A new study released by the Barna Group on Monday gives new insight into young adults' perceptions of Christianity. The study shows that 16- to 29-year-olds are more skeptical of Christianity than were people of the same age just a decade ago. The issue is also covered in a new book, entitled "unChristian", by David Kinnaman, the president of the Barna Group. The findings are sad and show particular negative views of Evangelical Christians. One common theme of almost 1/4 of those interviewed (Christian and non-Christian) is that "Christianity in today’s society no longer looks like Jesus."
Some of the findings include:
- A decade ago the vast majority of Americans outside the Christian faith, including young people, felt favorably toward Christianity’s role in society. Currently, however, just 16% of non-Christians in their late teens and twenties said they have a "good impression" of Christianity.
- 3% of 16 - to 29-year-old non-Christians express favorable views of evangelicals, compared to 25% in the previous generation (Baby Boomers).
- 91% of the nation’s evangelicals believe that "Americans are becoming more hostile and negative toward Christianity." Among senior pastors, half contend that "ministry is more difficult than ever before because people are increasingly hostile and negative toward Christianity."
- The study explored twenty specific images related to Christianity, including ten favorable and ten unfavorable perceptions. Among young non-Christians, nine out of the top 12 perceptions were negative. Common negative perceptions include that present-day Christianity is judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), old-fashioned (78%), and too involved in politics (75%) - representing large proportions of young outsiders who attach these negative labels to Christians. The most common favorable perceptions were that Christianity teaches the same basic ideas as other religions (82%), has good values and principles (76%), is friendly (71%), and is a faith they respect (55%).
- Half of young churchgoers said they perceive Christianity to be judgmental, hypocritical, and too political. One-third said it was old-fashioned and out of touch with reality.
- Overall, 91% of young non-Christians and 80% of young churchgoers say present-day Christianity is "anti-homosexual." As the research probed this perception, non-Christians and Christians explained that beyond their recognition that Christians oppose homosexuality, they believe that Christians show excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians. One of the most frequent criticisms of young Christians was that they believe the church has made homosexuality a "bigger sin" than anything else. Moreover, they claim that the church has not helped them apply the biblical teaching on homosexuality to their friendships with gays and lesbians.
One interesting finding is the growing number of non-Christians, or "Outsiders" as the study calls them. Of those over 60-years old, less that 25% are "Outsiders." Of those between 16-29 years old, 40% are "Outsiders."
David Kinnaman noted that when his group tried to determine why young people held such beliefs, he was "surprised how much their perceptions were rooted in specific stories and personal interactions with Christians and in churches. When they labeled Christians as judgmental this was not merely spiritual defensiveness. It was frequently the result of truly ‘unChristian’ experiences."
All of this reminds me of the song by Casting Crowns called, "If We Are the Body."
It's crowded in worship today
As she slips in trying to fade into the faces
The girl's teasing laughter is carrying farther than they know
Farther than they know
But if we are the body
Why aren't His arms reaching?
Why aren't His hands healing?
Why aren't His words teaching?
And if we are the body
Why aren't His feet going?
Why is His love not showing them there is a way?
There is a way
A traveler is far away from home
He sheds his coat and quietly sinks into the back row
The weight of their judgmental glances
Tells him that his chances are better out on the road
Jesus paid much too high a price
For us to pick and choose who should come
And we are the body of Christ
Jesus is the way