I believe that we are living in an exciting time to be people of faith. In the history of Christianity, there have been periods of great spiritual awakening. Some scholars believe that at the present time, we are in one of these periods of great spiritual awakening, that has not been experienced since the Protestant Reformation around 500 years ago.
Studies of young adults in America reveal that they are longing for a Christianity that more and more embodies Jesus’ teaching and life in an experiential way that makes a real difference in the world today. These young adults have heard that Christianity is supposed to be a religion about love, forgiveness, and practicing what Jesus preached, and that faith should give meaning to life. Sadly, however, this is not always what they are experiencing in American churches today.
Between 25 to 30 percent of young people under the age of 30 neither attend religious services nor have any religious preference, yet half of this group say that they believe in God or see themselves to be spiritual.
In a 2004 survey, the Barna organization found that young adults who are outside of the church hold negative views of Christianity. Eighty-seven percent say Christians are “judgmental,” 85 percent see churchgoers as “hypocritical,” and 91 percent think that Christianity is “antihomosexual.”
In their book, “Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity…and Why It Matters,” authors David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons state that in 1985, 26 percent of young adults under 29 years of age claimed to be evangelicals; that number now hovers around 15 percent. “Indeed,” they claim, “most evangelical loss stems from the defection of young people who increasingly identify Christianity as out of touch with reality, exclusive, insensitive, hypocritical, antihomosexual, judgmental, dull and overly politicized.”
Many young adults are judging Christianity on its own teachings, and believe that American churches are coming up short.
The Spirit of God is indeed blowing in new ways. People of all ages are searching for a Christianity based on the experiences of Jesus. They are seeking meaningful spiritual practices which lead to a more experiential type of faith life. As one young person told me, “I don’t just want to talk about Jesus. I want to live like Jesus.”
Younger generations aren’t interested in arguing about who is good and who is bad, who is right and who is wrong, who is in and who is out. They are less and less interested in institutions which exist to perpetuate themselves. They desire a Christianity based on an experience of imitating Jesus the Christ and making a difference in the lives of other people in the world.
Personally, I find this awakening very hopeful. As we get back to what Jesus preached, taught, and lived, might we actually see a world with less hate, hunger, judgmentalism, greed, homelessness, discontent, and strife?
It’s exciting to see how the Spirit of God, which has moved in past civilizations, is moving mightily today. God, who spoke in previous days, is still speaking anew to us today.
May we not miss this renewing moment for each of our religious faiths. Fear at this time will only keep us bound and anxious. The focus of our faith has been, and always will be in a God make known to us in Jesus “who is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)
May all joy be yours in believing!