unChristian-Pt. 3

More highlights from David Kinnaman’s arresting new book unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity, this time from chapter 4, “Get Saved.”

After a few introductory paragraphs, Kinnaman details a several myths associated with reaching people with the gospel that the Barna group has uncovered in their polling research. Two examples:

Myth: The best evangelism efforts are those that reach the most people at once.
Reality: “The most effective efforts to share faith are interpersonal and relationship based” (70).

Myth: Anything that brings people to Christ is worth doing.
Reality: “When you’re talking dollars, there is no price too high for a soul. But the problem isn’t just cost. In our research with some of the leading ‘mass evangelism’ efforts, we found that often these measures created three to ten times as much negative responses and positive. …Our research shows that the “collateral damage” of [strategies like these]—those whose impressions of your church and of Christianity would be more negative as a result—is significantly greater than the positive impact on those who will respond favorably to these efforts (71).

After discussing these and other misconceptions, Kinnaman turns to an observation that may come as a surprise to many Christians: “The vast majority of outsiders in the country, particularly among young generations, are actually de-churched individuals” (74). In essence, this means that most young non-Christians have had significant exposure to Christians and the church and eventually moved on. The pressing question is why.

According to Kinnaman, one important factor is that the church has given people “a superficial understanding of the gospel” and focused “only on their decision to convert” (75). While 65% of the younger generation indicate they’ve made a commitment to Christ, only 3% possess a biblical worldview—even when such a worldview is defined fairly broadly as in the study mentioned in the book. It’s a tragically low number, one that clearly indicates the American church, as a whole, is clearly dropping the ball. A faith that calls for minimal commitment, that makes very little impact in the way you think and therefore act, is a faith that is all too easy to walk away from.

I’ll close this post with one final quote from the chapter:

How deep is the faith that you convey to outsiders? What type of depth are we asking our friends and neighbors to have? A get-saved approach ignores the fact that most people in America have made an emotional connection to Jesus before; now they need much more than a one-dimensional understanding of him.

More of the same lightweight exposure to Christianity, where a decision for Christ is portrayed as simple and costless, will fail to produce lasting faith in young people. We have to decide what our measures of success will be over the next decade. Where will we be more effective—trying increase the number of young adults who make emotional commitments to Christ or facilitating significant growth in the 3 percent who have a biblical worldview (76)?

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