Many Christians have heard the research that church attendance amongst those in their twenties in the United States is extremely low. For many, however, these statistics are either hard to believe or do not have a lasting impact. In They Like Jesus But Not the Church, Dan Kimball seeks to put “a name and a face” to these young adults by relating back their thoughts and concerns about the church. While they have many issues that they are concerned about, there is one overarching trend: emerging generations like Jesus, but they do not like the church.
Kimball exhorts church leaders to get out of the office and to listen to young non-Christians. Most Christians do not have a single significant relationship with non-Christians—often because of the busyness in church life that is created by church leaders. Furthermore, Christians have created an entire church sub-culture, with Christian radio stations, schools, websites, and bumper stickers, that isolate them from non-Christians. I appreciate Kimball’s call for Christians to live missionally, interacting with non-Christians, living in their world, genuinely loving them, and sharing Christ with them.
Why is Christ so popular, while the church is so unpopular? According to the young adults that Kimball interviewed, Jesus was everything that the church is not. Jesus was non-judgmental; the church is judgmental. Jesus created a movement; the church is “organized religion.” Jesus changed hearts; the church is a political organization that forces its will on people. Jesus was a friend of sinners; the church hates homosexuals.
These perceptions of non-Christians are sometimes the result of negative media portrayals of Christians or a few bad encounters that people may have had with Christians. Unfortunately, these perceptions have often been true. At one of our Starbucks book talk gatherings, a young barista named Alex asked me what we were reading. I told her Blue Like Jazz. I said that this was a book about Christianity and following Jesus, not “church-ianity.” She proceeded to tell me that this sounded good. She thought churches were like cults, but she liked “that following Jesus thing.”
If we are to change the perceptions of young adults about us we must do several things.
First, we must be missional and go to where people are. Second, we must really love people like Alex, building genuine relationships with them. Third, we must actually be Christ to them and serve them.
After talking with Alex, I went and bought her a copy of the book and wrote a note in it that said,
Dear Alex. Thank you so much for serving us so well whenever we come in. You are clearly on the path to Jesus, because you love people. If we can ever pray for you or help you in any way, please let us know. God bless.
Amazingly, Alex later told me that that was the nicest thing anyone had ever done for her. We can help people like the church by being the Jesus that they love.