UnChristian: What New Generation Thinks of Christianity / Dave Kinnaman

I place this update from BARNA, the premier Evangelical research organization for studying Christian and cultural trends on earth.

I am saddened by this article to a very great degree.

I find it interesting and ironic, but completely necessary, that Latter-day Saints would be desiring to draw closer to Christianity at a time when, in the United States and western Europe, it is becoming hated and despised. Perhaps we are meant to help other Christians understand how to deal with this reality, having suffered it largely at their hand. In my view, realization of this perception should not be a reason to pull away from them or slow the dialog, but a reason speed it up. It is obvious that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is dependent completey on the existence of a Christian culture to flourish itself, and to that extent is vitally interested in improving that image.

I also recognize that, sadly, some Christians (including some Christian-but-different Latter-day Saints) are too judgemental and not loving enough in their relations with outsiders, and need to learn the lesson of this book.

I know that Seeker-friendly Evangelical churches like Salldeback recognize the problem, and the the Emergent Church movement would probably see itself as the answer to the problem. For me, the jury is out on the Emergent Church movement. Having looked into it in some detail, I fear that it gives up too much of Christian teaching, and essentially gives up and adopts the methods of post-modernism, which to me are a dangerous step in the direction of secularism and humanism.

I also detect that a large source of the anger towards Christianity is based on innuendo and rumor, and they unfortunately have the tone of blind antogonism toward Mormonism.

While the United States follows Europe into secular humanism and thus western civilization is rapidly dwindling, the southern hemisphere, Central and South America, Africa, India and China, are experiencing a flowering of Christianity as has not happened since the early days. The Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches and concervative Anglican/Episcopal churches are growing very quickly. And Protestantism, of a charismatic form, is especially reaching people. Most of these Christians are very poor, but have great faith, and believe that the gifts of the spirit have been restored. Many people are converted because Christian missionaries and neighbors pray for them and they are healed of their diseases.

I have posted a BARNA update on the subject of western Christianity’s perception of Christianity, plus exerpts from the introduction and first chapter of a book by David Kinnaman (whose image is posted with this article) called “UnChristian”.

Thanks much,
Steve St.Clair

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A New Generation Expresses its Skepticism and Frustration with Christianity
BARNA Update
September 24, 2007

(Ventura, CA) – As the nation’s culture changes in diverse ways, one of the most significant shifts is the declining reputation of Christianity, especially among young Americans. A new study by The Barna Group conducted among 16- to 29-year-olds shows that a new generation is more skeptical of and resistant to Christianity than were people of the same age just a decade ago.

The study of Christianity’s slipping image is explored in a new book, entitled unChristian, by David Kinnaman, the president of The Barna Group. The study is a result of collaboration between Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons of the Fermi Project.

Rising Reactions

The study shows that 16- to 29-year-olds exhibit a greater degree of criticism toward Christianity than did previous generations when they were at the same stage of life. In fact, in just a decade, many of the Barna measures of the Christian image have shifted substantially downward, fueled in part by a growing sense of disengagement and disillusionment among young people. For instance, a decade ago the vast majority of Americans outside the Christian faith, including young people, felt favorably toward Christianity’s role in society. Currently, however, just 16% of non-Christians in their late teens and twenties said they have a “good impression” of Christianity.

One of the groups hit hardest by the criticism is evangelicals. Such believers have always been viewed with skepticism in the broader culture. However, those negative views are crystallizing and intensifying among young non-Christians. The new study shows that only 3% of 16 – to 29-year-old non-Christians express favorable views of evangelicals. This means that today’s young non-Christians are eight times less likely to experience positive associations toward evangelicals than were non-Christians of the Boomer generation (25%).

The research shows that many Christians are innately aware of this shift in people’s perceptions of Christianity: 91% of the nation’s evangelicals believe that “Americans are becoming more hostile and negative toward Christianity.” Among senior pastors, half contend that “ministry is more difficult than ever before because people are increasingly hostile and negative toward Christianity.”

