John Finney

Finding Faith Today: How Does It Happen?

Review by Julian Gotobed, 2002

Finney, John. Finding Faith Today: How Does It Happen? Stonehill Green: British and Foreign Bible Society, 1992. xi + 115 pp. ISBN 0-564-08475-1

John Finney was Church of England Officer for the Decade of Evangelism when he authored Finding Faith Today: How Does It Happen? The seeds of this report were sown in Finney’s experience and observation. As he evangelized and watched others do the same, he reached the conclusion that too little was known about the people the Church was attempting to reach with the Good News of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, the Church was largely ignorant about the actual processes by which new believers got to the point of making a public profession of Christian Faith. How did people come to faith in England in the last decade of the twentieth century? His efforts culminated in a research project sponsored by the British and Foreign Bible Society and the Church of England. Finding Faith Today is Finney’s summary of the project’s findings and his interpretation of the significance of the data collected.

Finding Faith Today is concerned with how people experience God on the journey towards a public profession of Christian Faith. The report is based on information contained in 511 questionnaires completed by individuals drawn from the mainstream of English Church life: Anglican, Roman Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, United Reformed Church, New Church, and smaller denominations. 35% of the respondents were male and 65% were female. The ethnic ratios were 95% white, 4% African Caribbean, and 1% Asian.

Nearly all the participants defined a Christian as somebody in relation to God, other people, and themselves. There was little reference to the content of faith. Being a Christian was essentially about experiencing God. The survey indicated that newfound faith gave people a greater sense of self worth. Faith transformed individuals producing a sense of purpose, peace, and a basis for life. 96% of participants said they were definitely Christians. 54% of those that identified themselves as Christians were conscious of a time when they had not been Christians. The survey’s findings reflect the complexity of exploring and categorizing religious experience. For example, denominations varied in the levels of those that identified themselves as not being Christians at some point prior to a public confession of faith. New Church (78%), Baptist (74%), and Ecumenical (72%) fell into the high end of this category, while Methodist (45%) and URC (35%) slipped into the low end. Roman Catholics (47%) were more likely to characterize their pilgrimage as a return to faith rather than a first time experience compared to other traditions (29%).

The survey examines factors in the participants’ lives on the path towards faith including family, Christian friends, church activities, dreams and visions, bereavement, and contact with other beliefs. Interestingly, dreams and visions played little part in the journey towards faith in most instances. The report concludes that ‘strange events’ interpreted as religious experiences did not appear to result in urgent action. Finding Faith Today acknowledges the reality of extraordinary religious experiences, but pays far more attention to the ordinary and everyday experience of many that profess Christian Faith.