The Barna Group exists to provide statistical information to Christian churches and ministries,
to be a catalyst in moral and spiritual transformation in the United States. We accomplish these outcomes by providing vision, information, strategy, evaluation and resources.
After extensive recent research the group’s president, David Kinnaman, wrote a book on the largely negative take on Christianity by “outsiders,” especially younger ones, that is growing in our culture.
Christianity has an image problem … You may be astonished … how the negative perceptions that your friends, neighbors, and colleagues have of Christianity will shape your life and our culture in the years to come.
Kinnaman says the negative perceptions really are quite negative, are widely spread, and – worst of all – are often based on personal experience. That is, the complaints against us are often because people have actually had a lot of experience with us. And as a result, “they” don’t trust us, and “they” don’t want to be like us.
Our research shows that many of those outside of Christianity, especially younger adults,
have little trust in the Christian faith,
and esteem for the lifestyle of Christ followers is quickly fading among outsiders.
Seems to me we should have known that by now. Many of us have known it.
But often the American religious lifestyle insulates people from their friends and neighbors – so it takes a long formal research project for “insiders” to discover how they – we – are misrepresenting God and the Gospel. Still, we are responsible.
… we are accountable when our actions and attitudes — misrepresenting a holy, just, and loving God — have pushed outsiders away. Often Christianity’s negative image reflects real problems, issues that Christians need to own and be acountable to change.
Kinnaman does not accept the idea that they just misperceive us. They are often seeing what is really there. He speaks of
… a church infatuated with itself. We discovered that many Christians have lost their heart for those outside the faith.
That REALLY does not sound like Jesus’ approach to things! But if we sing, “They will know we are Christians by our love,” won’t that fix it? Well, we do sing it, and lots of folks are not feeling the love.
This is a very serious situation.
How can we in good conscience insist that people join us while so many of them see pretty clearly what’s really going on? We tell ourselves that really we’re ok and eventually we hope to clean up our act a bit. But they’d better join us – or else.
Jesus said “you will know them by their fruit.” What kind of fruit are we producing? What does that say about our roots? Jesus also indicated that you cannot harvest peaches from bull thistles – or vice versa.
What can we do about it? Well, one thing for sure – we have to get better input. I think we really need to read the Gospels a whole lot more than most of us do. After all, that’s the story of the Jesus we claim to believe in, worship, and follow.
And we need to listen to people who are explaining what’s really going on – like, apparently, David Kinnaman. We can add to that list a lot of other folks. Two I will recommend are Dallas Willard and Brian McLaren.
II Corinthians 13:5
Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.
[Kinnaman quotes are from chapter 1 of UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity – and Why it Matters, by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, Baker Books, 2007.]
Here’s more, from a Barna website article (Feb 2008) by Kinnaman:
People are expressing more hostility, doubt, frustration and skepticism toward Christianity – and this is particularly true among young people. Their perceptions of Christians are filled with images of judgmentalism, hypocritical lifestyles and political activism. They also believe Christians have singled out homosexuality above all other sins. They conclude that Christianity is old-fashioned, boring and unintelligent, and that Christians are insincere and too focused on getting converts. The followers of the Prince of Peace are thought to be unable to live peaceably among others.
In fact, one of the most common reactions that young people have about the faith is that present-day Christianity is no longer like Jesus intended. This is where we initially came upon the term “unChristian.” In our research with young people, they kept saying things like, “Christians go about things in an unChristian manner.” “They have forgotten the point of what it means to be a Christian.” “The faith has gotten off track with the teachings of Jesus.”