Our Emptying Church: When Christianity Sometimes Looks UnChristian

In case you missed it, last week, I introduced a new series called: Our Emptying Church.

Beginning this month, I’ll be exploring why millions of 18-29 year olds are leaving the church. I’ll be discussing generational differences and hot topics in Christianity; I’ll also be posting interviews with Millennials. I hope to create a healthy dialogue in this space so that we can better understand each other. And I’d be humbled if you’d come on this journey with me.

In the last post, I mentioned that I would discuss what has now been deemed the “Millennial” generation (born 1980-2000). Coupled with the late comers of Generation X (born 1965-1979), this generation of twenty somethings has something to tell the world. And I think it’s time we listen.

So what about this generation of young adults makes them so distinctive? Where older generations felt a duty to attend church functions, they do not. Where past generations were motivated by guilt, loyalty, and tradition, Millennials are motivated by social justice issues and making a difference in the world. Where older generations sought to keep silent about personal struggles, Millennials need community and seem to embrace the messiness and hard topics of life. Where older generations had more concrete views of morality, twenty somethings seem to see the world in shades of grey.

Twenty somethings are the targets of social media and marketing galore. Highly educated, they tend to be skeptical of pitches. Living up to their fullest potential, in a non-normalized life is critical to this generation. Now, more than ever, they are willing to face doubt and faith with real, honest dialogue and not canned answers.

David Kinnaman is a popular Christian researcher and author who has, within the last decade, studied this generation of Millennials. In 2007, he published “UnChristian,” which explained his research of Millennials and how they view the church. This research helps explain why so many twenty-somethings have left or will leave the church. But for many of us, such research only confirms what we’ve experienced personally.

Kinnaman states:

The nation’s population is increasingly resistant to Christianity, especially to the theologically conservative expressions of that faith. And the aversion and hostility are, for the first time, crystallizing in the attitudes of millions of young Americans. A huge chunk of a new generation has concluded they want nothing to do with [Christians].

Kinnaman suggests that Christians have become famous for what they oppose and not what they love, for what they exclude rather than include. After a national survey of Millennials, Kinnaman’s research group found that the three most common perceptions of Christianity are:

1) Antihomosexual (91% of surveyed young adults)
2) Judgmental (87%)
3) Hypocritical (85%)

Closely followed by:

4) Too involved in politics (75%)
5) Old-fashioned (78%)
6) Out touch with reality (72%)

The favorable perceptions about Christianity included that it: teaches same basic ideas as other religions (82%), has good values and principles (76%), and is friendly (71%).

Kinnaman offers this thought:

When [non-Christians] see Christians not acting like Jesus, they quickly conclude that the group deserves an unChristian label. Like a corrupted computer file or a bad photocopy, Christianity, they say, is no longer in pure form, and so they reject it.

I will spend the greater part of Our Emptying Church delving into those six common perceptions of Christianity because I believe, deep inside me, that reconciliation is possible.

Do you agree with this research? Have you encountered these perceptions about Christianity? What perceptions (good or bad) would you add that I did not list?

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6 thoughts on “Our Emptying Church: When Christianity Sometimes Looks UnChristian

  1. Kate,I have respect for your views and those who seek the Truth. I am your parents generation but am very close to my twenty-something daughter and son-in-law. I love the Church… which is the people of God who love each other and love Jesus. My daughter and son-in-law also loves the church. It's not rooted in guilt or obligation. It is rooted in a love for Christ and a desire to be servants and be found faithful. If that is old-fashioned, then so be it. Many who are so critical of the organized church are often "shoppers" – here for a little while and there for a little while. No church is perfect.. it is filled with imperfect people. That is why we desperately need a Savior.. not just at the moment of salvation, but every day. We are all hypocrits.. falling short daily. Further, I believe the Bible is God's Word. This is often a sticking point. If one does not believe the scriptures are holy, are inspired by God, are to be used for daily living… then none of it is valid. Jesus is either The Truth or He's a liar. Sorry, no gray. There is much I don't understand.. but the parts I do understand is enough to keep me on my knees and understanding that God (through Christ) loves us and desires a relationship with us. I believe people do not want to "surrender" to Christ… that is the price.. denying self and following Him. It's a tall order.. in fact, it's everything. You can not be focused on self and deny yourself at the same time.I wish the same people who see the church as judgmental and hypocritical would also see that we feed and clothe the needy every week. We are there when a baby is born, a parent dies, or on your wedding day. It is the church.. look for the good… what will be found is Christ's imperfect servants trying to be found faithful.Bobbi

  2. Bobbi, it's wonderful to hear from you and I am excited about this dialog we are starting. Thanks for taking the time to read and write. I like the point you make about the church being made up of imperfect people but people who try to love in small ways through the week. I have experienced this… church ladies are usually the first to bring a casserole to a funeral or throw a wedding shower. Many give generously to hunger funds and disaster relief programs. These things aren't always noticed but they are very significant to those who are on the receiving end. I do agree that Millenials sometimes seem to fear a commitment to an organized church (church shoppers as they are called)… I think this could be because of the perception of the church, which is one reason I'm doing this series. I also think that there are varied interpretations of scripture and Christians can really tear each other up in debating those interpretations while losing the main focus of loving God and loving one's neighbor. And that's really sad. I appreciate your voice and hope that you'll continue to dialog here and love on this generation of Millenials. Much love to you.

  3. Bobbi,I so loved what you said about loving the church…the people of God and that we are imperfect people that need Christ daily! Because without His leading I would struggle with most of the 6 negative perceptions above and I know that I can be really selfish! But when I take the time, (& honestly I don't every day but need to) to renew my mind in His word He tells me the fruit of His Spirit gives me…love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Wow! How could you go wrong with all of those gifts!

  4. Saw this article today: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2012/10/08/nones-protestant-religion-pew/1618445/ and thought about this blog series. Bobbi, you hit the nail on the head when you said that the church is full of imperfect people. However, I've been having a lot of problems lately with people who are trying to pass themselves off as close to perfect and belittle/guilt others, and I think that's where people begin the slide away from the church and faith.

  5. Amber, I also saw that article and thought it was ironic that it came out today as it is completely relevant to this series. Thanks for posting the URL… I'll bring it up in the next post later this week. I think it only goes to support Kinnaman's research.Pious church members can do more damage than anything. I think it's so vital that we all remember that no matter how much scripture we have memorized, how many answers we think we know, and how many functions we've organized, we are still imperfect people who know very little about God and who are in need of grace daily. Honestly, I had to learn this lesson the hard way. I used to be pretty arrogant and believe that I was religiously superior in my knowledge of scripture and theology… I learned a very hard lesson that this sentiment could not be further from God. It is not a lesson I want to relearn, so I try to constantly remind myself of how much I do not know or presume to know about the heart of God.

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