What Do Young People Really Think of Christians?

robert-pattinson-dossierIt’s been another good day at Richmond’s First Baptist Church.  I finished my sermon series from Ephesians called “Reading Other People’s Mail.”  Between services I visited one of the children’s Sunday school classes and told the story of Mary and Martha.  I went to lunch with the Bible Explorer’s class, a group of about forty active senior adults.  And then this evening I preached through all of Luke 15 at a retirement center on the South Side of Richmond.  I’m just settling into my big, comfortable chair now, thinking about what to do with the rest of the evening.

On the table beside my chair is that book called “Unchristian,” which I keep delving into when I have a minute to spare.  It’s fascinating, and it’s teaching me so much about what the younger generation thinks of Christianity.  I reported briefly on the chapter about hypocrisy in one of my recent posts, but since then I’ve read the chapters called “Get Saved!” “Antihomosexual,” and “Sheltered.”  I’m sure you can imagine what those are about.  Young people these days think that Christians are not so much interested in them as human beings, but only as “targets” for conversion.  Ninety percent of them think that Christians are “antihomosexual,” and this in a peer group that is enormously accepting of diversity.  Most of them think that Christians are boring, unintelligent, old-fashioned, and out of touch with reality, so why would anyone want to be Christian?

Now, you and I know those things are not true, but how do we convince young people that they are not true?  In each chapter of the book David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons begin with the existing perception of Christians, but then follow it with a “new” perception—what they would like for young people to think about us.  Here they are:

Perception: Christians say one thing, but live something entirely different.
New Perception: Christians are transparent about their flaws and act first, talk second.

Perception: Christians are insincere and concerned only with converting others.
New Perception: Christians cultivate relationships and environments where others can be deeply transformed by God.

Perception: Christians show contempt for gays and lesbians.
New Perception: Christians show compassion and love to all people, regardless of their lifestyle.

Perception: Christians are boring, unintelligent, old-fashioned, and out of touch with reality.
New Perception: Christians are engaged, informed, and offer sophisticated responses to the issues people face.

Perception: Christians are primarily motivated by a political agenda and promote right-wing politics.
New Perception: Christians are characterized by respecting people, thinking biblically, and finding solutions to complex issues.

Perception: Christians are prideful and quick to find fault with others.
New Perception: Christians show grace by finding the good in others and seeing their potential to be Christ followers.

Please note that these perceptions are based on thousands of interviews with young Americans and that the “New Perceptions” offered here are proposed by the authors, who would almost certainly describe themselves as conservative evangelicals.  These are not wild-eyed liberals who want to do away with traditional Christianity, but concerned Christians who understand that we are about to lose a whole generation.  How do we win them over?  We talk to them, we listen to them, we care about them, and over time—by the grace of God—they begin to think of us differently.

Anybody interested in doing that?

14 thoughts on “What Do Young People Really Think of Christians?

  1. Sounds wonderful! I wish more people could read this. Guess I’ll share it through my actions. : )

  2. Wow, Just left this post on facebook about 20 minutes before you posted your post above.

    The young adults who are around me know I love them … with no strings. They know i’m trying to live an abundent life following God’s will and teachings. I am honest with them and they no I am not perfect. We share our lives with each other. I pray for them… and at times we all pray with each other. I think they like loving and sharing . I think that is how we can connect with them.

  3. I ordered the book today from Amazon, Jim. I look forward to reading it. I am curious about the make up of the young people they surveyed. Did they grow up in churches, and were turned off by the behavior of those around them, or did they grow up separate from Christianity, and their perceptions are influenced by the public face of the Church in the media? The former would move me to examine whether churches are more interested in making converts than growing disciples. The latter would move me to examine whether churches are focused on their own maintenance and comfort rather than actively engaging the communities where God has placed them, as both individual believers and as the body of Christ.

  4. Heavenly and spiritual things, the good of love and the good of faith, these matters cannot help but seem paradoxical to these young people in this world, because their only concept of the good of love and the truth of faith is that they are abstraction of some sort, powerless to accomplish anything. Yet the truth is quite the contrary, they are the source of all perception and sensation, all strength and activity. There is a correspondence of heavenly things and a christian, the kingdom that are within him, the inflow of the one into the other enables him to be spiritually active. But people who are involved in strictly physical concepts, cannot grasp these matters they seem to them like nothing.

  5. Great article, Shawn! I read the whole thing, and agree wholeheartedly! I’m saving it in my “favorites.”

  6. As a GenX’er I wonder about all this stuff, Jim. I may just have to blog some of these things out myself. The Emergent church folk have been acting on these theses for a while now. It’s been an interesting experiment. Call it post-modern or whatever you like, people are choosing not to have a dog in some of those old fights.

  7. Perception: Christians show contempt for gays and lesbians.
    New Perception: Christians show compassion and love to all people, regardless of their lifestyle.

    I gotta tell ya. That “new perception” still sounds like “We love them even though they do bad things.” That may be part of the problem. Though that may just be MY perception.

  8. Van, Shouldn’t we love them even though they do bad things?

    I’d hope my church would still love me even if I did bad things. I think we’ve all done bad things, wouldn’t you agree?

  9. Troy: I think you missed my point.

    “Christians show compassion and love to all people, regardless of their lifestyle.”

    This sounds to me like: “We love them even if they’re gay.” It is being stated under the headline “Antihomosexual” as a way to counter the perception that Christians have a problem with gay people. So “lifestyle” in this case must mean the “gay lifestyle,” a concept too absurd for words. Gay people have the same range of “lifestyles” that non-gay people have, except for one thing – the sex. I, for one, have no issue with gay people expressing themselves sexually, just as I don’t have a problem with straight people expressing themselves sexually, as long as it is age-appropriate and includes responsibility and consent.

    It reeks of “Love the sinner; hate the sin.” But there’s no sin happening. That’s what the church needs to change. A nice declarative statement like: “There’s nothing wrong with being gay.”

    Additionally, by using the phrase “regardless of their lifestyle” I have to assume that, to be consistent, the church would have to include lifestyles like adulterers, con artists, racists, gang members, thieves, etc., all of which a rational person might conclude involve “bad things.” If this is indeed the case, there’s no reason to work on this “new perception” strictly as a way to combat an anti-gay perception.

    Replace “Christians show compassion and love to all people, regardless of their lifestyle” with “Christians show compassion and love to all people. Period.”

  10. Well that certainly makes more sense. Thanks for the clarification. I definitely think the idea of “Christians show compassion and love to all people, period” would be a good substitute. Thanks again Van.

  11. Except Troy and Van, we will now have to redefine SIN.

    I would like to see: Christians have a concept of sin, as outlined by the Bible, but allow others to behave as creatures of Free Will, and are respectful and loving to all, whether or not they agree on what is considered “sinful” or as behavior that displeases God.

  12. It’s been 4 years since this has been posted, is Christianity in any better shape? I tend to think the findings are real, The young don’t want to be told by others on how to live their lives & the church does not help itself in the way of being somewhat compassionate about it’s agendas when it comes to things like Sin & Homosexuality.It is true that church groups not all, do demonize & dehumanize homosexuals, I can’t see the church lasting for too much longer as the elders will all die out leaving the churches faithless.
    I think the decline of Christianity in general is also due to the fact that we are becoming more aware of ourselves & alternate critical thinking has replaced blind faith.

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