People say all different kinds of things with statistics. Pollsters are a mainstay of ministry people as they try to either justify what they are doing or prove to someone that they are right or not. I’ve never been a big fan of doing the kind of tedious work required to gather the information found in books like Comeback Churches or our current feature, but I have found the information helpful once someone has done the work. David Kinnaman is the president of The Barna Group, which collects this kind of information for Christian ministries, and he has done this data collection well for several years. This is his first time to write more than a collective report for the group commissioning the research, and the book that is the result is shattering, while not altogether unexpected.
At the request of Gabe Lyons, who at the time was preparing to start what has become the Fermi Project, Kinnaman set out to find out what the upcoming generations of young adults think of Christians and Christianity. What he found over a three year study gives the modern expression of the church more than just pause for thought, but a siren-laden wake-up call that, if ignored will contribute to the slow, painful, gasping death of the church as we know it. However, if we perk up our ears and listen to the cry that is coming out of the “Buster” and “Mosaic” generations, we can make adjustments and return to the church Christ promised to build on the faith statement of Simon Peter.
The book itself is written in such a way as to be read by even the most statistically challenged of us all. In it you will find the findings that younger adults (both from within and without the church) find these common perceptions of Christians and Christianity:
- Too focused on getting converts.
- Too political.
Regardless of whether we agree with the assessment or not, Kinnaman suggests that Christians must pay attention to the perceptions because they are the perceptions that are driving young people out of the church and away from Christ.
Throughout the book you will find not only Kinnaman’s assessment, but also suggested responses to move us from living out “unChristian faith” and being more Christ-like in our actions from leading Christians in America today. Most poignant, I believe, are the quotations scattered throughout the text—some from the interviewees in the research, and some from Christians who are trying to get the faithful back on track. In reaction to the perception that Christians are anti-homosexual, 34-year-old Peter said, “It’s very much an “us-versus-them” mentality, as if a war has been declared. Of course each side thinks the other fired the opening shot.”
Perhaps some of the perceptions held by these young “outsiders” (those who are not part of the established church) are well-deserved. In a conversation with a friend, Kinnaman relates the story of how one church leader turned people away from a “free” concert because he didn’t want “those people infecting our youth group.” (see pages 190-191 for the account)
The difference between this book and others that are meant to wake up the church such as I’m OK, You’re Not is that while the information may be scary and even maddening to Christ followers, it is not presented in shock form, but with a loving attitude toward both the Christian and the outsider as well.
As with all research of this type, the statistics will be current for at most five years, and then more reports will be necessary. But for today, Christians need to read this book if for no other reason than to open their eyes. (Five out of five reading glasses—get this book and read it.)