In 2007, authors David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons published their research findings about modern Christianity and they discovered, among other things, that “Christianity has an image problem.” They published under the title unChristian.
Today’s harvest for the church is the 18-35 market, the same market that serves as advertisers’ and marketers’ bread and butter. However, these folks – mostly Millennials - “admit their emotional and intellectual barriers go up when they are around Christians, and reject Jesus because they feel rejected by Christians.”
Many of their complaints are that Christians are too political, they are too sheltered, they are too hypocritical or they are too anti-homosexual.
Today, church plants are cropping up all over major cities like San Francisco, Seattle, Washington D.C. and New York, aiming to disassociate themselves from the “Christian” image in America.
Here are 5 ways that Churches are becoming “UnChristiany”:
1. Location. Location. Location.
The fastest-growing church plants meet in venues that aren’t churches. Funny, huh? But it works. Initially, it starts off as the most sensible thing to do when you don’t have funds in your coffers to build an actual church. But, it’s evolved into something that allows for an easier shedding of the negative image associated with Christianity in America – that stain-glassed sanctuary.
For example, Ignite NYC, a new young adult fellowship group plans to launch their kick-off worship service at the Harlem Repertory Theatre, 240 E 123rd St, on Dec. 13. And, National Community Church in Washington, D.C. is a multi-site church that meets in movie theaters at metro stops all across the Washington DC area. They became very popular for their Union Station services and they also own a coffee shop called Ebenezer’s, 201 F St NE. It is a venue for worship services and concerts and is the largest coffee shop on Capitol Hill.
2. It’s okay to not be okay.
Hypocrites are two-faced and many people think Christians are just that. They have a double standard for living. The preacher preaches that his congregants shouldn’t drink alcohol meanwhile his eldest daughters just got a DUI. They tell us that we should be sexually chaste meanwhile they are seeking out the affections of male prostitutes. According to unchristian, 85 percent of young outsiders have had enough exposure to Christians that they “conclude present-day Christianity is hypocritical.”
The issue that Christians have is that they’d rather put up a front than be real. It’s not okay to not be okay, according to most church leaders. But, the truth is, we are exactly where we are supposed to be in our journey and we shouldn’t have to lie and say that we are something else or someplace else.
At places like Ignite NYC, there are two things that make them stand out from the run-of-the-mill American church:
· Authenticity: “We are providing an environment where people can really be authentic with themselves and with God,” said Ignite lead minister Tobi Atte. This means: if you’re battling sexual addiction, alcoholism or unforgiveness, there is still a place for you.
· Non-Judgmental: “We are going to try our best to make those who are not okay be okay around us,” said Atte. Essentially, even if some are “doing better” than others on their journey, it’s not a competition at Ignite. Everyone should feel comfortable around each other and begin evolving into their best selves.
3. Deep but not alienating
Churches are often times breeding grounds for the “holier than thou” crowd. If it’s not the overly charismatic, tongues-interspersed worship then it’s the “Christianese” language that those on the mic use or it’s the preacher’s disregard for someone’s lack of knowledge about the Scriptures when he’s preaching.
So, what would it look like if churches ditched the “extra deep” approach and just simplified things? What if they provided sound truths in their teaching without leaving out the seeker yet still satisfying the mature Christian? What if the church could integrate worship songs that speak a simple message of those who are loved?
At a place like Ignite, “we want to be able to be deep but not to the point of alienating the beginner in God,” said Atte.
Church as usual is definitely a turn off for most people. They’ve read the script. They know the hymns. They cringe at the sound of organs.
If a church wants to shed the image of modern-day Christianity, then they had better disrupt the ordinary flow and include some game-changers.
It could range from bringing in a graffiti artist to paint during worship or having a Q&A session with the preacher after his message or collecting a turnaround offering like they did at Church by the Glades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida where they gave the offering back to the people on that day.
5. Practicalize Jesus
Jesus was a man of the people and he loved being around commoners like tax collectors, fishermen, farmers and, even harlots. These people enjoyed hearing him speak because he told them stories about themselves. He was the son of God but never let them feel that his message or his miracles couldn’t help them out on a daily basis.
The church fails miserably at that. If churches learned to make Jesus as relevant as he made himself, then we’d be onto something.
"We want to practicalize the teachings of Jesus in such a way that it actually SHOWS in the communities we serve," said Atte.