UnChristian – Two Disturbing Trends Among Young Adults in the Church

There is a chart in Kinnaman’s book, unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity… and Why It Matters, that just about took my breath away. The chart is a comparison of those age 23-41 and those over 42 regarding morally acceptable behavior. Here is some of the data from the chart on page 53. The percentages below reflect the percent of people saying something is morally acceptable:

  • Cohabitation: Ages 23-41 = 59%; Ages 42+ = 33%
  • Gambling: Ages 23-41 = 58%; Ages 42+ = 38%
  • Sexual thoughts/fantasies about someone: Ages 23-41 = 57%; Ages 42+ = 35%
  • Sex outside marriage: Ages 23-41 = 44%; Ages 42+ = 23%
  • Pornography: Ages 23-41 = 33%; Ages 42+ = 19%

These are just a few numbers from a larger chart. There are a couple of disturbing trends that we might be able to surmise from this information. The first is obvious, Christian young adults are significantly more open to several forms of immorality (also including homosexuality, drug use, and profanity), than older Christians.

Second, notice the progression in order of Most acceptable to Least acceptable: Cohabitation — Sexual fantasies about someone — Sex outside of marriage — Pornography

  • What would account for such a large discrepancy between cohabitation and sex outside of marriage when those are basically the same thing?
  • What would account for thinking pornography is less acceptable than actually having sex with someone you aren’t married to?
  • What would make sense of being more okay with sexual fantasies about someone than viewing pornography?

In each of these instances relationship might be the difference maker. Saying you are willing to live with someone is perceived as expressing more about a relationship than just sleeping with someone. Fantasizing about someone you know is seen as more acceptable than viewing images of people you don’t. The more relational immorality becomes the more acceptable it becomes. People seek connection. Connection and relationship can be the building blocks of a strong faith or they can be the very thing that leads someone to compromise the core beliefs of their faith. That’s my gut feeling on these numbers. What are your thoughts?

About mattdabbs
I am a minister, husband, and father. My wife and I live and minister in Saint Petersburg, Florida. My primary ministry responsibilities include: small groups, 20s and 30s, involvement, and adult education.

13 Responses to UnChristian – Two Disturbing Trends Among Young Adults in the Church

  1. There’s a whole new, different morality emerging in our culture. Figuring out how the Gospel engages it & shows a more excellent way appear to be important points for evangelism to people who’ve been burned by these behaviors. Ultimately, there are major pitfalls that accompany these behaviors.

    • mattdabbs says:

      If we don’t spend time figuring out how to change our mindset on outreach we are going to be in big trouble. We aren’t talking any more about getting someone from denomination X to change to your denomination Y. We are now saying even those where we worship may not uphold and promote actual Christians values, much less people outside the church. Moral relativism really is a game changer and we have to learn how best to respond – first at home inside the congregation and then outward.

  2. Tim Archer says:

    Do you suppose people included adultery in “sex outside of marriage”? Or that they viewed that as promiscuity?

    One of my wife’s cousins in Argentina was told by her priest that sleeping with her boyfriend was OK, that the Bible just condemned promiscuity.

    I tend to agre with your thoughts. People see sex in a relationship as OK, even if it’s not a marriage.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

    • mattdabbs says:

      Great question Tim…I would have to see the survey to see how the items/prompts and instructions on answering these questions. Also, I am very interested to know if these surveys differentiate people who really consider themselves Christians, via an item that asks that question, and then these stats run or if these were just handed out to assemblies within Christian gatherings and whoever was there answered. I could envision some of these numbers being elevated based on visitors present, etc. I am sure they made sure the numbers were based at least on people who identified themselves as “Christian”

  3. theologigal says:

    Wow, those stats are pretty interesting (and sad). I’ll have to check out that book. Thanks for sharing!

    – Amanda

  4. ozziepete says:

    I guess I’m always a day late and a dollar short… I just read the first chapter of this book yesterday!!

    Isn’t the relationship perspective a common justification for homosexuality? That if it’s a loving relationship nothing else matters. Your observations would seem consistent with that standard.

    Just to clarify for those who don’t have the book, these are responses by self-proclaimed, active, born again Christians, not the general population.

    I’m interested to keep reading and see if they regard this as a church problem for not providing clear moral standards, or a situation where Christian values are being filtered by the values of broader society.

  5. Ike says:

    ” The first is obvious, Christian young adults are significantly more open to several forms of immorality (also including homosexuality, drug use, and profanity), than older Christians.”

    If these young people are more open to forms of immorality……they ain’t Christians.

    • mattdabbs says:

      There is the problem right there. We make assumptions that people are Christians because they are baptized believers in the pews. But if we really knew what they believed on some of these matters we would be shocked. Revelation 1-3 has much to tell us about how God sees a compromised church, one that is culturally compromised. It doesn’t make him happy and they are called to wake up.

      So there is still hope but nothing will happen if we just assume everything is okay. That is why I posted these numbers. It really is time to wake up and start preaching and teaching things that are relevant and help people form a biblical view of morality and ethics and not just teaching how to get all the nit-picky things right

    • ozziepete says:

      I’d be hesitant to say “they ain’t Christians”. Certainly they’re immature Christians or Christians struggling with an application of their faith. But I don’t think the church should respond by ostracizing them? The real question is, “Does the church have the patience to help them move to maturity?”

      • mattdabbs says:

        Peter,

        In Revelation 1-3 Christ is very clear that even compromised Christians are still Christians. Yet, he doesn’t want them to continue down that path. So I agree with what you are saying. The question is, what are we going to do about it to address this in the congregations we attend, if we find it is present.

  6. WesWoodell says:

    I think this has to do with what’s on page 74-75 of that book (http://westcoastwitness.com/2009/11/29/teaching-toward-a-biblical-worldview/) – most aren’t Christians in the first place.

    • mattdabbs says:

      That is a good quote on your blog. It is so hard to say where and when God draws the line. You have churches like Corinth and the majority of the churches of Asia in Rev 2-3 that are really into some rough stuff and yet God still has so much hope for them and claims them as his own. I guess I am cautious to draw lines of who is in and who is out because my standards might get so strict that I find myself in the “out” group. At the same time we don’t need to tolerate evil just because we aren’t perfect. This is a difficult issue.

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