The Set of Perceptions

While Christianity has typically generated an uneven reputation, the research shows that many of the most common critiques are becoming more concentrated. The study explored twenty specific images related to Christianity, including ten favorable and ten unfavorable perceptions. Among young non-Christians, nine out of the top 12 perceptions were negative. Common negative perceptions include that present-day Christianity is judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), old-fashioned (78%), and too involved in politics (75%) – representing large proportions of young outsiders who attach these negative labels to Christians. The most common favorable perceptions were that Christianity teaches the same basic ideas as other religions (82%), has good values and principles (76%), is friendly (71%), and is a faith they respect (55%).

Even among young Christians, many of the negative images generated significant traction. Half of young churchgoers said they perceive Christianity to be judgmental, hypocritical, and too political. One-third said it was old-fashioned and out of touch with reality.

Interestingly, the study discovered a new image that has steadily grown in prominence over the last decade. Today, the most common perception is that present-day Christianity is “anti-homosexual.” Overall, 91% of young non-Christians and 80% of young churchgoers say this phrase describes Christianity. As the research probed this perception, non-Christians and Christians explained that beyond their recognition that Christians oppose homosexuality, they believe that Christians show excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians. One of the most frequent criticisms of young Christians was that they believe the church has made homosexuality a “bigger sin” than anything else. Moreover, they claim that the church has not helped them apply the biblical teaching on homosexuality to their friendships with gays and lesbians.

The ‘UnChristian’ Label

When young people were asked to identify their impressions of Christianity, one of the common themes was “Christianity is changed from what it used to be” and “Christianity in today’s society no longer looks like Jesus.” These comments were the most frequent unprompted images that young people called to mind, mentioned by one-quarter of both young non-Christians (23%) and born again Christians (22%).

Kinnaman explained, “That’s where the term ‘unChristian’ came from. Young people are very candid. In our interviews, we kept encountering young people – both those inside the church and outside of it – who said that something was broken in the present-day expression of Christianity. Their perceptions about Christianity were not always accurate, but what surprised me was not only the severity of their frustration with Christians, but also how frequently young born again Christians expressed some of the very same comments as young non-Christians.”

Changing Allegiances

One reason that Christianity’s image is changing is due to the shifting faith allegiances of Americans. Simply put, each new generation has a larger share of people who are not Christians (that is, atheists, agnostics, people associated with another faith, or those who have essentially no faith orientation). The new book refers to this group as “outsiders” because they are describing what Christianity looks like from an outsider’s perspective. Among adults over the age of 40, only about one-quarter qualify as outsiders, while among the 16 to 29 segment, two-fifths are outsiders. This represents a significant migration away from the dominant role that Christianity has had in America.

The Proportion of those “Outside” Christianity is Growing with Each Generation (Source: The Barna Group, Ltd. 2007). As pointed out in the Barna Update related to

atheists and agnostics, this is not a passing fad wherein young people will become “more Christian” as they grow up. While Christianity remains the typical experience and most common faith in America, a fundamental recalibration is occurring within the spiritual allegiance of America’s upcoming generations.

Yet, the research shows that millions of young outsiders have significant experience with Christians and Christian churches. The typical young outsider says they have five friends who are Christians; more than four out of five have attended a Christian church for a period of at least six months in the past; and half have previously considered becoming a Christian.

“Older generations more easily dismiss the criticism of those who are outsiders,” Kinnaman said. “But we discovered that young leaders and young Christians are more aware of and concerned about the views of outsiders, because they are more likely to interact closely with such people. Their life is more deeply affected by the negative image of Christianity. For them, what Christianity looks like from an outsider’s perspective has greater relevance, because outsiders are more likely to be schoolmates, colleagues, and friends.”

Responding to the Research

David Kinnaman, who is a 12-year-veteran of the Barna team, pointed out some of the unexpected findings of the research. “Going into this three-year project, I assumed that people’s perceptions were generally soft, based on misinformation, and would gradually morph into more traditional views. But then, as we probed why young people had come to such conclusions, I was surprised how much their perceptions were rooted in specific stories and personal interactions with Christians and in churches. When they labeled Christians as judgmental this was not merely spiritual defensiveness. It was frequently the result of truly ‘unChristian’ experiences. We discovered that the descriptions that young people offered of Christianity were more thoughtful, nuanced, and experiential than expected.”

