A recent report from Christian pollsters the Barna Group, summed up in the book UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity … and Why It Matters by David Kinnaman, has some bad news for churches.
Today’s young people, ages 16-29, have a more critical view of Christians than previous generations. Specifically, they think Christians are judgmental, anti-homosexual, hypocritical, too political and sheltered. And that’s not just a minority viewpoint–it’s an overwhelming majority who say Christians are …
- Anti-homosexual: 91%
- Judgmental: 87%
- Hypocritical: 85%
- Old-fashioned: 78%
- Too involved in politics: 75%
And those negative perceptions aren’t simply perceptions:
“Going into this three-year project, I assumed that people’s perceptions were generally soft, based on misinformation, and would gradually morph into more traditional views. But then, as we probed why young people had come to such conclusions, I was surprised how much their perceptions were rooted in specific stories and personal interactions with Christians and in churches.” -David Kinnaman
So what does this mean for churches?
It means our problem goes much deeper than Comic Sans. To use marketing lingo, Christians and the churches they attend have an image problem. But this goes way beyond marketing. This goes to the root of the Christian faith. Are we actually living out what we say? Today’s young people (young Christians included) say no.
Forget polishing up that web site, planning your next series or training your greeters. Because if we can’t effectively live the gospel, how can we hope to communicate it?
Certainly we’re all broken people and we’ll never perfectly live out the gospel. We’ve said all along that our communication should reflect our brokenness. But I’m not sure we understood how broken the church is. All our well-laid marketing plans, all our stellar designs, all our clever copy are just noise if we don’t have the love we claim to have.
It’s time for the church to be the church. And I’m not talking about better sermons or finely tuned worship sets or snazzy videos. I’m talking regular pew-warmers like you and me actually living our faith and over-turning these negative realities. That won’t happen through brilliant projects and new ideas. It will happen one tiny act at a time. It will happen through daily, mundane, boring acts of love.