McConnell said churchgoers might be missing out on chances to build friendship.
Those who attend adult classes—like Bible studies or Sunday school—tend to score higher on the "Building Relationship" attribute, said McConnell.
"The Bible frames relationships among believers as a proactive investment in other Christians," McConnell said. "In fact, Hebrews 10:24 refers to the need to exhibit concern for other Christians in ways that encourage love and good works."
Other actions that predict more spiritual maturity in building relationships include praying in a group with other Christians more often, praying for one's church and church leaders, and having regular responsibilities at church.
"Most attendees have friends at church, but only a minority invest time to help other believers develop their faith," McConnell said.