What Makes an Engaging Witness, as Defined by Gen Z

What does it look like to be comfortable in the act of talking about one’s Christian faith in an era where skepticism is high and evangelism is unpopular?

(Barna) Barna has explored this question over the years, focusing on various aspects of faith-sharing, including non-Christians’ desired faith conversations, how people would like to explore curiosity about faith and whether Christians believe it’s optional or a duty to share their faith with others.

In looking at the perspectives of young adults on these matters, we see indicators of what the future of faith-sharing might look like, and the gaps that churches may need to fill. Below, we’ll highlight recent findings from the Reviving Evangelism in the Next Generation study, conducted in partnership with Alpha USA and Alpha Canada to produce country-specific insights. This project paid special attention to how teens in Gen Z perceive comfort and confidence in the act of evangelism, and how non-Christians in this generation prefer to be approached when Christians are witnessing to them.

Most Gen Z Name Those Who Listen Without Judgment as Comfortable Evangelists

What characteristics do Gen Z name when thinking of someone who is an engaging witness? The majority of teens (especially non-Christians) says someone who listens without judgment (66% Christian, 72% non-Christian) seems like a person who’s comfortable sharing their faith. This is telling in light of past Barna findings which showed that a number of Gen Z who had interacted with church or Christianity said church was not a safe space to express doubt. Gen Z teens desire conversation partners who are open to difficult topics.

U.S. Christian teens also perceive comfort in someone who is confident in sharing their opinion (56% vs. 49% non-Christians) or good at asking questions (45%, 46%), while non-Christians look to those who don’t force a conclusion (57% vs. 44% Christians) or who demonstrate interest in other people’s stories (47% each).

Practicing Christian teens—that is, Christians who say their faith is important to them and attend church at least monthly—track alongside their peers, noting a confident evangelist as someone who listens without judgment (66%), is confident sharing their own perspective (62%), is good at asking questions (54%) and demonstrates interest in other people’s stories (51%). They also show signs of a deeper faith experience here, favoring attributes like having a personal, vibrant faith (46%), helping others have spiritual experiences (53%) and being aware of one’s own inconsistencies (30%).

Christian teens who actually have faith conversations with non-Christians are aligned with Christian Gen Z, but are more likely to see proactivity as a sign of comfort in faith-sharing. Such traits include being good at asking questions (48%) and focused on the details (36%) and emotions (32%) behind faith questions.

Together, these characteristics cast an image of Gen Z’s ideal evangelist—perhaps a person they hope to become or encounter.

Non-Christian Teens Prefer to See Faith in Action, Not in Conversation

While the data above help establish how both Christians and non-Christians define an evangelist who is at ease, how exactly do non-Christian teens want to be approached when it comes time to talk about personal beliefs? According to non-Christian Gen Z, the most appealing evangelism occurs when Christians live out their faith, not when they explain it (23% very appealing, 32% somewhat appealing).

On the other hand, non-Christians very much dislike when Christians quote scripture or texts from the Bible as evidence for Christianity (24% not very appealing, 34% not at all appealing), when the person wants to pray for the non-Christian as part of the conversation (19% not very appealing, 30% not at all appealing) and when they are asked to give the reasoning behind their own lifestyle choices or beliefs (23% not very appealing, 18% not at all appealing).

Christian Gen Z’s thoughts on such approaches, as Barna has explored, show a clear consistency in responses: Christians’ assumptions about faith-sharing generally align with non-Christians’ expectations—both of which fit well with teens’ common definition of evangelism, and all of which lean away from overt evangelistic encounters and toward relational, embodied faith.

Overall, Christian Gen Z teens do not seem to live in a “Christian bubble.” They exhibit awareness of and even agreement with how their non-Christian peers think and feel about evangelization. They want to have low-stakes conversations for the benefit of their friendships.