Skip to comments.A New Generation Expresses its Skepticism and Frustration with Christianity
Posted on 11/05/2008 9:05:38 AM PST by HarleyD
As the nations culture changes in diverse ways, one of the most significant shifts is the declining reputation of Christianity, especially among young Americans. A new study by The Barna Group conducted among 16- to 29-year-olds shows that a new generation is more skeptical of and resistant to Christianity than were people of the same age just a decade ago.
The study of Christianitys slipping image is explored in a new book, entitled unChristian, by David Kinnaman, the president of The Barna Group. The study is a result of collaboration between Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons of the Fermi Project.
The study shows that 16- to 29-year-olds exhibit a greater degree of criticism toward Christianity than did previous generations when they were at the same stage of life. In fact, in just a decade, many of the Barna measures of the Christian image have shifted substantially downward, fueled in part by a growing sense of disengagement and disillusionment among young people. For instance, a decade ago the vast majority of Americans outside the Christian faith, including young people, felt favorably toward Christianitys role in society. Currently, however, just 16% of non-Christians in their late teens and twenties said they have a "good impression" of Christianity.
One of the groups hit hardest by the criticism is evangelicals. Such believers have always been viewed with skepticism in the broader culture. However, those negative views are crystallizing and intensifying among young non-Christians. The new study shows that only 3% of 16 - to 29-year-old non-Christians express favorable views of evangelicals. This means that todays young non-Christians are eight times less likely to experience positive associations toward evangelicals than were non-Christians of the Boomer generation (25%).
The research shows that many Christians are innately aware of this shift in peoples perceptions of Christianity: 91% of the nations 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 Set of Perceptions
While Christianity has typically generated an uneven reputation, the research shows that many of the most common critiques are becoming more concentrated. 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%).
Even among young Christians, many of the negative images generated significant traction. 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.
Interestingly, the study discovered a new image that has steadily grown in prominence over the last decade. Today, the most common perception is that present-day Christianity is "anti-homosexual." Overall, 91% of young non-Christians and 80% of young churchgoers say this phrase describes Christianity. 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.
The UnChristian Label
When young people were asked to identify their impressions of Christianity, one of the common themes was "Christianity is changed from what it used to be" and "Christianity in todays society no longer looks like Jesus." These comments were the most frequent unprompted images that young people called to mind, mentioned by one-quarter of both young non-Christians (23%) and born again Christians (22%).
Kinnaman explained, "Thats where the term 'unChristian' came from. Young people are very candid. In our interviews, we kept encountering young people - both those inside the church and outside of it - who said that something was broken in the present-day expression of Christianity. Their perceptions about Christianity were not always accurate, but what surprised me was not only the severity of their frustration with Christians, but also how frequently young born again Christians expressed some of the very same comments as young non-Christians."
One reason that Christianitys image is changing is due to the shifting faith allegiances of Americans. Simply put, each new generation has a larger share of people who are not Christians (that is, atheists, agnostics, people associated with another faith, or those who have essentially no faith orientation). The new book refers to this group as "outsiders" because they are describing what Christianity looks like from an outsiders perspective. Among adults over the age of 40, only about one-quarter qualify as outsiders, while among the 16 to 29 segment, two-fifths are outsiders. This represents a significant migration away from the dominant role that Christianity has had in America.
The Proportion of those "Outside" Christianity is Growing with Each Generation
Source: The Barna Group, Ltd. 2007 As pointed out in the Barna Update related to atheists and agnostics, this is not a passing fad wherein young people will become "more Christian" as they grow up. While Christianity remains the typical experience and most common faith in America, a fundamental recalibration is occurring within the spiritual allegiance of Americas upcoming generations.
Yet, the research shows that millions of young outsiders have significant experience with Christians and Christian churches. The typical young outsider says they have five friends who are Christians; more than four out of five have attended a Christian church for a period of at least six months in the past; and half have previously considered becoming a Christian.
"Older generations more easily dismiss the criticism of those who are outsiders," Kinnaman said. "But we discovered that young leaders and young Christians are more aware of and concerned about the views of outsiders, because they are more likely to interact closely with such people. Their life is more deeply affected by the negative image of Christianity. For them, what Christianity looks like from an outsiders perspective has greater relevance, because outsiders are more likely to be schoolmates, colleagues, and friends."
Responding to the Research
David Kinnaman, who is a 12-year-veteran of the Barna team, pointed out some of the unexpected findings of the research. "Going into this three-year project, I assumed that peoples 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. When they labeled Christians as judgmental this was not merely spiritual defensiveness. It was frequently the result of truly unChristian experiences. We discovered that the descriptions that young people offered of Christianity were more thoughtful, nuanced, and experiential than expected."
"Some Christians fear the changing reputation of Christianity and it certainly represents an uncomfortable future. Yet, rather than being defensive or dismissive, we should learn from critics, especially those young Christians who are expressing consternation about the state of faith in America. Jesus told us to expect hostility and negative reactions. That is certainly nothing new. But the issue is what we do with it. Is it a chance to defend yourself and demand your rights? Or is it an opportunity to show people grace and truth? Common ground is becoming more difficult to find between Christians and those outside the faith. When the Apostle Paul advises believers to 'live wisely among those who are not Christians' and to 'let your conversation be gracious and effective,' (Colossians 4:5-6, NLT) he could be writing no better advice to committed Christians in America."
