Apologetics Interest Research: Executive Summary

What motivates people to be interested in apologetics? Apologists can all have their intuitive opinions on that; the Spiritual Readiness Project decided to find out by asking. Late in 2018 we surveyed apologetics-interested persons (AIPs), most of whom we reached through apologetics Facebook groups and Ratio Christi. 107 persons responded to the survey. Response patterns were consistent enough to provide confidence that we have solid preliminary answers to our chief questions about apologetics motivation.

Common Factors

We discovered several factors common (not universal, but common enough) among AIPs. We list them here with comments loosely based on a simple yet powerful motivation theory called Expectancy Theory, which (loosely) says people will be motivated to a task if they believe they can do it and that it will produce a valued outcome for them. We found the following to be generally true of AIPs:

  • They’re highly educated. They believe (expect) they have the ability to learn.
  • They have an intellectual bent. They expect to find intrinsic value in learning.
  • They were exposed to great speakers, teachers, or writers, through books, articles, talks, or in one case a movie. Thus they believed (expected) there were answers at the end of their explorations.
  • They experienced fear, concern, or even frustration over unanswered faith-related questions— either their own, or questions raised by friends of family members. Thus they came to believe (expect) there would be a positive value to be gained through apologetics.
  • They we involved in evangelism and/or early, basic-level discipling of new believers. This, too, speaks to their expectation that apologetics could have a valued purpose, related to the previous item: questions that could be answered.
  • Many had a personal introduction to apologetics through a family member, friend, or professor; thus they had access to the learning, and the valued outcome of being involved in it with someone else.
  • Most had friends nearby (not just online) currently supporting them in their pursuit of apologetics.

To sum it up in the fewest possible words:

Intellectual Bent + Significant Faith Questions + Accessible Answers
(along with Relational Support) = Interest in Apologetics

Demotivators and Missing Factors

Our findings suggest that people will be demotivated to pursue apologetics if they’re not involved in evangelism, if they’re not paying attention to important questions, if they can’t find/don’t know about intellectually accessible resources, or if they don’t like studying.

Most of this information through open-ended questions on what caused persons to become interested in apologetics. Respondents’ open-ended answers notably did not include two factors that arguably ought to have been there: biblical conviction and church. Only four persons said they were led to apologetics because the Bible instructs us to be so equipped. Only five mentioned church in any way, and three of those mentions were negative: Their churches had discouraged them from the pursuit.

What To Do With This Information?

These finding suggest a number of tracks apologists can take to bring about increased apologetics motivation. They explain the success of training programs used by some, such as Sean McDowell’s or Stand to Reason’s Berkeley and Salt Lake City missions trips, which supply questions, answers, and relational support in abundance.

Individuals’ ultimate interest in apologetics will always be conditioned by the presence or absence of an intellectual bent in their lives. But there’s still much we can do to encourage everyone to grow to some significant extent. It may well be that culture will keep throwing more questions at us. Apologists should encourage church members to become more aware of and engaged with those questions, to realize they’re not alone in caring about those questions, and with the assured knowledge that good answers are easy to find.

How do we do this best? What are the best ways to reach churches, through pastors, parents, youth; through media, teaching, conferences; with which questions and which answers — and so on? That’s another set of great questions, which we’re continuing to research.

Did you miss taking the survey? Want to add your voice? We’ve still got a place for you to do that.

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