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Credit: Freely Photos/Brad Neathery
Credit: Freely Photos/Brad Neathery
World News

No more 'Christianese': Study shows younger believers want to overhaul faith language

by Premier Journalist

A new study into the use of language amongst Christians has indicated that younger believers are keen to scrap terms commonly described as 'Christianese'. In its report The Future of Missions, research group Barna found that when it comes to Christian evangelism, Millennials and Gen Zs are becoming increasingly frustrated by over-used phrases like "winning souls." 

In fact, Barna's survey showed that young adults and teens prefer to avoid the term 'evangelism' itself, instead opting for "sharing faith". 

Roughly a third of young adults (31 per cent) and teens (30 per cent) take issue with the phrase 'winning souls', while 35 per cent of young adults and 38 per cent of teens object to 'convert'.

In contrast, 44 per cent of those aged 35 and above said they were not concerned by terms like 'convert', 'winning souls', 'making disciples', 'witnessing' and 'missions'. 

Rev Chris Lee, a young priest who has 171,000 followers on Instagram, told Premier he does think about the words he uses when preaching the gospel in short videos on his social media page: "I am aware that the language that I try and use when I'm speaking on Instagram is day-to-day language and if I do use language like 'repentance', I will explain what I what that is and why actually things like repentance are a gift. Sometimes words that we've used in the past carry baggage with them, and that baggage isn't necessarily fair but the truth is - it is baggage for that word."

Andie Frost, who worked in Christian youth work for many years, told Premier: "We can get in a sort of a Christian bubble and we get used to sort of saying certain terms or certain words to each other. But we live in a world where lots of people aren't familiar with those terms. When I grew up as a young person, we had a daily active worship at school...we had prayers, we had hymns, people were very familiar with it, but that's long gone."

He explained how he would teach young people to use terms that are relevant to their peers: "Something that's as simple as 'saved' would be one. Being somebody who loves football, when something is saved, it's a goalkeeper standing in the goal tipping the ball over the bar. When we were helping young people to unpack that idea that Jesus saves us from our sin or saves us for righteousness, we used the idea of 'rescue', like a helicopter coming and plucking somebody out of the way, something like that. So, Jesus 'rescues' us from sin or 'rescues' us to bring us into a different way of life and we found that helping young people to use terms like that helped them to make their understanding of faith a lot clearer."

Despite uneasiness about certain vocabulary in the field of evangelism, Barna was keen to point out that younger Christians are still extremely enthusiastic about engaging in mission work. 

"Listening intentionally to young Christians who object to at least one missions term uncovers important nuance: Their objections don’t inevitably lead to disengagement from missions altogether," the report explains. "In fact, young adults who may squirm at the use of 'convert' or 'winning souls,' for instance, are more likely than others to personally know a missionary (83 per cent vs. 77 per cent) and to have been on an international missions trip (41 per cent vs. 29 per cent).

"They are just as likely as others to say giving to and praying for missionaries is in their future. At the same time, however, they are more likely to be supportive sceptics (30 per cent vs. 18 per cent) and to be troubled when it comes to the ethics of past missions efforts (39 per cent agree vs. 25 per cent)". 

Rev Chris Lee said choosing words that don't unecessarily trigger people is a no-brainer for him: "The goal is to see people come to Jesus and to find the warmth and love and salvation in him. So, if the language we use isn't helping, then St. Paul says if it causes my brother to stumble, I will drop it - so I'm gonna drop it and use another method."

For the study, Barna conducted 3,606 interviews with American self-identified Christians, including 1,500 adults aged 35 and older (all engaged Protestants), 1,000 adults aged 18 to 34 (856 engaged Protestants), 602 teenagers aged 13 to 17 (380 engaged Protestants) and 504 engaged Protestant parents of children aged 13 to 25. The group also interviewed 633 U.S. Protestant pastors of missions focused churches.

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