“Some Christians fear the changing reputation of Christianity and it certainly represents an uncomfortable future. Yet, rather than being defensive or dismissive, we should learn from critics, especially those young Christians who are expressing consternation about the state of faith in America. Jesus told us to expect hostility and negative reactions. That is certainly nothing new. But the issue is what we do with it. Is it a chance to defend yourself and demand your rights? Or is it an opportunity to show people grace and truth? Common ground is becoming more difficult to find between Christians and those outside the faith. When the Apostle Paul advises believers to ‘live wisely among those who are not Christians’ and to ‘let your conversation be gracious and effective,’ (Colossians 4:5-6, NLT) he could be writing no better advice to committed Christians in America.”

The book also includes exclusive perspective from 30 Christian leaders, including Mark Batterson, Chuck Colson, Louie Giglio, Dan Kimball, Brian McLaren, Kevin Palau, John Stott, and Rick Warren. Kinnaman described their contribution as an effort “to make sense of the complex and challenging project – both why the problems exist as well as what Christians ought to do in response to the information. We looked for the biblical space in order to respond to the sharpest criticism. Beyond simply reporting the problems that we discovered among a skeptical generation, my partner Gabe Lyons and I want the book to help Christians find a way forward, to read positive examples and find hope that their life can provide a clearer picture of Jesus to skeptical people around them.”

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UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity … and Why It Matters
David Kinnaman

Foreward by George Barna

About twelve years ago we had an intern from Biola University start working with us. I didn’t think much about it. We’d had other interns, and they were usually nice kids seeking some college credit while doing as little as they could possibly get away with. If they learned something along the way, they seemed to perceive it as a bonus.

But there’s always the exception to the rule. David Kinnaman was ours.

David was a tall, skinny, quiet kid who asked a lot of questions – good ones – and worked hard. He was clearly intelligent and a team player. He seemed genuinely interested in learning how marketing research was done and how such information could advance meaningful ministry. He was committed to making a viable contribution to our efforts.

By the time his graduation approached, we realized he could be a significant asset to our team, so we offered him a job. Since that time, he has done practically every function in the business, from grunt work to high-level presentations with major business and ministry clients. He has managed hundreds of national research studies, generated new business opportunities, created syndicated reports, interacted with the media to describe our research results, spoken at conferences, developed internal systems, hired and fired staff – you name it; he’s done it all. He has worked his way up to become the president of The Barna Group. Yet despite having written hundreds of client reports and dozens of published articles, David had never felt led to write a book.

But there’s always an exception to the rule. UnChristian is his.

This is his first book, but it is an important book – for you, for the church, and for our nation. I encourage you to do four things in response to reading this volume. First, appreciate David Kinnaman as one of a handful of young adults who are emerging today who understand the church, our nation’s culture, and how to bless people with truth and wisdom. This is a rare combination of gifts and talents. I expect David to be one of the people who will help the Christian community find its way through the maze of challenges and opportunities that await it. Such leadership is a huge gift from God, but we must appreciate that gift if we are to reap the benefit it represents.

Second, understand the depth and breadth of the objective research that forms the foundation of this book. Most of the books published about culture and faith are based on the author’s personal opinions and a few idiosyncratic anecdotes. Such a basis for cultural evaluation is of limited value. David, on the other hand, has spent years collecting and studying reams of national survey data in an effort to truly grasp the big picture and its nuances. UnChristian is based on research, even though he has gone to great lengths to write the book in such a way that your eyes will not glaze over in response to an overload of statistics, charts, and tables. But that effort to make the research more digestible does not mean he has taken shortcuts. His effort is based on rigorous research and the difficult process of communicating statistics in everyday language.

Third, learn from the expert analysis and interpretation that David provides in relation to the perspective that our society has of American Christians and their faith. He has gone way beyond mere reporting of the data to dig deeper into the meaning and context of the findings. He has also interacted with numerous people to glean their insights into what the facts mean from their vantage point. What you are reading is a logical, carefully reasoned narrative about the past, present, and future state of society and the Christian faith.

