What do non-Christians really think about Christians and Jesus? What do they say when we’re not in the room?
TheResurgenceReport.com is the online memorial to theresurgence.com. It was a ministry that was in partnership with Mars Hill church in Seattle. During the few months before the unfortunate controversy of Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill church funded two research projects through Gfk and Saurage Marketing Research for a book Driscoll hoped to write about what un-churched and de-churched people think of Christians. When Mars Hill church began closing down, theresurgence.com decided to distribute this information online for free in the hopes that local pastors and lay leaders would benefit from the information.
The research included:
8 focus groups in 4 cities (San Francisco, Phoenix, Austin, and Boston)
A telephone survey with 1,000 responses throughout the U.S.
In the report you will find:
Phone Survey summary and responses from GfK.
List of the Top Objections to Christianity.
List of 1,000 verbatim responses to “What is your impression of Evangelical Christians?”
List of 1,000 verbatim responses to “Who is Jesus?”
Saurage Focus Groups summary.
10-minute audio clips of both men and women focus groups in 4 different cities.
Full transcripts from each focus group.
This information gives great insight into the specific objections that people have against Christianity, from issues of intolerance to politics.
Over the next few posts I will be going over the information that is included in this report. This information is invaluable for those who want to understand what un-churched and de-churched people think of Christians.
This information is still available online at theresurgencereport.com
I would encourage anyone that cares about the issue of people leaving the church to download this report and use this information to be more effective in your ministries.
The book “Amusing ourselves to death” by Neil Postman was written over twenty years ago today. His book challenges the technological shift that started with the telegraph and the photograph leading to the television. These shifts in communication mediums have fundamentally changes the means of public discourse in this country. Where people once invested themselves in writing they now spend on images. Due to this change in technology, the rules for communication have changed. Postman believes we now live in a world where we are represented by all the lights and sounds of Las Vegas.
Postman wrote this book in 1985 and died in 2003. Though his book has arguably more to say to us today, I don’t think Postman could have fathomed where technology would lead us. We live in a day where everything has some form of entertainment value attached to it. So what does this mean for the church.
The majority of churches today has bought into the belief that we need to have the tools of entertainment as a part of the church service. Everyone has lights, sound, video, and possibly dramas and other mixed mediums for the service. All of the words to the songs that are sung are plastered on multiple screens as well as the bible verses being preached about during the sermon. The thought 10 and 20 years ago was-if you have these elements as a part of church people will want to come. This thought came out of the seeker sensitive movement. This idea hasn’t worked- people still aren’t coming through the doors of the church.
I have heard over and over again from young people that they desire to have an authentic experience when they go to church. The question I am left with after reading Postman’s book is whether or not that is possible when we frame our content in the messages and mediums of entertainment. I understand that this is not the intentional message that every church is sending out, but I am afraid it is happening none the less. Too many churches are trying to pitch Jesus as a product.
What would church look like if we didn’t have all of the lights, screens and smoke in some cases? Would more people find a refreshing understanding of the world around them and the life that Jesus offers if we would separate him from the images of television? Church done this way wouldn’t be about the flash of the production but instead would be only about the message of Jesus and the relationships within the community of the church.
With technology making it more difficult to have relationships face to face as God intended, wouldn’t church serve people better if we weren’t dressing it up? The power of the gospel lies in the message, not the medium. If we put the screens away long enough, people might just have the time and space to see who we really are- authentically.
The Barna Research group just released statistics earlier this month about the changing trends in religion. One of the emerging people groups in this new religious landscape are people who Love Jesus but not the church. These types of people would classify themselves as spiritual though not religious.
Of the people surveyed that classified themselves as “Loving Jesus but not the church” an interesting trend emerged that I didn’t expect. The highest percentage of people that chose to affiliate themselves this way were Baby Boomers and not Millennials! Boomers make up the most with 44% of this group while Xers made up 36%. Throughout the course of my research and reporting, much of the discussion I am hearing regarding people leaving the church is centered around Millennials, but this research is showing that the problem is much larger. It is affecting the whole church.
It’s true that Millennials are not in church in the same numbers and generations before them, and that should cause some concern, but that is because these young people aren’t joining the church in the first place. This makes me wonder if this exodus from the church is coming from the older generations who have just had enough with the institution of church.
The people that consider themselves to Love Jesus but not the church have the highest general orthodox beliefs of any Christian group, next to the evangelicals. They believe that there is only one God, he is all powerful, and he is everywhere. But the statistics break down when they are asked about the specifics of their faith. They differ on the practice. So that leads me to ask- in what ways are these people Christian practically?
