There’s good and bad news for Christians in the most recent Barna survey of attitudes toward religion.
The good news is that people appreciate Jesus, with 71% of Americans responding positively.
Tellingly, 70 percent of millennials respect and admire Jesus—the highest level among all cohorts. And this number has remained constant over several decades, with only negligible declines during that time. That’s important because as mainline Christianity and the Episcopal church collapse, the message of Jesus remains essential for Americans, particularly younger Americans.
Americans also expressed appreciation for spirituality (65%), the Bible (63%), and Christianity (57%). Yet Christians consistently ranked each category at least 10 percent higher than non-Christians.
Now for the bad news.
Even when asked about churches in their community, only 47 percent of non-Christians reacted favorably. Keep in mind that these people see the church and its members up close and personal.
When asked why people don’t embrace Christianity, the top reason was hypocrisy. Perceptions that the church is judgmental are also ranked high. And among non-believers, only 15 percent expressed respect for Christianity.
And while most people view modern-day Christianity positively, we see a massive disconnect in the data between how Christians view themselves and how others see them. That’s reflected in attitudes towards local churches, where 58 percent of Christians express positive views, while only 47 percent of non-believers express favorable views. (The fact that 42 percent of Christians don’t like their local churches should tell us something. Yikes.)
In other words, Christians are clueless about the negative implications of their behavior. The world sees Christians as intolerant, exclusive, and judgmental. Christians view themselves as inclusive, loving, kind, and generous. And the fact that millennials, a plum prize for any church, are deeply spiritual but not religious, should send shockwaves through organized faith.
In the survey, megachurches, celebrity pastors, well-known worship bands, and evangelicals received particular criticism among all cohorts.
In short, consistent with a previous study done for the Episcopal church, these results should be a wake-up call for all denominations.
Or, as Mahatma Gandhi purportedly said, “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians.”