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.
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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