Do we live in a religious Christian environment that places such emphasis on the doctrinal beliefs we hold that we forget that orthopraxy and the way that we walk out our faith needs to play a part? Also, do the ways that we practice our faith need to be in unity and agreement with other Christians? Does this group of Jesus loving, spiritual people look like the larger example of American Christianity at large? If so, should that concern us one way or another? What needs to change for the church to keep people engaged within the walls of their congregations. Why are they walking away?
For more information, be sure to check out the research at Barna.com
"The melding of the gospel and the american dream" - Interview with Missionary AaroN Meyers - part 1
Aaron Meyers is a former missionary and church planter in Turkey. He is now working as the South Dakota Area Coordinator for the Crescent Project. This organization is equipping the church here in the states to minister to Muslim immigrants and refugees within their own communities. I called Meyers to talk to him about his missionary experience and his perspectives regarding young people and the church.
Z: What is the primary way you do mission work here in the States?
A: My primary role is to engage the church so that the church will engage Muslim immigrants and refugees. There is a lot of fear, misunderstanding and disobedience to the great commission. I am trying to help mobilize the church into the harvest. We also put a lot of work into building relationships; sharing meals and friendship with our good friends who happen to be Muslim.
Z: What are the blockades that the church is dealing with concerning mission work here in the States?
A: There are a number of pieces.
First, I just don’t know if people really believe in the gospel. The great commission is a command that the church seems to be fine with disobeying.
There is an issue there. The church has moved away from being a missional movement which is what is has been throughout history and is still today throughout many parts of the world. The church is a church on mission. The western church however has moved into a different place by in large.
I think this is a result of dualism, a melding of the gospel with the American dream. You hear people gnashing their teeth about how terrible things are today. I think, “Well the Apostle Paul lived under Nero, he was slaughtering Christians and Paul told us to pray for him.” You don’t hear the Chinese church, the Egyptian church, the Iranian church, the African church, spending lots and lots of time taking on governmental systems that are a part of this broken and fallen world. Democracy isn’t going to save this world-Jesus is. That’s one piece of it.
The question we have to ask is “do we look more like Jesus and the Christians in the book of Acts or more like American society?” If there is uncertainty then maybe there is a problem.
There are some people talking about the golden years of Christianity of the 1950s, but I think those might have been the years that lots of bad spiritual things were happening, though it looked really nice if you were white. If you were not white it didn’t look very nice.
I will say, there was probably a prevailing Judeo-Christian worldview during that time. Fifty years ago, if you were the banker in town you were in church Sunday morning because otherwise no one would bank with you. You would have heard sermons every week with stories from the bible. You also would have had a general biblical fluency whether you believed in or not.
Fast forward to today and we have a whole generation of people who are not in church but are unchurched. I had friends growing up that went to church twice a year. Their mom and dad probably went to church growing up because their mom and dad made them. My friends have raised a whole generation of kids now who don’t even bother going twice a year.
In some ways the church is operating in a 1950s paradigm in a 2017 worldview that is completely other compared to that. The underlying worldviews of the of nones, the young people leaving the church, is part of the reason the older generation is having a hard time. These older generations don’t realize that there has been a primary shift in the underlying worldview driving things.
For the church, the thing we need to do, is go back to being primarily a missional movement. In order to do this we need to strip off our traditions, our forms of worship and the theologies that carry the flavor of western individualism.
The VOX Podcast with Mike Erre, launched in October 2015, has been engaging in challenging conversations around the LGBTQ community, American politics, church politics, and Christian culture. Episodes 47-49 grapple with why people are leaving the church. These episodes are sparked by the article “Dear Church, here’s why people are really leaving you.” With over 268 thousand shares of this article, the content is worth discussing. This article gives five points for why people are leaving the church:
Thirty something Mike Erre along with co-host forty-something Andy Lara and guest twenty-something Izzi Ray spend three episodes discussing the points raised by this article. This set of podcasts in particular has much to offer the religious community as a rare example of multigenerational discussion.
Between the jokes and witty banter in this three hours of content, there are many insights and moments of revelation surrounding church practice and Christianity today. Such as Christians struggling to come to terms with the shift in culture away from the church to living a life that shows your Christianity but doesn’t preach at people.
Plenty of statistics and blog posts that are being written right now making claims about the problem and what to do about it. Many have provided a formula for how we need to move forward. But from all my research thus far into why young people are leaving the church there doesn’t seem to be a proven concrete list of answers. Everyone has lights, a decent worship team and a twitter account. It is not bringing people in.
This is why you should check out the VOX podcast, particularly these episodes. The shift in church and culture is happening and it should be important to those in the church. Processing, dialoguing, and listening will be necessary though if we hope to find the answers to these difficult questions.
Check out the links below for the article “Dear Church, Here’s Why People Are Really Leaving You” and the VOX podcasts investigating these critiques.