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I first heard about the book at Catalyst Conference in Atlanta last month.

A study was commissioned by Barna’s Research team and published in a book titled UnChristian by Steve Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. The book reveals some of the latest research on how people view the Church and the people in it.

The conclusion – Christianity has an image problem.

James Emery White writes

Many of those outside of the Christian faith think Christians no longer represent what Jesus had in mind – that Christianity in our society is not what it was meant to be. We’re seen as hyper-political, out of touch, pushy in our beliefs, and arrogant. And the biggest perceptions of all are that we are homophobic, hypocritical, and judgmental.

Simply put, in the minds of many, modern-day Christianity no longer seems Christian.

And much of that image has been earned. We’ve acted in ways, talked in ways, lived in ways, that have stolen from God’s reputation.

Here’s the heart of the matter: among young American “outsiders” (the author’s preferred term for those others might refer to as seekers, non-Christians, or the lost), the following words or phrases were offered as possible descriptors of Christianity, and the number who affirmed their accuracy:

*anti-homosexual (91%)

*judgmental (87%)

*hypocritical (85%)

*old-fashioned (78%)

*too involved in politics (75%)

*out of touch with reality (72%)

*insensitive to others (70%)

*boring (68%)

*not accepting of other faiths (64%)

*confusing (61%)

Fifteen years ago I commissioned a similar study that went to those who were unchurched and asked them a simple question: How did the church and those inside it lose you? I first published the research, done in coordination with the Barna Research Group (which also conducted the research for UnChristian) in my book Rethinking the Church. Comparing the two studies is interesting.

In 1992, the unchurched gave the following reasons for abandoning the church:

*There is no value in attending (74%).

*Churches have too many problems (61%).

*I do not have the time (48%).

*I am simply not interested (42%).

*Churches ask for money too frequently (40%).

*Church services are usually boring (36%).

*Christian churches hold no relevance for the way I live (34%).

*I do not believe in God, or I am unsure that God exists (12%).

Such findings pointed to a culture that was saying, “God, yes; Church, no.”

Now, research shows the deepening crisis, for it points to a culture that says “Christ, perhaps; Christianity and Christians, no.” Whereas before we were losing them institutionally, but not necessarily personally, we are now losing them personally. They look at our lives and see little that is attractive – and even they know that this means they are seeing little of Christ.

So what is the answer? Allow outsiders to determine the agenda and message of the church? We do not have that option, if we are to be Christ-followers.

White writes…

As with any crisis, we must not lament the problem, but address it.

First, get the book, read the results, and immerse yourself in its implications and dynamics. It is already causing quite a stir in the secular media – it needs to cause a stir among Christians.

Second, Christ-followers must renew themselves as to what it means to truly follow Christ. The “outsiders” are right – it isn’t Christian to be a hate-monger, or to be judgmental, or hypocritical. Many of us have drifted from the faith, and we need to repent. As the final chapter in the book dictates, we must move from “unchristian” to “Christian.”

Third, we must speak openly about such matters.

The book might be overwhelming, the findings discouraging, but we must take heart. “As C.S. Lewis believed, imagination precedes fact,” Lyons concludes in the final section of the book. “Let’s imagine together what could happen and then commit to being the change we want to create.”

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2 Comments

  1. Sam,
    We are currently doing a study/discussion time on Sunday evenings looking at Comeback Churches. I am going to work in this material in our discussions.

  2. I am confused about what society expects of a normal Christian. Lets look at the opposite of these traits: Are we suppose to want to live next door to a homosexual that is not involved in politics, is modern as opposed to old-fashioned, in touch with reality (as if homosexuality is some how reflective of reality??), sensitive (oh so sensitive), exciting to be around, and not confusing (at all) but accepting of other faiths? Except for being hypocritical, I consider many of the attributes you listed as associated with Christianity compliments, to which you might receive a warm and sincere “Thank You” from me! I mean, even the political part. As a society, aren’t we chastised for not exercising our right to vote?

    Lets just pick apart a few of these in a different light: Old Fashioned: Corruption of body, mind, and spirit started long long long before Christianity. Homosexuality is much more “old fashioned” than Chrisitianity – it pre-dates it by thousands of years.

    Out of touch with Reality: It is difficult for me to believe that a Christian has a harder time discerning reality from Reality TV than a “normal” person. In fact it is our understanding of reality that makes us more Christian. I am willing to give in a little on this point because reality has been highly distorted by our surroundings, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the secular world has a better understanding of reality.

    Insensitive to Others, Boring, Not Accepting of Other Faiths: Again, lets go back to the next door neighbor scenario, since we are talking about how we live. By insensitive to others do you mean we ride around with our windows down blaring Rap music? By boring, do you mean that we should paint our house pink and purple instead of a normal color? When you say we don’t accept other faiths, do you mean that since we don’t practice voodoo and do rain dances in our back yard, we are intolerant of other faiths?

    Okay, if you, in the secular mainstream, want me to undertake these activities, especially as your next door neighbor and especially when you are at home to experience it, just say the word. I will hang up all of the witchcraft decorations year round to help you practice your tolerance. When you are ready to sell your house, I am sure you will get a lot of offers. Just in case you need some help, I will rent my house out to a bunch of homosexuals and they can have parties all night long. After all, no homeowner wants to live next to a boring Christian family with children and a pet dog.

    I think the fight is a lot easier than we understand. The alternatives to Christianity are far more confusing and fraught with failure than any Protestant based Christian religion. I can’t understand how Europe has lost its way. Christianity has been corrupted so effectively in that political/societal climate that people think that it is the problem instead of the solution. And now we are watching the same thing happen here as people expect God to “Just do it” for us because we want Him to. Or maybe thats the problem. They have said it from the beginning of time. ‘If your God is so great, have Him do such and such. Oh, he won’t do it, therefore he doesnt exist.’

    And then they test Him another way: ‘I am going to ignore him and see if he reveals himself to me.’ The tests of God are endless, and those people deserve metals for bravery. But I bet you they trade those metals for a decent place to live, which, I believe, we will be reminded does not come free.


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