Generation Gap Widening
This chapter provides more background into the rest of the book and provides an introduction to the next six chapters.
One of the interesting dichotomies is the strong desire for Mosaics and Busters to be part of a tribe while maintaining fierce individualism–perhaps disturbing is a better term.
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. Most young people who were involved in a church as a teenager disengage from church life and often from Christianity at some point during early adulthood, creating a deficit of young talent, energy, and leadership in many congregations.1
It’s imperative that we take time to understand the gap and to figure out how to make connections. But we need to be careful not to simply repackage Christianity to be appealing to a particular target audience. I fully believe Jesus is as relevant today as He was when talking to people on earth 2,000 years ago. We need to deal with the tension this causes, not ignore it, while at the same time being consistent. Difficult to say the least.
The leadership at Elevation Church has apparently figured this out. We have friends in Charlotte (and other Elevation locations) that are excited to be part of their vision. My prayer is that the cake is as good on the inside as the icing on the outside appears. I earnestly pray for their leadership and hope with all my heart that they are listening to God in every decision they make. Too many people’s lives are at stake!
The data presented shows a drastic shift toward Christianity’s role in society. In 1996, 85% were favorable to Christianity. By 2006, that number is down to 38%, even to the point that one-third say Christianity represents a negative image, one they don’t want to be associated with. Compare this with:
Their impressions of the Bible are mixed: most think it has good values, but only three out of ten believe that it is accurate in all the principles it teaches.2
This just fuels my desire to see the Bible taught in churches, not for memorization, but for understanding. I pray that God will open the way for the Biblical Literacy Assessment to become a reality that wakes people up to the reality that we all need to comprehend the Bible.
Most Outsiders know the story of Jesus, most have heard, “It’s simple, just accept Jesus, believe in Christ, confess your sins and you will be saved.” (The A-B-Cs of coming to Christ.) I cringe every time I hear a pastor say, “it’s simple” or “all you have to do is…” This quickly becomes a faith that’s centered around something “I do.” Jesus did not teach this sort of cheap grace. Yes, we must come to grips with our sinful nature, confess our sins and accept Christ, but it is not simple. I’m not suggesting we embrace 613 laws that must be followed (or else), just that we get real about our own sinful nature, let transparency become the rule and not the exception. Jesus came to give life to a broken world and we’ve made it a “join the club” atmosphere.
Why So Negative?
Perhaps this is why people react negatively when we boast about the security of our eternal reward compared to their destiny. We are not so important–Jesus is. I strongly agree with Kinnaman’s assertion: “We have become famous for what we oppose, rather than who we are for.”
Six Broad Themes
The next 6 chapters will dive into these topics:
- Too focused on getting converts.
- Too political.
- Perceptions are not formed in a vacuum or based on limited exposure
- Impressions are forged through many inputs: churches, relationships, other religions — conversations with other
- The “secular” media is not as effective as we might expect
- Bad experiences in church have a strongly negative influence on many — not a surprise — something like 30%.
This is where caution must rule. We must not edit the Bible to make it more palpable for outsiders, nor try to look more appealing to satisfy their appetites. Kinnaman refers to this as hijacking Jesus, “softening or reshaping the gospel” to somehow make it more interesting. He believes outsiders want to have conversations and not persuasion sessions.
Do Perceptions Matter?
- What people think about Christians influences how they respond to us. People’s attitudes drive their actions.
- What people think about Christians should help us be objective.
- What people think of Christians can change.
- What people think about Christians reflects personal stories.
Years ago I put a simple reminder on my desk, one that I could see when speaking with anyone: “Perception = Reality.” What someone perceives is in fact their personal reality and that matters to me. That doesn’t give me license to become a chameleon, but it does mean that I take Paul’s words seriously:
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23
A Wake-up Call
One of the things Kinnaman does in this book is to translate the percentages into numbers, e.g., “Millions of young outsiders are mentally and emotionally disengaging from Christianity.” Millions. People that Christ died for. Not a percentage or statistic, rather a list of names we could create if we were so motivated. That is profoundly sad. What am I doing today to remove one name from that list? Lord, I pray that you will show me some way to more someone off of that list each day and that I would teach others to do the same!
Responding to unChristian Faith
Jesus’ answer is recorded in John 17 as our Savior prays for his disciples:
17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
I found a post by David Mathis interesting, “So let’s revise the popular phrase “in, but not of.” Christians are not of this world, but sent into it. Not of, but sent into.” I hope and pray that we become unhappy with churches that are so inwardly focused that they miss the command to be sent into the world by Jesus himself. We have a mission to complete. Lord help us!
1 Kinnaman, David; Lyons, Gabe (2007-10-01). unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity…and Why It Matters (p. 23). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
2 ibid, p. 24