One of the most intriguing results from the National Ministry Survey was the apparent contradiction between a majority of the general public disapproving of ‘people trying to covert others to their faith’ and thinking that ‘everyone should leave everyone else alone’ (73%) and high numbers of the general public feeling comfortable about having a conversation with a friend about Jesus (54%).
Wariness of attempts to convert
Disapproval of ‘conversion’ was held strongly not only by non-religious (atheist/agnostic) general public (79%) but also by those identifying as ‘Christian’ though not regularly attending a Protestant church (73%). (However there was much higher acceptance of conversion among some other religious groups.)
This social context means there is a basis to the fears of 50% of Active Protestants that they will ‘cause offence when talking to non-Christians about Jesus’. There is some evidence that this fear has increased in the last 6 years.
Openness to conversation
However, as the chart above shows, when it comes to a conversation about Jesus, comfort levels among the general public are quite high. In every category except talking to strangers, more are comfortable than uncomfortable. When the question is talking about religion more generally the figures are even higher:
What is going on here?
Part of the explanation may be two social norms operating in British society:
- Norm #1 Seeking to convert other people to your view is not ok.
- Norm #2 Having a conversation about views is ok.
People are generally comfortable where the encounter is understood to be a ‘conversation’ – a low-pressure, open, balanced, sharing of views – but may well become uncomfortable if they sense the communication is becoming a ‘conversion attempt’ where one party has an agenda to ‘recruit’ for their cause (a relatively commonly reported concern).
Another big part of the explanation may be the relational factor. While many might philosophically disapprove of conversion and attempts to change someone’s views, when it comes to particular family, friends and colleagues this might be bracketed out [‘But I know you’re not like that’] and there may still be a fair degree of openness in those contexts of relational trust.