Christianity has a problem.
In America, the number of people who claim to be Christian has been rapidly declining over at least the past decade or so. At the same time, those who classify themselves as “religiously unaffiliated” have been steadily increasing.
So why is this happening?
There are a number of reasons for this shift, but let’s start with the most obvious one. Barna conducted a study a number of years back on the attitudes and actions of Christians in America to determine if they were truly like Jesus or more like religious Pharisees being self-righteous in nature and judgmental of others.
What they found was that over 70% of Christians were categorized – based on their attitudes and actions – as being more like self-righteous Pharisees than they were like Jesus.
So, the most obvious problem with Christianity today is marketing.
Let me explain:
The case has been made in the past that the way to defeat terrorist organizations is not by simply overpowering them on the battlefield, but also by taking away their influence, which is primarily done through marketing.
The strength of a terrorist organization comes from the fact that they’ve used marketing that makes young people think that joining their organization is the greatest adventure of their lives. They’ve tapped into a desire to experience a higher calling, and they’ve shown their audience a lifestyle that supposedly fulfills those needs.
Of course, the problem is it’s a complete lie. But even though the motives are evil, it still goes to show the power of marketing to advance ideas.
We all market ourselves to the world around us every single day with the way we dress, talk, and otherwise present ourselves. And that isn’t a bad thing. It’s a part of communal life with other human beings.
But here’s the key: Marketing can be used to advance goodness or to restrain goodness. Unfortunately, because of the stories being told by the overall lifeless and judgmental nature of Christians in America, the “marketing” for Christianty in recent history hasn’t been great.
Considering where we’re at today as a society, and where Christianity has gone, we desperately need Christians to communicate God’s love in a way that captures the world’s attention. After all, that’s what Jesus did to spark the world’s most influential movement of all time.
But that isn’t how the world views Christians today. Instead, the general public sees Christians as hypocritical, judgmental, boring, and out of touch with reality. Both large-scale surveys and anecdotal evidence confirm that stigma.
Here’s the thing: Christians don’t have to seek the approval of the rest of the world, but they are obligated to represent Jesus in a way that honors him. At the very least, the world should be interested in what they see from Christians. But instead, the world sees them as disconnected, boring, and hypocritical people.
But how can that be changed?
It starts with embracing the next generations. Being open and willing to discuss new and uncomfortable topics is an absolute must. Being technologically and social media savvy is no longer optional; those are now the starting points to gaining influence.
Like it or not, the “hipster” churches are glimpses of what the Church will look like in the next generation. So it’s time to stop thinking of the preferences of the younger generation as a fad that will pass. Instead, start adapting, because the “kids these days” will be creating the American church culture as a whole much sooner than we realize.
Most importantly, the spread of Christianity – and the positive transformation Christians want to see in the world – only effectively happens when it first happens in individual Christians. In other words, the way to better “market” Christianity is to start with actual transformation in the hearts of the people who claim to believe it before it can spread anywhere else.
Here’s what I mean:
Once there was an old man who looked back on his life and said this:
When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. However, I soon realized it was very difficult to change the world, so I decided to change my nation. After a while, I realized it was also very difficult to change my nation, so I decided to devote my time to changing my city. However, over time I realized that changing my city was also very difficult. So as an older man, I decided to change my family.
Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself. If long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our city. Our city’s impact could have changed the nation, and I could indeed have changed the world.
The reality is, we’re all building a brand, whether we realize it or not, and Christians are building one, too. Right now, that brand isn’t doing great. But we have the opportunity and responsibility to radically change a broken system.
That starts on a personal level by opening our own hearts to the fact that somewhere along the way, we all got lost. And no matter who we are, we’re no better than the person we disagree with most. Once we humbly address that in ourselves, then we get to tell our stories in a way that captures attention, resonates with others, and positively impacts lives. At the end of the day, isn’t that what we all want?
So let’s do the work of building a better brand instead of creating a country club.