David Kinnaman & Gabe Lyons collaborated on unchristian in 2007 using research from the Barna Group. Through careful review of extensive research, unchristian identifies six perceptions that younger Americans (Busters and Mosaics) hold of today’s evangelicals. The list is no surprise to those of us who live and work inside the evangelical community, and it’s not good: 1) Hypocritical – Christians fake their faith, pretending to be something they are not. 2) Obsessed with converts – Do Christians care about people or decisions? 3) Antihomosexual – Christians are perceived as hating the sin AND the sinner. 4) Sheltered – rather than face tough issues Christians settle for simplistic solutions. 5) Too political – those outside the Christian faith feel that Christians have traded the spiritual beliefs for a political agenda. 6) Judgmental – Christians do not appear to love anyone, including other Christians.
Those items are really not much of a surprise. If you have had any conversations with younger adults outside the church you are well aware of these perceptions. What is more of a surprise is that these views are also commonly held by young adults inside the church! It appears that there is an increasingly widening generational gap between those who are committed to perpetuating status-quo Christianity (with a few tweaks and nudges here and there) and those who see the church filled with people who behave more unchristian than christian.
Kinnaman and Lyons present a thorough review of the research without advocating a more palatable, non-offensive Gospel. Instead they strongly affirm a clear and complete Gospel where “Jesus is the legitimate path to a dynamic spiritual world that exists beyond our five senses.” The problem may be that today’s younger adults do not see that clear and complete Gospel in their churches. Instead, “even after participating in Christian churches, this is not apparent to most young outsiders who see following Christ something like belong to a social club that adheres to a nice set of life principles.” (p. 124)
Gabe Lyons’ afterword reads like a manifesto for a new day in the church. On p. 224 he writes: “It comes down to this: we must become Christlike again. …when you recognize that being Christian demands more than simply saying a prayer, assenting to a statement of belief, and going to heaven when you die, it becomes more personally challenging. Add the concept that being Christian means being God’s agent of common grace in the world, and the task becomes even more sobering.” (p. 224-225)
If you are a leader in the church you should read this book. Secondchair leaders will find significant support for re-shaping ministries within the church and equipping people to create new and effective ministries of compassion, generosity, and service in their communities. Mine the data in unchristian and you will question whether you should really be expending energy to create more Sunday School classes, men’s breakfasts, or evangelism seminars. The world outside the church is changing rapidly and the church has not responded effectively to this changing culture. To keep the church from being completely marginalized, NextGen Christian leaders will need to lead the way. unchristian points them in the right direction.