The book also includes exclusive perspective from 30 Christian leaders, including Mark Batterson, Chuck Colson, Louie Giglio, Dan Kimball, Brian McLaren, Kevin Palau, John Stott, and Rick Warren. Kinnaman described their contribution as an effort "to make sense of the complex and challenging project - both why the problems exist as well as what Christians ought to do in response to the information. We looked for the biblical space in order to respond to the sharpest criticism. Beyond simply reporting the problems that we discovered among a skeptical generation, my partner Gabe Lyons and I want the book to help Christians find a way forward, to read positive examples and find hope that their life can provide a clearer picture of Jesus to skeptical people around them."
Ping for later.
Prop 8 wrote “marriage” into the constitution. Maybe we can get the Bible back into schools the same way.
One thing I've noticed is that whenever the culture pushes some anti-Christian agenda, Christians get the 'blame' for responding to that shift. It's happening now with sodomy, just as Christians were accused of "sex obsession" during the Sexual Revolution simply for opposing it. People need to understand that if burglars started pressing for burglary to be 'normalized' and made acceptable, Christianity would fight it - and then get blamed for 'obsessing over burglary.'
The Great Falling Away picks up steam.
God Expresses Skepticism and Frustration with a New Generation.
We keep letting foreigners with different faiths immigrate. In this one respect, the Mexican inflow which is largely Christian may actually be welcomed.
I’m from an evangelical church in MN. Sings the usual contemporary praise songs, talks about Christ being the only way to heaven etc. But I have to say I’ve been disapppointed how they’ve never said a peep about issues like abortion or homosexuality.
I seem to see the same with Rick Warren’s, Olsteen’s, and most evangelical churches.
Maybe I’m not looking in the right places, but almost seems to be a myth that Christians are so anti-homosexual. I’d be curious to hear of others’ church experiences.
The most important mission field is always your own offspring. Lose them and you lose everything.
Freedom is self-government and the capacity for self-government is a moral quality. Lose that and you lose your freedom. You won’t believe its possible and you won’t even believe its desirable.
Get your households in order.
Purify yourselves and the Church casting out apostates, wolves in sheep clothing, and those living in unrepentant sin in your midst.
Wake up Bride of Christ cease living as though tomorrow is just the same as yesterday.
Tell everyone of the coming wrath. If they will not listen, shake the dust off your sandals and move on quickly. Leave the calling out to the LORD.
Do not fear; be of great courage and boldness.
Pray for there to be ears to hear and eyes to see .the Truth. Thy Word is Truth.
Prepare the way of the LORD.
Praise the Worthy Lamb, for His Kingdom is near.
Many of these perceptions have more to do with Christians, churches, and $$$ then is explicitly stated.
But Obama should help remedy that as many churches will soon lose their tax exempt status once it is decreed that any church speaking out against homosexuality or abortion will forfeit this status.
This coupled with bigger gov’t, the nanny state, and higher taxes will force churches to operate on a fraction of the financial resources currently enjoyed. Full-time pastors will be replaced with tentmakers. Gone will be the big building programs in the millions.
This young generation is drastically different than the previous. They are the “show-me” generation. Whereas boomers were attracted by a good show. They are repulsed by it.
The mega-churches 10 years from now will be characterized first and foremost by open-handed sacrificial giving and radical ministries of compassion.
It’s time for the Church to put its money where its mouth is. And I’m pointing the finger at myself and my church in the first place.
“study shows that 16- to 29-year-olds exhibit a greater degree of criticism toward Christianity than did previous generations”
Sometime back I heard someone of this generation, may have been a talk show, lamenting that theirs would be the first generation that was worse off than their parents. Pity they don’t seem to be able to make a connection.
Everyone will hate you because you are committed to me. But the person who patiently endures to the end will be saved.
Blessed are you when people hate you, avoid you, insult you, and slander you because you are committed to the Son of Man.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, lie, and say all kinds of evil things about you because of me.
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’[b] If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. 22If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. 23He who hates me hates my Father as well. 24If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. 25But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’
But the campaign to pass Prop 8, which appears to have been heavily financed by an alliance between Mormons and Catholics, is exactly what gives young people the impression that American Christianity is “anti-gay.”
“Voters under 30 heavily opposed Proposition 8, while voters 65 and over supported the initiative. Age groups in between were split. The ban on same-sex marriage was opposed by voters who graduated from college and those who said they never attended religious services. Those who said they attend religious services weekly heavily backed the ban.”
This may be a problem that can’t be solved. It’s a culture clash. The culture has changed and youth don’t remember any other culture than the current one that favors giving the right to gay couples to marry. One thing that I’ve found is that even young people who consider themselves “spiritual” are pretty much ignorant of the Bible and of how churches are different in their doctrines. They just don’t care about learning these things.
What I expect to happen is that the hardline churches will gradually die off as young people go to churches who accomodate their values. Heck, there are plenty of Catholic parishes that already are happy to leave moral decisions up to the conscience of the individual.
Come quickly Lord Jesus.
Oops. Sorry. Forgot to add source for quote.
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