"Just 16% of non-Christians in their late teens and twenties said they have a 'good impression' of Christianity," according to a new survey by The Barna Group. What a shocking commentary on the effectiveness of our Christian witness to the unbelieving world!
The Barna survey approached young non-Christians with 20 specific phrases (10 positive, 10 negative) and asked them to identify which perceptions they most strongly associated with Christianity. Nine of the top twelve perceptions were negative. Non-Christians said things like:
Christianity is judgmental - 87%
Christianity is hypocritical - 85%
Christianity is old-fashioned - 78%
The researchers in the survey noted that it was surprising how many of the respondents' negative perceptions of Christianity "were rooted in specific stories and personal interactions with Christians and in churches." It appears as though this negative view of Christianity is not just the result of the media bashing and trashing Christianity. This appears to be based on personal experience.
Which raises an important question: How can we who have experienced God's grace, forgiveness, love and compassion represent Him more authentically to a world that so desperately needs Him? As you share your faith with your non-Christian friends, what can you do in response to these negative perceptions? The Apostle Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:17-19:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
Our character as followers of Jesus should be different from the world and we should be walking a walk that is evidence of Jesus at work in our lives! So do a character check and prayfully ask God for His insight as you address the following questions:
1. Are you personally judgmental? Are you quick to act as judge and jury when a non-Christian behaves in ways your Christian faith identifies as sin? Remember Jesus' response to those whose lifestyle choices were contrary to the Law (John 4 and John 8:1-11). Approach others in a way that communicates that you are "just one beggar showing another beggar where to find bread."
2. Are you hypocritical? A hypocrite is someone who is pretending to be something they are not. Someone who is not being real, but is playing a role to impress others. Are you genuine? Is what others see on the outside really who you are on the inside? Check out Matthew 6 to explore this area of your life further.
3. Is your Christianity old-fashioned in the sense that you don't let it impact your day-to-day life in the 21st Century? Does your faith in Jesus influence your priorities - how you use your time, your money, and your talents? Does it affect your MySpace page? Your music? Your relationships? Your goals and dreams?
Then once you've had your 'character check conversation' with God, continue the conversation with your unreached friends. Try asking them questions like:
What's your impression of Christianity? Is it positive or negative?
Do you view Christians as judgmental? Hypocritical? Why or why not?
Do you think Christianity is old-fashioned and out of date? Why or why not? Share what you believe and how Jesus impacts your day to day choices and behaviors.
And if you're really brave, ask your friends what they think of your Christian walk. Do they think you are judgmental, hypocritical, old-fashioned? (Caution: Don't ask if you aren't willing to hear the truth without getting defensive.)
When young people in the survey were asked to freely comment on their impressions of Christianity, one of the common responses was "Christianity in today's society no longer looks like Jesus." While you may not feel like you are able to single-handedly change society, you can, through God's grace and power, change yourself to look more like Jesus! And then you can change the impression everyone around you has of Christians...like the pebble in the pond, creating ever-increasing ripples, and eventually the whole face of Christianity can change. It can start with you and me!
Jane Dratz works for Dare 2 Share Ministries in Arvada, Colo., a ministry committed to energizing and equipping teens to know, live, share and own their faith in Jesus. For more information on Dare 2 Share Ministries, please visit www.dare2share.org. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.