Thursday, December 17, 2015

Overcoming unChristian Branding

I use this story for a reason. I do not intend to disparage this church (which I have intentionally not identified). I describe this episode to point out how often Christians are self-absorbed and unaware of their own image. Christians often lose sight of the reality of how they come across to people.

In fact, we are like this more than we realize. Paul uses an apt metaphor when writing to the early Christian community (2 Corinthians 3:2): “You yourselves are our letter … known and read by everybody.”

When someone reads your life — or your church — what does it say? When you encounter negative press — either specifically concerning your church or about Christianity in general — what does this tell you? How do you respond — defensively, or with graciousness and willingness to learn?

Part of dealing with negative press is to understand where it comes from, how people derive their image of you. In ministering to a skeptical culture, we need to fully grasp why people are skeptical. In proclaiming truth to a secular society, we need to admit that our flaws often obscure the Truth we seek to represent.

After all, if our world is not what it ought to be, maybe we need to be the first to acknowledge that we are partly responsible.

This admission goes to the heart of my most recent research. Christianity has an image problem. People on the outside are quick to point out the gaps between what we say we believe and how we live. A new generation of Americans is putting more distance between themselves and the Christian faith. People are expressing more hostility, doubt, frustration, and skepticism toward Christianity. This is especially true among young people. They perceive Christians as judgmental, hypocritical, and grabbing for political power.

Millions of non-Christians (and many Christians as well) believe Christians have made homosexuality worse than other sins. In fact, we recently discovered that most senior pastors believe that Christians have not exhibited enough love in addressing homosexuality. Although Scripture is clear that same-sex relationships are immoral, it is a complicated issue, one in which Christians have often received negative publicity.

Furthermore, young non-Christians also conclude that Christianity is old-fashioned, boring, and unintelligent. They contend that Christians are insincere and too focused on making converts. They believe the followers of the Prince of Peace are unable to live peaceably with others.

These may sound like harsh statements, but they spring from extensive research we have conducted with Americans, and especially with young adults and teens who are not Christians. Whether we like it or not, these negative views are fixed in the minds of young people in our culture. In just a decade, the perception of evangelicals has become eight times less favorable among young non-Christians when compared to the image held by Boomer non-Christians.

We may not like these realities, but we need to consider what people think. Read more

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