Barna Research and Why I’m Creating a TV Show

I saw this article in my twitter stream, and wanted to share some of it with you. It’s “Five Myths about Young Adult Church Dropouts” and references a new book by David Kinnaman called “You Lost Me.” The article reviews some Barna research that shows how some of our common conceptions about why younger people are leaving the church are wrong. I was particularly interested in part of Myth #4, which talks about biblical illiteracy.

Myth 4: This generation of young Christians is increasingly “biblically illiterate.”
Reality: The study examined beliefs across the firm’s 28-year history, looking for generational gaps in spiritual beliefs and knowledge. When comparing the faith of young practicing faith Christians (ages 18 to 29) to those of older practicing Christians (ages 30-plus), surprisingly few differences emerged between what the two groups believe. This means that within the Christian community, the theological differences between generations are not as pronounced as might be expected. Young Christians lack biblical knowledge on some matters, but not significantly more so than older Christians.

Instead, the research showed substantial differences among those outside of Christianity. That is, older non-Christians were more familiar than younger non-Christians with Bible stories and Christian theology, even if they did not personally embrace those beliefs.

The Barna president described this as “unexpected, because one often hears how theologically illiterate young Christians are these days. Instead, when it comes to questions of biblical literacy, the broader culture seems to be losing its collective understanding of Christian teachings. In other words, Christianity is no longer ‘autopilot’ for the nation’s youngest citizens.

Did you catch that? He is saying what we have seen for some years now. Christianity is not the default religion of America anymore.

I had a conversation with a new believer today. She has not been to church since she was a small child. Her daughter and grand children have never been to church, their whole lives, until they came to our Christmas presentation last week. They did not grow up knowing much of anything about the Bible, other than what media has taught them. And people this age consume a huge amount of media.

If we have any hope of reaching these generations, we must engage the culture. I do not mean engage, as in “attack.” I mean engage as in interact with it. We need to tell the story of the Gospel in ways it understands. We must use media, which younger people are consuming in massive quantity, to communicate. of course, this isn’t new. Christians have been “using media” for decades. But we are using it in ways we like, and understand. We are not using it in ways the people we should be engaging like or understand.

Even among lifelong Christians, religious programming is considered lame. There are shows I just cannot watch. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good worship service on TV as much as the next guy, but these are not produced with the non Christian in mind. When an irreligious person stumbles on such a program and has an encounter with Christ, it is truly the work of the Holy Spirit.

Mark Ramsey was speaking to the National Religious Broadcasters Convention in early 2011, and he asked the crowd to look at their media offerings. I’ll never forget his question: Are we offering media in a way that is easy for us, or in a way that our audience wants to receive it.

In all too many cases it’s because it is easy. It is easy to take the service we already produce and put it on TV. It is easy to record the audio of the sermon and play it on the radio. And if our audience wants that, then we are doing great.

But if our audience is not the church crowd, repackaging church content is not the best way to reach them.

For me, the choice is simple. If we are to help younger non Christians become “biblically literate,” then we have to use media to show a biblical worldview. And we must use it in a way they like to receive it. 18-34 year olds use social media, watch video online, and like comedies.

So, my show is targeted at that age, is a comedy, and will be delivered online. I doubt it will win an Emmy, but I pray people will watch it.