Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Un-Christian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity

Christianity has an image problem.

That's the main thesis of a new book published by the Barna Group, a major research organization that performs original demographic studies much like the Gallup Poll, only the Barna Group specializes in research on churches and trends in spirituality.

Here's a further conclusion by David Kinnamon, primary author of the book "Un-Christian":
"Our research shows that many of those outside of Christianity, especially younger adults, have little trust in the Christian faith, and esteem for the lifestyle of Christ followers is quickly fading among outsiders. They admit their emotional and intellectual barriers go up when they are around Christians, and they reject Jesus because they feel rejected by Christians."

Consider the more detailed impressions held by younger adults about Christianity, and it's cause for alarm. According to Kinnaman, outsiders to the church hold these views of Christians and Christian faith:

1. Christianity is antihomosexual- a view held by 91% of those outside the church
2. Christianity is judgmental- a view held by 87% of those outside the church
3. Christianity is hypocritical- a view held by 85% of those outside the church.
4. Christianity is too involved in politics- a view held by 75% of those outside the church
5. Christianity is out of touch with reality- a view held by 72%
6. Christianity is old-fashioned- a view held by 78% of those outside the church

Now you may feel yourself getting a little defensive about all of the above attitudes held by young adults ages 16-29, but Kinnaman then adds this summary perspective.
On a profile of 12 traits that describe Christianity and the church, young adult outsiders hold negative views on 9 of the 12 traits. There is no organization I know of personally, that can thrive and grow if negative attitudes of this breadth and depth characterize the life and purpose of the organization. And that's true, whether we believe those negative attitudes are fair or not.

One of the real questions for church insiders to ask is this. Do we care about the reputation of the church and Christianity? Are we willing to consider the reasons that younger adults hold such negative attitudes? Or do we just want to pretend that these attitudes don't exist. In fact, reports Kinnaman, if we raise the age level of those with negative attitudes to include all ages of adults, some 50 million adult Americans report negative or hurtful experiences with the church.

Kinnaman frames the issue at stake in these words: "If you are interested in communicating and expressing Christ to new generations, you must understand the intensity with which they hold these views. As Christians, we cannot just throw up our hands in disgust or defensiveness. We have a responsbility to our friends and neighbors to have a sober, reasonable understanding of their perspectives."

There are 3 options.
1. We can say we don't care what attitudes that outsiders hold about the church and Christianity.
And this response often holds true of those who do not know any outsiders to the church faith.
2. We can care what outsiders think and wish we knew what to do. But this response won't prove effective if we don't get to know outsiders and why they think what they think.
3. We can both care what outsiders think and we can learn why, and we can engage them in relationships and conversations that build trust and a right to a hearing.

UnChristian is a book well worth reading and pondering and discussing by church leaders, pastors, and anyone who wants to make a case for a different practice and understanding of what it means to be a Christian in today's world. I strongly recommend it.


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