Despite the church’s emphasis on raising the next generation with the love of Christ, many in the flock have turned away from the Good Shepherd’s church.

As a child, I did not understand what made one denomination different from another. I assumed they were just fancy names with backstories that told people how formal they were supposed to dress for church on Sundays. If they did fight, they were like siblings. Fighting was normal, and they would go back to loving each other in five minutes.

But early on, I did not make the connection that nobody wants to play with the siblings that fight at the playground. 

As my homeschool education progressed, I began to share my mother’s love for history. She poured her heart and soul into finding curricula that would provide an in-depth history of our country, the world, and the church. I learned about the Protestant Reformation and the Tudor dynasty’s influence on religion in Great Britain. At the time, I was more interested in reading about Henry VIII’s six wives. But as I got older, I realized that half of the Tudor royal drama was actually rooted in religious turmoil and division. 

Surely, that does not happen anymore. Christians would not fight about which type of Christian was better. Surely, they would realize how it negatively affects their witness to non-Christian neighbors. 

Unfortunately, I was wrong.

A recent LifeWay Research survey found that many U.S. adults have a negative impression of Christian churches and their respective denominations.

Participants were asked to indicate whether “they assume a church is not for them” when they see these denominations as part of the church’s name: Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Non-denominational, Southern Baptist and Assemblies of God. A majority (51%) said they “strongly / somewhat agree” regarding Pentecostal. The same was true for 48% of respondents when they see Catholic in the name. This was the case for 47% of respondents regarding Lutheran and Methodist, 46% for Assemblies of God, Southern Baptist and Presbyterian, 43% for Baptist and 33% for non-denominational.

Clearly, religious division within and outside the church still runs rampant through our country.

Participants were then asked to indicate whether they had a “favorable view” of churches with the previously listed denominations included in the church’s name.

For Baptist churches, 61% of respondents said they have a “very / somewhat” favorable impression. Non-denominational churches received only a slightly lower approval rating with 57% and only 18% rated them as “unfavorable.” The Baptist churches, despite its high approval rating, were viewed “very / somewhat unfavorable” by 23% of those surveyed.

In an age of polarization and division, churches that assert in their name a holistic invitation attract a wider, more receptive audience. 

One demographic, however, stands out. According to this survey, the youngest participants (ages 18-34) were “most likely to select ‘Unfavorable’” for any of the listed churches. Even for non-denominational churches, one of the most highly favored and the least unfavored church groups. “Those aged 50-64 (63%) and 65+ (63%) are more likely to select “Favorable” than those 18-34 (48%).”

Younger Evangelicals are tired of watching their parents and grandparents fighting over details they affirm do not determine salvation. Despite the raging politicization sweeping through the church, these young Christians simply want to worship God without infighting infecting their faith. And when they cannot find that safe space, they turn away from the church entirely. 

But despite their general aversion to the church, nearly half of the youngest participants affirmed their positive view of non-denominational churches.

“The reputation of denominational groups may be tied to what someone knows about that group’s doctrine, but it also can be the sum of people’s impressions of local churches in those groups,” Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, said in a press release announcing the report. “Personal experiences with local churches, word-of-mouth and whether they see them serving in their communities can lead people to have positive or negative impressions of those groups.”

Despite the damage done, there may still be hope.

The resultant questions linger: By engaging in such bitter infighting and blatant religious dogma, has the body of Christ failed the next generation of church-going believers? How can their passion be re-kindled for community with believers? How can older generations truly demonstrate Christ’s love to a lost and wearied flock?

Will God’s children ever stop being the squabbling siblings that mothers don’t want their children to play with? Or will the ages-old cycle of religious infighting continue destroying the church from within?

The full report is available here. The overall margin of error was plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.

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