Recently, I was reading a bit of David Kinnaman's thought-provoking book unChristian. (Baker Books, reprint 2007.) It deals with the younger generation's prevailing perception both of the evangelical church and of the gospel message we present.The purpose of the book is to help Christians today realize that the things we say might mean something very different to the culture we are trying to reach- we need to know what they're hearing.The Gospel doesn't need help; the Gospel-bearers do. Just like trying to witness in a foreign language, we may not be connecting.
He reveals surprising answers from those surveyed. I was surprised by his statement that, according to the research, many of the people we are reaching out to are not unchurched, but rather de-churched. That is, they have been significantly impacted by the church at some point in their lives but have chosen not to maintain that connection. The book has many eye-opening passages. It would be a great resource for anyone who wants to reach others for Christ and especially for pastors who want their churches to offer more than a schedule of services. It is a strong reminder that Christianity has a brand - how we represent Christ to those around us is very important. We must be cautious that as we shun evil, decry wickedness and herald political righteousness that we are not really using religion as a smokescreen for behavior that is hypocritical, self-centered and safe. The point is not to "pretty up" the Gospel, but to model Christ authentically, with His motives and love.
This perception challege is really nothing new. Christianity has always suffered from bad publicity. Remember the days of Nero? Christian wasn't a positive title then. It probably meant then what it means to some now - bigot, uneducated, uncaring, strange.
But no perception can stand against the radical truth of Jesus' teaching. The principles we are to live by can shatter any argument. Love your enemies. Go the second mile. Return good for evil. This kind of public relations cannot be smothered by public opinion. It's shocking and attractive message is unchanging. It draws others to Christ in us, to the love and mercy found in Him. It is a message that is people-focused. And that describes Jesus' earthly ministry pretty well.