A recent report from the Pew Research Center has found that evangelical Christians are the only – I repeat, only – religious group in the United States who have not developed a better reputation over the past few years.
It gets worse.
Also in decline? Americans have become less likely to even know an evangelical. Again, more so than any other faith tradition.
While the first may be initially more alarming, it's arguably the result of mainstream media characterizations (fair or not, although usually not) and that Americans don't know any evangelicals who could destroy the negative caricature.
(Pew found that if someone did know an evangelical Christian, the rating toward evangelicals increased by "12 degrees on [their warm] feelings thermometer," from a chilly 61 to a balmier 73.)
So the real crisis isn't the decline in reputation, but the fact that evangelical Christians do not seem to be in relationship with non-evangelical Christians.
And that is a very real concern.
If our mission is the evangelization and transformation of culture through the centrality of the local church, then there is one thing that should be taken for granted: we will be engaging that culture.
If we are cloistered away in a holy huddle or Christian clique, then very little engagement will take place.
Yet that seems to be precisely what we are doing.
But it's not just that we're retreating into our gospel ghettoes where the only time we break free from our small group Bible studies, Christian fitness groups and church gatherings is to venture out to Chick-fil-A.
There's a darker side to this. It's when we look at people outside of the faith as the enemy – as if it's us vs. them, black hats vs. white hats, good guys vs. bad guys. The pro-family, Christian radio-listening, fish sticker-wearing, big Bible-carrying types against the left-leaning, NPR-listening, evolution-believing, gay marriage-supporting, Fifty Shades of Grey readers.
I'm in a season with a fair number of interviews in relation to the release of my new book, Meet Generation Z. It's so disheartening to encounter so many program hosts who want to demonize Generation Z for their beliefs and values, instead of being heartbroken over their lost-ness.
Of course, another current – just as dire – is the raw apathy toward the lost that is also behind this. Because obviously, evangelical Christians are out there in the marketplace. Yet people say they don't know any. So either we are not living in a way that arrests any attention in light of our faith, or we are failing to even try and share our faith with those in need.
There is a singular truth that must be championed again and again and again: lost people matter to God; therefore, they should matter to us. And the Bible makes it clear that the way someone far from God draws close to God is if someone close to God goes far to reach them (see Romans 10:14-15).
So let's warm up people's feelings toward evangelical Christians, shall we?
Warm up to them.
James Emery White
"Americans Express Increasingly Warm Feelings Toward Religious Groups," Pew Research Center, February 15, 2017, read online.
Kate Shellnutt, "Americans Warm Up to Every Religious Group Except Evangelicals," Christianity Today, February 15, 2017, read online.