January 27-28, 2011

If you have ever wondered why non-Christians reject the gospel and turn down your invitation to attend your church, then I have a book for you. Barna Research has produced a book entitled, unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity. This book helps us understand why non-Christians seem so cold to the claims of Christianity.

The researchers found that a minority of young people who believe that labels like “respect, love, hope, and trust” describe Christianity. But the rest have lost respect for Christianity. David Kennaman, President of the Barna Research Group and one of the authors of the book, says we need to resolve this perception problem if we are to connect with the youngest generation.

He lists six common perceptions that non-Christians have about Christians and Christianity.

1. Hypocritical – outsiders to Christianity believe that Christians say one thing and do another. They found that 84 percent knew a Christian, but only 15 percent believed that the Christian they knew acted consistently with his or her beliefs.

Hypocrisy is not just a 21st century phenomenon. Lately I have preached on the subject of hypocrisy and have been reminded how Jesus spoke so strongly against hypocrisy in the 1st century. But this survey shows that Christians must be authentic and acting consistently with Christian beliefs.

2. Focused on converts – outsiders often feel more like targets. Christians want to get them saved, but they don’t listen to them and these outsiders don’t feel truly loved.

3. Anti-homosexual – the younger generation is less likely to see homosexuality as sin so they equate Christians with being anti-homosexual. There is a real need for us to show biblical compassion as we also address this issue with our biblical convictions.

4. Sheltered – outsiders feel that Christians often offer simplistic answers to the complex and troubling aspects of modern life. They perceive us an old-fashioned, boring, and generally out of touch with reality.

5. Political – often outsiders perceive Christianity as merely an extension of right-wing politics. They feel Christians are too political or are motivated by political interests. That doesn’t mean Christians shouldn’t be salt and light, but they should be aware that this is a connection that non-Christians often make.

6. Judgmental – nearly 90 percent of outsiders say the term “judgmental” accurately describes Christians today. Only 20 percent of outsiders view the church as a place where people are accepted and loved unconditionally. Christians sadly are known more for their criticism than for their love. And we may be so fixated with sin that we cannot really love broken people.

As we look at the six perceptions, we should admit that some of these criticisms would surface no matter how well Christians try to be loving and gracious. After all, many of these same people would probably call Jesus judgmental. So some of these perceptions will be with us no matter what we say or do.

But I think it is important for us to be real and authentic rather than hypocritical. And we should be relevant rather than sheltered. So there is some work for us to do if we are to effectively reach the next generation. I’m Kerby Anderson, and that’s my point of view.