Finally, I encourage you to pray. Pray that you will understand and be touched by the wisdom imparted in these pages. Pray for the Christian church, in all of its varieties, in America. Pray for your role in being the church to a culture that is gospel-ignorant, if not gospel-resistant. Pray for the leaders of the church, who must understand the arguments David has set forth in this book if they are to be strategic agents for the kingdom of God. And pray for your own influence for that kingdom in times that are changing, uncertain, and challenging.

One of the discussions that David and I have shared over the years is that God does not call leaders to be popular but only to be obedient to him. In that vein, I should warn you that David has written some things you will not like. So be it. Your job is not to anesthetize yourself with congratulatory prose about the state of the world or the church, but to deal with reality, even when it is embarrassing or hurtful. You don’t have to like what he has written, but you do have to deal with it.

So I give my thanks to David for writing the truth, as best we can understand it. And I send my thanks to you for considering how these perspectives must affect your contribution to the kingdom of God and the world in which we serve him.
George Barna Founder, The Barna Group Chairman, Good News Holdings May 2007

Chapter 1
The BackStory: Seeing Christianity from the Outside

Christianity has an image problem.

If you’ve lived in America for very long, I doubt this surprises you. But it brings up important questions. Just what exactly do people think about Christians and Christianity? Why do these perceptions exist? Obviously, people believe their views are accurate (otherwise they would disavow them), but do their perceptions reflect reality? And why do people’s perceptions matter – should they matter – to Christ followers?

I have spent the last three years studying these questions through extensive interviews and research. You may be astonished to learn just how significant the dilemma is – and 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. 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. They admit their emotional and intellectual barriers go up when they are around Christians, and they reject Jesus because they feel rejected by Christians. I will describe how and why this is happening later in this book, but for the moment think about what this means. It changes the tenor of people’s discussions about Christianity. It alters their willingness to commit their lives to Jesus.

If you are interested in communicating and expressing Christ to new generations, you must understand the intensity with which they hold these views. As Christians, we cannot just throw up our hands in disgust or defensiveness. We have a responsibility to our friends and neighbors to have a sober, reasonable understanding of their perspectives.

For some time I have had a sense of this image problem, yet I never fully realized its depth, not until an unlikely source pointed me in the right direction. The telephone call that began this adventure is still lodged in my memory. Let me explain.

“David, I am quitting my job.”

I couldn’t mistake my friend Gabe Lyons’s self-assured voice. “Really? Are you crazy?” I blurted out.

“Probably,” he said, with the rounded edges of his slight Southern accent. “But I am sure it’s the right time, and I have a clear sense that it’s now or never. And God has given me a vision for what I am supposed to be doing.” He paused and then said matter-of-factly, “I can’t do it here.”

“Well, what are you going to do, Gabe? Where are you going to work? You must have a plan. Do you have a company in mind?” (As a professional researcher, rarely do I have trouble coming up with questions. This moment was no exception.)

“I am not going to work for another company. I am going to start my own organization. It’s going to be a nonprofit. I know I’ll have to raise funds to make it work, but I want-“

I interrupted him. “But you’re leaving a great job! You’re being mentored by a widely respected Christian leader. It pays well. You have a chance of really helping a lot of people spiritually.” Trying to persuade my friend to reevaluate, I urged, “You should really think about this before you make such a big change.”

When I finished, Gabe was quiet. Good, I thought. He’s thinking about my advice. I felt a glimmer of pride. It was solid feedback, I reasoned. Then after a few moments, I broke the silence, “Gabe? You there?”

“David.” He spoke my name slowly. I could hear the frustration. “I have thought and prayed about this more than you know. My family is behind this. I am going to do this. I don’t look back once I make a decision.” He paused. “Will you let me explain what I feel God has been leading me to do?”

I couldn’t think of much to say. “Yes, of course … sorry.”

“I am gonna sound crazy, I know, but I want to help a new generation of leaders understand the perceptions and images that young people have of Christianity – what people really think of us.” He spoke thoughtfully and deliberately. “People have a lot of opinions about our faith, and every time I strike up a conversation with a friend or neighbor, it seems like those perceptions are incredibly negative. Let’s face it – what people think becomes their reality, and although we may not deserve all those images, some of their thoughts about us may be accurate.”

