3 Reasons Why Many Young Adults Don’t Want to be Christians

Working on a college campus is great! There’s rarely a dull moment. There are so many people from diverse backgrounds that you never know what kinds of conversations you might have. I experienced this first hand a few weeks ago.

courtesy pexels.com

courtesy pexels.com

A journalism student randomly dropped by our campus house and wanted to interview me for a paper he was writing. The paper was about why an increasing number of young adults don’t want to be Christians. I really enjoyed the conversation.

I wasn’t prepared but I gave it my best shot. I came up with three reasons off the top of my head…

1. PR is not good for Christians.

Many young adults view Christians negatively. It might sound like there’s no way to know whether it’s true or not. But, David Kinnaman (president of Barna Group) and Gabe Lyons (founder of Q Ideas) verified this with research.

They discovered that most young people (16-29) perceive Christians to be…

  • Anti homosexual…………………………………………………………91%
  • Judgmental………………………………………………………………….87%
  • Hypocritical…………………………………………………………………85%
  • Sheltered (old-fashioned, out of touch with reality)…….78%
  • Too political…………………………………………………………………75%
  • Proselytizers (insensitive to others, not genuine)………..70%

*these statistics come from the book UnChristian 

You might be thinking, “Why does it matter how people perceive us?” It’s a good question. And, I don’t think these perceptions are always accurate. The thing that bothers me, though, is that we aren’t perceived the way we should be perceived.

“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35

Wouldn’t it be great if outsiders said, “Those Christians…they’re the ones that truly love and care for one another”?

2. Defeater beliefs.

Some people might be under the impression that most young adults have seriously weighed what they believe about the Christian faith and concluded it’s not reasonable. Some have but many haven’t.

Many people have accepted what Tim Keller refers to as “defeater beliefs.” He explains…

“Every culture hostile to Christianity holds to a set of ‘common-sense’ consensus beliefs that automatically make Christianity seem implausible to people. These are what philosophers call ‘defeater beliefs.’ A defeater belief is Belief-A that, if true, means Belief-B can’t be true.”

In other words, cultural assumptions exist that make it easy for people to dismiss the Christian faith. It’s likely that the six perceptions I mentioned above have served as defeater beliefs, keeping young “outsiders” away.

The good news is there are good responses to most defeater beliefs. For instance, this article by Tim Keller is great!

3. The claims of Jesus are exclusive.

Our culture is moving in a more relativistic direction all the time. All that means is that people determine for themselves what’s true. The idea of universal truth isn’t accepted much anymore.

That contrasts sharply with some of Jesus’ statements, this one in particular…

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

Jesus doesn’t leave any room for relativism or multiple routes to God. I’m sure some contemporary people who seriously explore Christianity find that distasteful. It’s possible that this keeps some people from following Jesus.


I know this isn’t a complete list. I never intended for it to be. I just did the best I could on the fly. What did I leave out? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Also, if you want to read the student’s paper, you can find it here.

  6 comments for “3 Reasons Why Many Young Adults Don’t Want to be Christians

  1. November 16, 2015 at 11:18 am

    Neil –

    Good “short list”. I taught through the longer version in a couple of classes over the past two years. Here are some developed additions or responses to the 3 items above:

    (1) yes…but…we mostly deserve the PR we are getting; Christianity’s general public image is a hard-fought & won perspective by the mean-spirited, fearful and small-minded folks in Christianity; until the folks who really understand the gospel – and the “weightier” matters of “law” speak clearer and louder, the PR will, appropriately, remain the same.

    (2) yes…but…our culture is actually *not* hostile to Christian belief, but folks are becoming more sophisticated and ask harder questions of religion – and, honestly, most Christians and far too many churches are simply inadequately prepared, educated and interested in providing real, legitimate responses; Western Christianity is struggling not so much because people are biased against our ideas, as because our evangelism & communication rests on an assumption of privilege and power – where our ideas were not allowed to be questioned or challenged, only accepted for fear of shame and reproach. As those malignant vestiges of Empire and power fall away (thankfully) from the church, we must return to the truths of the gospel, armed with clear, honest thinking and a deep love for meeting people where they are, being open to our own correction (instead of assuming we are right and others just need to learn).

    (3) yes…but…Christianity – especially late-modern Western Christianity’s very specific, idiomatic *interpretations* and *applications* of Jesus’ exclusivity are really the problem; to Jesus quoted statement about his being the single path to God, we have added lots and lots of additional rules, baggage and ideology that Jesus never speaks about, references etc. It is much more this baggage of exclusivity that people bristle at rather than Jesus’ actual claims of being the source and fount of God’s perfect expression.

    Jeff.

    • Neil
      November 16, 2015 at 11:57 am

      Hey, Jeff!
      First of all…you’re a beast! This is great stuff.

      1. I totally agree. The perceptions are deserved for the most part.

      2. Again, I agree. Tim Keller used the word “hostile” but I think he would be one of the first people to say that 21st century Americans are very open to Christianity considering he’s seen thousands of New Yorkers come to Christ over the past twenty, or so, years. I certainly don’t feel like the college students I interact with are hostile to Christianity. So, I think the point you’re making goes hand in hand with what Tim Keller is saying. We need to be aware of the cultural assumptions (defeater beliefs) so we can articulate the truth in a loving and intelligent way.

      3. I don’t doubt that we’ve added stipulations to what Jesus meant when he said he was “the way, the truth, and the life.” I’m sure some people resist what they think that means rather than what Jesus actually meant. But, even with a perfect understanding of what Jesus meant, I’m sure Jesus’ exclusive claims are off-putting to some.

      Thank you for reading and chiming in!

    • A Green
      November 17, 2015 at 7:09 am

      We have been given the perception than Jesus is not enough, that doctrine, and yes, weightier baggage are required for someone to fully understand the gospel. The problem isn’t Jesus, it’s religion. He didn’t come to start another religion. He came to set us free of all that. When I hear Christians whipping one another and others with scripture, I wonder if they really believe in the finished work of the Cross. I have asked a few believers before, “What do you think Christ did on the Cross?” “What does the resurrection actually mean?” I almost always get a generic learned response. I rarely get a heartfelt, humble, gut wrenching response from someone who feels rescued. I would like to seriously ask…. “What do we think He left undone? Why do we feel the need to ‘add to’ or throw our opinions around? We have taken the authority of Christ and we have made it about us, which is mockery. It has always been about Him and only Him. He is bigger than the religion of Christianity, He is bigger than all the doctrines combined. If we can’t believe in a God bigger than our elitist ego, then we either have the wrong guy or we have to admit how small our minds really are. Christians have become known for relying on their beliefs about Christ rather than relying on Him. It took me a long time to realize the difference. He is enough…. all the rest in nonsense.

      I enjoyed this post. It opens the door for some soul searching 🙂

      • Neil
        November 17, 2015 at 8:43 am

        Thanks for chiming in!

  2. November 16, 2015 at 12:31 pm

    Thanks, Neil!

  3. Clay Killgore
    March 28, 2016 at 8:27 pm

    Two Bible verses comes to mind after reading your article is John 6:60, 66 (NKJV), “Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?””, “From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.””

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