Journeys to faith
People's journeys to faith
differ enormously - with
some key things in common.
Given that God is dead, religion is a cause of global conflict and the Church is inflexible, illiberal and irrelevant—as so many people claim—would anyone in their right mind embrace the Christian faith today?
People do. At best guesstimate, around 15,000 people a year in the UK become Christians, but surprisingly little work has been done to understand why.
Between 2005 and 2007, the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity worked with a multi-denominational group on the project Journeys and Stories, which tried to answer this question.
The results were always interesting, often inspiring and, above all, bewilderingly varied. If you didn’t know the interviewees were talking about the same thing, you would not have guessed.
‘Conversion’ was not felt to be an appropriate term. People spoke not of isolated, transforming moments but of long, complex, meandering journeys, shaped by deeply personal thoughts, encounters and experiences.
In amongst this diversity and complexity, three factors stood out.
First, there were other people, who proved crucial in helping interviewees along their journeys to God. These were not special or particular people; you didn’t have to be a minister, an elder or a theology graduate. ‘Our son… my sister… my ex-girlfriend… this family I teach… my wife’s colleague’—all played their part.
Second, there was the importance of God. It is worth noting how frequently spiritual experiences were mentioned, and the importance people attached to them. Unlike the last major piece of research on the subject 20 years ago, spiritual experiences now played a major part in people’s journeys—reflecting, perhaps, a shift in British culture.
Spiritual experiences aren’t easy to validate, however. Did people really experience what they claimed? Did it happen in that way? Were they meaningless coincidences or more obviously spiritual? And if spiritual, were they really of God? None of these questions pour cold water on interviewees’ accounts. They simply sound a note of caution. To record someone’s spiritual experience is not to authenticate it.
It is worth noting that not a single respondent, no matter how dramatic their experience, claimed they were ‘converted’ on the spot. Instead, experiences—like people—acted as signs and guides, transforming meandering journeys into pilgrimages, with an underlying sense of destination and purpose.
Essential in this process of transformation, and third on our list, were churches. People surprised themselves here. They knew what was wrong with churches, yet often spoke glowingly about the impact they had had on them. There was ‘something completely different’ about them, a ‘feeling of togetherness and unconditional acceptance’.
This wasn’t just misty-eyed naivety. Interviewees recognised that churches are like any other organisation, subject to in-fighting and politics, and they were not afraid of naming hypocrisy when they saw it.
Yet, somehow, for the people at least, church worked. These fragile, loving communities managed, in spite of their faults, to create a space for people to meet a mysterious, inspiring, healing God.
Pray: God, my Father, you know me inside out. I want to explore coming to faith, but I need to do it in a way that works for me, that feels right—even though I’m willing to let you surprise me. I want my experience to be uniquely personal to the two of us. Please take me on that journey. Amen.
Purchase the report Journeys and Stories, priced £5, from LICC (scroll down)
Read an online article about the ways people come to faith
Read the book The Most Reluctant Convert: C S Lewis's Journey to Faith by David C Downing (Lewis was a staunch atheist)
Read the book The Unexpected Journey: Conversations with People Who Turned from Other Beliefs to Jesus by Thom S Rainer
Read the book Run Baby Run by Nicky Cruz (about New York street gangs)
Read the book Livin It Testimonies, about Christian skateboarders, by Stephen Baldwin
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