Of the two subjects most likely to be banned from the dinner table, most Americans would rather talk about politics than God.
Yet Christians are split on whether they want more spiritual conversations or fewer ones, and whether they have more to share or learn during such chats.
LifeWay Research surveyed 1,004 Americans in order to compare how often Americans talk to others about politics to the number of times they talk about spirituality.
Two-thirds of Americans (64%) say they had at least three conversations about politics in the last month. Eight percent had no conversations about politics.
By contrast, fewer than half (44%) had three or more spiritual conversations in the same time frame. Twenty-two percent had no conversations about spirituality.
Overall, 6 in 10 Americans (59%) say they’re more comfortable discussing their political views than their spiritual beliefs. But there are distinctions among certain groups.
Women (51%), those who go to church at least once a week (57%), and those with evangelical beliefs (63%) prefer to talk about their spiritual views. Men (69%) and those who don’t have evangelical beliefs (65%) prefer to talk about politics.
Most Americans also say they’re satisfied with the number of spiritual conversations they’re having.
About half say they have “just the right amount” of discussions on spiritual beliefs (51%). A quarter want fewer spiritual discussions (23%), while 1 in 5 want more. Six percent aren’t sure.
Hispanics (38%), those 18 to 35 (35%), and those who live in the West (30%) are more likely to say they have spiritual conversations “more often than I would like.”
Those with evangelical beliefs (32%), those 55 and over (26%), and those in the South (24%) are more likely to say they have such conversations “less often than I would like.”
Churchgoers are split: 29 percent of Americans who are weekly attenders say they want fewer spiritual conversations, while 26 percent want more spiritual conversations.
Even so, many Americans are open to hearing what other people think about faith. About half believe they have as much to find out during a spiritual conversation as they do to share during one (52%). A quarter say they have more to find out (26%), while a similar number (22%) think they have more to share.
Evangelicals are more likely to believe they have more to share (32%) and less likely to think they have something to find out (17%) in a spiritual conversation. Frequent churchgoers also believe they have more to share (33%).
Those findings don’t surprise Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. Sharing one’s faith in order to convert others is a core evangelical conviction.
Still, he said, those with evangelical beliefs may need to listen more during a spiritual conversation.
“If you don’t care what your neighbors believe, chances are they won’t listen to what you have to say,” he said.
Philip Nation agrees. Nation is the director of content development at LifeWay Christian Resources and helps manage Bible Studies for Life, which sponsored the survey.
“The culture wants dialogue about spiritual beliefs,” he said. “Evangelicals too often only want to lecture our neighbors. We need to learn the needs and worldview of our neighbors so we can effectively discuss the gospel.”
The survey also found:
- Americans are split over sharing spiritual beliefs on social media. While 38 percent are comfortable or very comfortable doing so, a similar number (36%) are either not comfortable or don’t use social media to share their spiritual beliefs.
- Few Americans (17%) say they are most comfortable sharing their views on social media. Three-quarters would rather discuss their beliefs one-on-one (40%) or in a small group (33%). Six percent would prefer not to share their views.
- Americans seem lukewarm about starting a spiritual conversation. Three in 10 say starting a conversation is interesting (30%), easy (29%), or natural (29%). Fewer say starting a conversation is scary (9%), boring (5%), or embarrassing (4%).
- Most churchgoers (72%) say they have the right amount of training to help them share their faith.
- About half of churchgoers (49%) say their church treats sharing the gospel as extremely urgent (24%) or urgent (25%).
- Seven in 10 Americans say they are “not concerned at all” if their neighbors hold beliefs different from their own. Six in 10 (61%) say they aren’t concerned if their family has different beliefs.
The online survey of adult Americans was conducted March 17, 2016. A sample of an online panel representing the adult population of the United States was invited to participate. Responses were weighted by region, age, ethnicity, gender and income to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 1,004 online surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error from this panel does not exceed plus or minus 4.2 percent. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.
LifeWay Research is a Nashville-based evangelical research firm specializing in surveys about faith in culture and matters that affect the church.