“The church has an image problem.” Is how the book, unChristian, begins. This book, released by the Barna Group, has caused a bit of a stir among evangelical Christians, and it doesn’t take long to figure out why. The results of this exhaustive study show that in America, the image problem is more real and prevalent than most of us would have imagined.
You may react like one of my seminary friends, who said, “I don’t need to buy a several-hundred page book to tell me that. I already know that.” At first, I would have said the same thing. However, after digging into the first few chapters, there is much more to the book than its simple opening phrase might suggest.
The scope of the study is quite broad – a lot bigger than I would have thought – and it targets people in the age range of 16-29. I won’t go into all the numbers and technicality; suffice it to say, their research suggests that the majority of people within this age group are suspicious of the church, and that includes “outsiders” and “insiders.” In other words, both regular church-goers and the unchurched alike perceive the church in increasingly negative ways.
David Kinnaman, the author of the book, lays out the six main themes discovered during the research. According to the research, the church is perceived as:
1. Hypocritical: saying one thing and doing another, they are skeptical of our morally superior attitudes.
2. Too Focused on Getting Converts: outsiders wonder if we really care about them, they feel that we are more concerned about being right than genuinely listening to their concerns.
3. Antihomosexual: we are bigoted, and we are fixated on leveraging political solutions against them.
4. Sheltered: we are boring, and we refuse to respond to reality with complexity, instead preferring simplistic solutions, and we are unwilling to deal with the grime of peoples’ lives.
5. Too Political: we are overly motivated by a political agenda and have confused our cause with the right-wing political agenda.
6. Judgmental: they doubt we really love people as we say we do.
By now, I would assume it’s obvious why this book has generated controversy. It forces us to ask a whole slew of deep questions about ourselves and our faith. Here are just a few bouncing around in my mind:
How much should we be concerned about how “outsiders” perceive us; after all, didn’t Jesus promise persecution to his disciples?
Isn’t being active politically a good thing?
Is it possible to take moral stands without being thought of as judgmental and sheltered?
What if all these critiques of the church are fair and accurate?
FYI, I plan on going through the book chapter by chapter and highlighting the main points as I go.
But, for now, what do you think?