These results 'cut the ground from under the stereotype of evangelism' according to Canon Michael Rees, the Diocesan Missioner for Chester. But they offer little comfort for liberals who argue that it is the intellectual difficulty of Christianity which holds people back.
Only 6 per cent of the converts studied claimed to doubt the resurrection before they became Christians, and only 3 per cent had had trouble with the story of the Virgin Birth.
Dr Martin Robinson, the director of mission for the Bible Society, said that one of the strongest factors keeping men away from Christianity was that it was quite unacceptable among working-class men to acknowledge religious experience, so that people who described themselves as unbelievers in fact prayed quite a lot.
The research, carried out on behalf of the British and Foreign Bible Society and Churches Together in England, studied 511 people who had recently made some public profession of faith like being confirmed or undergoing adult baptism or the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults used by the Roman Catholic Church and some Anglican parishes.
Such public declarations of faith are much more common in poor parishes than among affluent ones, the researchers found. They are most frequent among House Churches and least frequent among Roman Catholics. This may have been connected with the discovery that large congregations seem to have difficulty growing larger.
More surprising was the discovery that sudden conversions are the exception even among charismatic or evangelical churches. Sixty-three per cent of evangelical church members and 80 per cent of Christians generally, described their conversions as gradual: the average length of time given was four years. Sudden conversions were more common among older converts than those under the age of 30.
'Most up-front methods of evangelising assume that the person will make a sudden decision to follow Christ. They may be asked to indicate this by raising their hand, making their confession, taking a booklet, or whatever is the preferred method of the evangelist. The fact is that most people come to God more gradually. Methods of evangelism which fit this pattern are urgently needed.' the report says.
Another discovery is that sin and guilt play little part in turning people towards Chrsitianity. Forty-nine per cent claimed to feel no guilt at all. Only 18 per cent had a specific guilt that was important in moving them towards religion.
What did matter was family. 'Partners' - cohabitees and girlfriends as well as wives - had been the main factor for 22 per cent of the men. Then came Christian friends followed by ministers of religion. Children, and the experience of parenthood had also been important for men and women alike.Reuse content