“Well, you’re right about the negative perceptions,” I said, mentioning some research my company had done on the subject. “But what do you think you can do?”

“I am still trying to get my head around this,” Gabe replied. “I believe that the image young people have of the Christian faith is in real trouble. They hold stereotypes of Christians, and we make assumptions about them. I don’t understand what all that looks like, how that happened, or even whether it’s something that can, or should, be fixed. But I want to help start conversations and lead people to start thinking about how to bridge this divide between us and them.”

Then my friend Gabe spent some time describing his ideas in greater detail.

“Wow,” was all I could muster. “That’s a big vision. You know me; I hate to see you leave a great career, but this new direction sounds like something you should consider.”

Gabe laughed. “I already told you, David. I am doing it, not considering it.”

I laughed too, as I thought about our different personalities bouncing off each other again, as they had so many times in our friendship.

“But how I do it is another thing. There is lots to do,” he said, his voice trailing off. “Oh, and I have an important question for you.”

“Yeah, what’s that?” I asked, oblivious to how his request would shape the next few years of my life.

“I am going to raise some money to fund a major research project on this.” He paused to let the moment hang out there. “And I would like you to do that research.”

That’s how this book began.

An Unexpected Jouney

I get a chance to learn something with every research study our firm, The Barna Group, conducts. Yet I could not have imagined how much God would use this research to open my eyes. At first, I took on the project because I felt we would learn how Christians could connect more effectively with people outside the faith. If we understood outsiders’ objections, I reasoned, perhaps we could better connect with them. But what we found was their perceptions are more than superficial image problems. Often outsiders’ perceptions of Christianity reflect a church infatuated with itself. We discovered that many Christians have lost their heart for those outside the faith. The negative perceptions are not just “images” conjured up to debase Christianity. Yes, the issues are complex. No, it is not always “our” fault.

However, if we do not deal with our part of the problem, we will fail to connect with a new generation. We are not responsible for outsiders’ decisions, but 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 accountable to change. My purpose in writing this book is to pry open the hearts and minds of Christians, to prepare us to deal with a future where people will be increasingly hostile and skeptical toward us. A new generation is waiting for us to respond.

Three years ago, when Gabe first called to describe his job change, the research excited me. But the Barna team has the privilege of doing a wide range of fascinating research, so, frankly, I had no unusually high expectations for the project. For the most part, it just represented more deadlines!

Along the way, Gabe and I found that this project deeply shifted our perspectives about those outside of Christianity. We felt compelled to share these findings with you in this book. The things we were learning in this research started to spill out in other projects, writing, and conversations. Artists will tell you that, after a long creative session, they start to perceive the world through the lens of their medium. Research is like that for me. I don’t see reality clearly until I have a chance to analyze it thoroughly through carefully constructed research.

What began as a three-month project has turned into a three-year study to grasp the picture God was revealing through the data. In that process, I have examined more than a dozen nationally representative surveys (reflecting thousands of interviews) and listened attentively to the stories of people who are on the outside of Christianity. A major component of the study was a series of interviews we did with a representative sample of sixteen to twenty-nine-year-olds. We also interviewed hundreds of pastors and church leaders. And we probed the views of Christians to understand their thoughts on the issues and how much they are in tune with the image problem and the deeply rooted issues it represents. Through these surveys and interviews, the Lord has graciously helped me understand the experiences and in many cases the very real offenses, confusions, questions, discouragements, and disappointments that people have had when interacting with Christianity.

It’s not a pretty picture.

Why UnChristian?

Using the lens of the careful, scientific research we conducted, I invite you to see what Christianity looks like from the outside. In fact, the title of this book, unChristian, reflects outsiders’ most common reaction to the faith: they think Christians no longer represent what Jesus had in mind, that Christianity in our society is not what it was meant to be. I will describe this in greater detail in chapter 2, but for many people the Christian faith looks weary and threadbare. They admit they have a hard time actually seeing Jesus because of all the negative baggage that now surrounds him.

