Most American teens say they rarely or never discuss religion with their friends, according to a new survey by Pew Research. More than six in 10 (64 percent) say they rarely or never have such conversations, while only one in 20 teens (5 percent) say they often engage in such discussions.
Girls are more likely than boys to talk to their friends about religion (41 percent vs. 31 percent), and evangelicals are much more likely than mainline Protestant or Catholic teens to engage in this type of religious behavior. Yet even for evangelical teens, discussions of religion—much less directly sharing the gospel—is exceedingly rare.
Like adult believers, many teenage Christians don’t share the gospel because they don’t know what it is. Since knowing this good news is foundational to salvation it’s somewhat surprising how many Christians cannot clearly explain the basics of the gospel. As Don Whitney says, “Despite the fact that by their own admission [Christians] have read or heard countless presentations of the gospel and claim to have experienced new life in Christ through its power, they are unable to convey even the ABCs of the message of salvation.”
Showing a teen how simple it is to share the gospel can help them overcome hesitancy. Here are five steps they should know.
Step #1: Know the Gospel
So what exactly is the gospel? Simon Gathercole identifies three aspects of the gospel found in the New Testament.
1. Who Jesus is, especially his identity as royal Messiah and Son of God.
2. Jesus’s work of atonement and justification accomplished in the cross and resurrection.
3. Jesus’s work of new creation and of rescue from the power of sin.
According to the apostle Paul, the gospel is an affirmation of who Jesus is (Rom. 1:3-4) and of what he has done (1 Cor. 15). A Christian teen should be able to articulate the gospel in a way that includes all three of these elements. Here’s an example: “At its briefest, the gospel is the good news about Jesus Christ: that he is the Son of God and became man for us, that he died in order to restore us to our relationship with God, and that he was raised from the dead and established as Lord over all things.”
Step #2: Start a Conversation
Many Christians never share the gospel because they think they don’t know the proper methods and techniques of evangelism. They assume they need to have memorized a five-point method or be able to draw illustrations on a napkin to explain the concepts. But all you really need is the ability to carry on a conversation.
For many people, starting a conversation about the gospel is also the most difficult step. A simple method of starting such conversations is to express interests in a person’s opinions and then ask them a question. For example, you could start by saying, “I’ve been intending to ask you . . .” and then follow with a religious-based inquiry such as “Do you think much about spiritual matters?” “Do you consider yourself religious?” “What do you think about God?” and so on.
Show them you are interested in their views and demonstrate that you’re not merely waiting to explain to them what you believe.
Step #3: Share the Gospel
At some point in the conversation the teen will need to transition to explaining the gospel. One way to do that is to simply say,
As you know, I’m a Christian. My own faith is based on the belief that God loved the world so much that, as the Bible says, he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will have eternal life. I believe that all humans have failed to perfectly obey God—what we call sin—and that God sent his son Jesus, who became man, died in order to restore us to our relationship with God, and then was raised from the dead. Now, because of my faith in Jesus I will live with him forever in the new creation.
Step #4: Respond to Their Response
After sharing the gospel, the teen is likely to be met by three types of response.
The first reaction is rejection or complete disinterest—the person doesn’t want to accept Jesus or continue talking to you about the gospel. Teach teens not to be discouraged, for they have done their duty. “We don’t fail in our evangelism if we faithfully tell the gospel to someone who is not converted,” Mark Dever says, “we fail only if we don’t faithfully tell the gospel at all.”
The second reaction is continued interest. The person may not be ready to respond to this good news, but they are willing to keep talking about it. Teach teens to ask the hearer if they’d be willing to talk about the topic in the future and if they can answer any questions their friend might have about Jesus. Then they should do the preparation necessary to prepare for the next encounter.
The third reaction is that after hearing the gospel the hearer may ask the most important question in the world: “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). The reason we proclaim the gospel is to lead an unbeliever to ask that very question, so we should be prepared with a simple answer: “Repent and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15). That is the heart of what the sinner needs to know to be saved. Shane Raynor recommends keeping the message to the essentials:
Repent, believe, confess. Keep it simple. There’s no need to get bogged down in atonement theory or in trying to explain in detail how everything works. Stick with the basics. The deep theological discussions can come later.
Repent of your sins, and believe and confess that Jesus is Lord and that God has raised him from the dead (Rom. 10:10). That response will change a life.
Step #5: Trust God to Do the Rest
Most importantly, we should remind teens that the power is in the gospel, not in our presentation. We should ensure that we are getting the gospel right—we don’t want to mangle the good news—but the power to save comes from the Holy Spirit, not from our efforts at evangelism. That can help take the pressure off.
Our job is to proclaim the good news. God will take care of the rest.