A Baptist Press report says, “A majority of unchurched Americans are turned off by the institutional church and don’t have a biblical understanding about God and Jesus, yet they believe Jesus makes a positive difference in a person’s life and would enjoy an honest discussion with a friend about spiritual matters.”
The study which polled 1402 adults was conducted LifeWay Research in partnership with the Center for Missional Research, an arm of the North American Baptist Mission Board. Those polled had not attended a religious service for six months. “72% of the people interviewed said they think the church ‘is full of hypocrites.'” And yet, “71% said they believe Jesus ‘makes a positive difference in a person’s life’.” Surprisingly, 78% were “willing to listen to someone share what they believed about Christianity.” Among young adults 18-29, that number rose to 89%.
The negative perception for many people, however, seems to be attached to the church, not Jesus, according to the study.
The openness is not without complications. Pluralism and relativism have their hooks in the culture.
- 72% believe God — a higher or supreme being — actually exists.
- Only 48% agree there is only one God as described in the Bible.
- 61% believe ‘the God of the Bible is no different from the gods or spiritual beings depicted by world religions such as Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.
- 66% of adults ages 18-29 agree that Jesus died and came back to life, compared to 54 percent of adults 30 years and older.
The study reveals a lapse in reasoning – Jesus came back to life, but the God of the Bible is like the gods of other religions. The belief in the uniqueness of Jesus is contradicted by the concurrent belief that all gods and faiths are essentially the same.
Unchurched Americans tend to “lump world religions all together and consider the gods described in them as being the same.” The ignorance of Christianity shows how quickly the culture gap has widened in a mere 40-50 years since the cultural revolution began in earnest. Religious tolerance compounds the problem. Relativism – all faiths are more or less the same – blurs the lines of distinction. It creates a “you believe what you believe, I believe what I believe” viewpoint on theology.
The “Oprah-ization of American Christianity” the study suggested makes God a “generic ‘big guy in the sky’.” view of God and a. People say, ‘Who am I to judge?’ 79% think Christianity “is more about organized religion than about loving God and loving people.” 86% believe they “can have a good relationship with God without being involved in church.” Unchurched people don’t understand the concept of Christian community, the connection with other believers. Faith is privatized for them.
The study indicated that faith is not an off-limits topic in polite society. It also hinted at the approach. It is not a well-rehearsed witnessing monologue, but a genuine dialogue with an authentic Christian that is desired. That conversation, however, is likely to be filled with objections and may require a deep level of patient love. Americans today do not believe that God looks like the God of the Bible. The social consensus on God in our culture has evaporated.
The stinging question that is left by the report is this: What is it about the lives of Christians and that causes Americans to like Jesus and reject the church? 89% of these people have friends who are believers.
Adapted from an article by Mark Kelly. LifeWayResearch.com.
For more information on the study, see EdStetzer.com.