One outsider from Mississippi made this blunt observation: “Christianity has become bloated with blind followers who would rather repeat slogans than actually feel true compassion and care. Christianity has become marketed and streamlined into a juggernaut of fearmongering that has lost its own heart.”

After thousands of interviews and countless hours studying non-Christians, I believe outsiders would want this book titled unChristian. Young people today are incredibly candid. They do not hold back their opinions. I want to capture outsiders’ expressions and views in these pages. I don’t agree with everything they say. Yet if I am going to be your guide to the hearts and minds of people outside Christianity – if you are going to really understand them – I feel compelled to represent their viewpoint fairly and candidly, even if it is uncomfortable for those of us who are Christians. To engage nonChristians and point them to Jesus, we have to understand and approach them based on what they really think, not what we assume about them. We can’t overcome their hostility by ignoring it. We need to understand their unvarnished views of us. Therefore this book reflects outsiders’ unfiltered reactions to Christianity.

So unChristian it is.

Even though some of the realities are uncomfortable, I have no intention of picking on Christ followers. Far from it. My purpose is not to berate Christians. You won’t find here the names of any Christian leaders who have done wrong things. From time to time, I will use an anonymous illustration to show why some of the negative perceptions exist. Yet the point is not to pick on any particular person. Every Christ follower bears some degree of responsibility for the image problem (I’ll explain that later); it is not helpful to assign blame to those who have made mistakes.

Still, for the things we can influence – our lives, our churches, the way we express Christianity to others – I hope that by helping you better understand people’s skepticism, your capacity to love people will increase, offering them genuine hope and real compassion through Jesus Christ. Paul, the most prominent writer of the New Testament, says, “While knowledge may make us feel important, it is love that really builds up the church” (1Cor. 8:1).

New Directions

Along with describing the data and experiences of outsiders, this book includes the reactions from over two dozen Christian leaders and pastors, some well-known and others less so. As Gabe and I talked about the direction of this book, we felt that you should hear from these leaders. They are on the front lines of dealing with the hostility that Christianity faces, and you should understand what they are doing and how they are thinking. These men and women, in action and attitude, are helping to reshape the negative images. They are helping to articulate a “kinder, gentler” faith – one that engages people but does not compromise its passion for Jesus or its theological understanding of him.

I hope you will be challenged and inspired through the research and the contributors’ thoughts. The church desperately needs more people who facilitate a deeper, more authentic vision of the Christian faith in our pluralistic, sophisticated culture.

Before we dig in, allow me to describe some important details about this book. First, let me clarify some of the language. The main group we studied is “outsiders,” those looking at the Christian faith from the outside. This group includes atheists, agnostics, those affiliated with a faith other than Christianity (such as Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Mormonism, and so on), and other unchurched adults who are not born-again Christians. According to the research, part of the problem is we often describe these people with derogatory labels and terms, which they often find offensive. Christians use terms like “pagans” or “the lost” or worse. Other phrases are also inadequate, such as “nonChristians” (which defines them simply by what they are not) as well as “nonbelievers” or “seekers” (labels that are not necessarily true of all outsiders).

Labeling people can undermine our ability to see them as human beings and as individuals. I am not entirely comfortable using the term “outsiders,” since it seems to classify people by where they are not, but for the sake of discussing perceptions, we have to use something. And I do not believe that, in the sense we are using it, most outsiders would take offense.

I will also use two terms that relate to the primary generations we studied, Mosaics (born between 1984 and 2002) and Busters (born between 1965 and 1983). This book will focus primarily on the oldest Mosaics, those in their late teens up through age twenty-two, and the youngest Busters, primarily describing those under thirty. For the sake of clarity, unless I specifically describe otherwise, when I mention Mosaics and Busters, I am referring to the sixteen- to twenty-nine-year-old set. Keep in mind that identifying a “generation” is an analytical tool for understanding our culture and the people within it. It simply reflects the idea that people who are born over a certain period of time are influenced by a unique set of circumstances and global events, moral and social values, technologies, and cultural and behavioral norms. The result is that every generation has a different way of seeing life. Recognizing the generational concept as a tool, rather than as definitive for every person, means that exceptions are to be expected.

