I enjoyed the interaction with the comments after the first post of this series. I highly encourage you to leave a comment if you read this post – it doesn’t have to be long, but I would appreciate reading your thoughts on this subject and joining our discussion.
The second chapter of UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity… And Why It Matters dives into what they discovered about the faith of outsiders, as well as, Christians in the 16-29 age range. Kinnemon and Lyons noted that the Christianity’s image problem is partly fueled by the unique characteristics of Mosaics and Busters.
Young adults enjoy challenging the rules.
They are also extremely skeptical.
This is partly due to young people, more than any other generation, being targeted by advertising, media and marketing that leads them to have an “incredibly savvy and unusually jaded” mindset.
The authors warn us not to expect in due time these Mosaics and Busters will “grow up and look like everybody else.” We will be disappointed if we do so.
Rather than looking for an end to the generation gap, it is important to recognize its existence, because it can help us understand the thoughts that Mosaics and Busters have about Christianity.
They go on to describe the “contours and complexities of emerging generations.”
Their lifestyles are more diverse than previous generations (education, career, family, values, and leisure).
Relationships is a driving force.
Though they esteem fair-mindedness and diversity, they are irreverent and blunt.
Being skeptical of leaders, products, and institutions is part of their generational coding.
They consume more hours of media from more sources than do older generations.
In a nearly constant search for fresh experiences and new sources of motivation.
They prefer casual and comfortable to stuffy and stilted.
They view life in a nonlinear, chaotic way, which means they don’t mind contradiction and ambiguity.
Spirituality is important to young adults, but many consider it just one element of a successful, eclectic life. Fewer than one out of ten young adults mention faith as their top priority, despite the fact that the vast majority of Busters and Mosaics attended a Christian church during their high school years (emphasis mine).
Those of us involved in youth ministry call this the “great graduation evacuation”. It is not unusual to see with young adults in any generation. However, the authors note that these two generations are less likely to return to church later (as many Boomers did), even when they have kids of their own.
One of the generational differences that they noticed was an increase of hostility and resentment toward Christianity. In 1996 they discovered that 85% of outsiders (all generations) were favorable toward Christianity’s role in society. The younger generation was mirrored this finding. Now it is a different story.
These days nearly two out of every five young outsiders (38 percent) claim to have a “bad impression of present-day Christianity.” Beyond this, one-third of young outsiders said that Christianity represents a negative image with which they would not want to be associated. Furthermore, one out of every six young outsiders (17 percent) indicates that he or she maintains a “very bad” perceptions of the Christian faith…. this group is three times larger than it was a decade ago.
This is hostility is toward all things Christian, but mainly are most frustrated with how Christianity is expressed (especially their impression of born again Christians/evangelicals). They are also aggravated by Christians themselves as well. Why?
We have become famous for what we oppose, rather than what we are for.
We are perceived to have an “us-versus-them” mentality.
Many believe that Christians do not like them because of what they do, how they look, or what they believe.
They feel demonized by those who love Jesus.
These perceptions are very common among young outsiders. In the surveys that they did with young people they found:
The three most common perceptions of present-day Christianity are antihomosexual (an image held by 91 percent of young outsiders), judgmental (87 percent), and hypocritical (85 percent). These “big three” are followed by the following negative perceptions, embraced by a majority of young adults: old-fashioned, too involved in politics, out of touch with reality, insensitive to others, boring, not accepting of others faiths, and confusing. When they think of the Christian faith, these are the images that come to mind. This is what a new generation really thinks about Christianity.
These perceptions of our faith are not based on limited exposure. Many young outsiders cite painful experiences in the church (remember a majority attended church in high school) or have had painful encounters with faith. Another thing to note is that Mosaic and Buster believers share some of the same negative perceptions as outsiders.
Part of the reason that we encounter these perceptions is because our worldview typically runs counter to the worldview of a Mosaic and Buster that have grown up in a morally relativistic culture. Biblical motivations do contribute to those perceptions, and should not be tossed aside. There has been a tendency by some to promote a less offensive faith and parts of our teaching are being omitted or de-emphasized (Jesus becomes hijacked and is portrayed to “be an open minded, big-hearted” moral teacher that never offended anyone.) That is the opposite and equally dangerous extreme that needs to be avoided the authors claim.
We can’t dismiss the perceptions of outsiders by thinking we are just doing what we are supposed be doing in proclaiming God’s truth.
The real problem comes when we recognize God’s holiness but fail to articulate the other side of his character: grace. Jesus represents truth plus grace (see John 1:14). Embracing truth without holding grace in tension leads to harsh legalism, just as grace without truth devolves to compromise. Still, the important insight based on our research is that Mosaics and Busters rarely see Christians who embody service, compassion, humility, forgiveness, patience, kindness, peace, joy, goodness, and love.”
Working with mostly young outsiders in the ministry that I work for I can hardly dispute their findings. It would be easy to become defensive. I’m afraid that at times I’ve advanced these perceptions in my personal relationships and also on this blog. The simple fact based on my experience is that young people rarely have trouble embracing Jesus Christ. It is embracing God’s people that they have a hard time with. What to do?
I think those of us who are Christ-followers need to examine ourselves to see if we are living our lives in a way that validates their perceptions. We shouldn’t through out truth, but do we truly love people as we should? If you were an outsider how would you view… you? How do you think your church would be perceived?
What do you think? If you are an “outsider” do you consider this overview accurate? Your perceptions of the Christian faith is it based more on a Christians conduct or their belief?
I’d love to read your thoughts and dialogue with you … Christian and outsider alike! So please comment.
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