Research into the declining respect for Christianity among young people has identitfied religious hostility to LGBT people as a major factor.

An investigation by The Barna Group, an evangelical market research company, into the attitudes of Americans aged 16 to 29, makes grim reading for religious leaders.

91% of young non-Christians and 80% of young churchgoers said “anti-homosexual” describes Christianity.

Further research found that both groups said that Christians “show excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians.”

Young Christians told researchers that the church has made homosexuality a “bigger sin” than anything else and not helped them apply the biblical teaching on homosexuality to their friendships with gays and lesbians.

For evangelical Christians, their hardline attitude toward gay people in recent decades has severely tarnished their image. The Barna Group reports:

“3% of 16 to 29-year-old non-Christians express favourable views of evangelicals. This means that today’s young non-Christians are eight times less likely to experience positive associations toward evangelicals than were non-Christians of the Boomer generation (25%).”

75% of young non-Christians thought that present-day Christians are too involved in politics – half of young Christians agreed.

David Kinnaman, a 12-year-veteran of the Barna team, commented:

“Going into this three-year project, I assumed that people’s perceptions were generally soft, based on misinformation, and would gradually morph into more traditional views.

“But then, as we probed why young people had come to such conclusions, I was surprised how much their perceptions were rooted in specific stories and personal interactions with Christians and in churches.

“When they labelled Christians as judgmental this was not merely spiritual defensiveness.

“It was frequently the result of truly ‘unChristian’ experiences. We discovered that the descriptions that young people offered of Christianity were more thoughtful, nuanced, and experiential than expected.”

The Barna research was highlighted in a comment piece on Christian website Ekklesia.co.uk by commentator Tim Nafziger, who said it raised profound questions for churches.

“A whopping 80% of non-Christians surveyed had spent at least six months attending church,” he wrote.

“These are not casual cynics, jaded by the media. They are people who have tried Christianity and found it wanting. In other words, all of us Christians are responsible.

“We can’t just point our fingers at some other part of the church or secular society. Where have we failed to model the radical hospitality of Jesus?”

Read more about The Barna Group research here.