Second, this book is based on the belief that God wants us to pay attention to outsiders because he cares about them. The Bible says he patiently gives everyone time to turn to him (see 2Peter 3:9). He is described as a father who waits for the safe homecoming of his children, even if they have disappointed him (see Luke 15:11-32). As Christians, we should have this mindset toward outsiders. And because of the sheer number of outsiders, we need to recognize their concerns. There are about twenty-four million outsiders in this country who are ages sixteen to twenty-nine. It is significant to note that outsiders are becoming less and less a “fringe” segment of American society. Each generation contains more than the last, which helps explain their growing influence. For instance, outsiders make up about one-quarter of Boomers (ages forty-two to sixty) and Elders (ages sixty-one-plus). But among adult Mosaics and Busters, more than one-third are part of this category, a number that increases to two-fifths of sixteen- to twenty-nine-year-olds.

If we want to influence new generations, we have to pay attention to the swelling group of outsiders.

The Outsiders – A Growing Part of Our Society

(This book focuses on the sixteen- to twenty-nine-year-old segment,that is, the leading edge of the Mosaic generation and the trailing half of the Buster cohort.)


Third, Christianity’s image problem is not merely the perception of young outsiders. Those inside the church see it as well – especially Christians in their twenties and thirties. I was unprepared for the research showing that Mosaic and Buster Christians are skeptical of present-day Christianity. There are a number of reasons for this, which we will explore in the chapters to follow, but we must grasp the idea that young people in our churches are also feeling the heat of these negative perceptions. They are bringing up some of the same challenges, questions, and doubts facing those outside the church.

A fourth detail is to remember the size and scope of Christianity in America. Yes, there are many “flavors” of the Christian faith, and it may not dominate society, as some secularists declare. Yet everyone has to deal with the massive numbers of people who are part of the Christian tradition: the vast majority of Americans identify themselves as Christians; most adults in this country say they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life; and nearly half are relatively active churchgoers. Of course, the depth of most Christians’ faith leaves much to be desired, but the fact is Christianity leaves an enormous footprint in America.

You have to keep the overwhelming size of American Christianity in mind because part of the reason that people agitate against the Christian faith is due to the real – and perceived – position of influence it has had. It is not a good time to be the favored team. It’s in vogue to be different, under the radar, and independent. Christianity feels like none of these things.

As Christians, we have to avoid being defensive about the culture’s push to remove Christianity’s power in society. This book never advocates that we try to become more popular. Our task is to be effective agents of spiritual transformation in people’s lives, whatever that may cost in time, comfort, or image. Yet we have to realize that if the enormous number of Christians in this country has not achieved the level of positive influence hoped for, it’s not the fault of a skeptical culture.

Finally, this book is designed to be a mirror for you to see yourself and your faith reflected more clearly. Through this process, God rolled up the blinds so I could see my own capacity for spiritual pride and how often self-absorption inhibits my ability to see people for who and what they really are. My prayer is that God will reveal your attitudes and stereotypes as you ponder this research. I hope you will more carefully consider how firmly people reject – and feel rejected by – Christians, and that you come away feeling inspired with ways you can make a difference.

While I expect most readers will be Christians, I also hope that those outside of Christianity will find this book to be positive, affirming, and representative of their perspectives. If this describes you, my goal is to help you reconsider the person of Jesus Christ. Christians make a lot of mistakes, and often those costly errors and arrogant attitudes undermine a deep desire that Jesus would become vividly real to you. (I can think of conversations I’ve had that stole a part of God’s reputation because I reduced the Christian message to a “who-is-more-right” argument.)

Jesus is so much more than a logical proof. His life is the starting point where our lives can really begin. Perhaps as you read this book, you will discover a more complete picture of Jesus, a transcendent yet personal God who loves and accepts you perfectly, who wants to shape you and give your life deep meaning and purpose. This is the Jesus I want to describe, even if the actions and attitudes of Christ followers have not always represented this to you.

Still, whether insider or outsider, you need to understand just what the Mosaic and Buster generations think about Christianity. Are you ready to take a look?

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