I had the chance to talk with YouTube sensation Jefferson Bethke the other day about a few things, including a new book he has written, “It’s Not What You Think: Why Christianity Is About So Much More Than Going To Heaven When You Die.” Jefferson became a YouTube sensation overnight when he published Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus in 2012.

Funny enough, that video happened as a result of two bored friends—one a videographer and one who had written a poem in college—deciding to get together and just shoot some kind of video that day, and it just happened to be the poem Jefferson had written about why God is so much greater than religion. And the next thing they knew, the video had gone viral with over 30 million views to date.

Jefferson Bethke has such a way with words about Jesus because of the relationship he has with Jesus. When I asked Jefferson why he believes in God, the answer came down to the fact that he had an experience with God that made Him very real.

Getting Jefferson’s Attention

After growing up in Christian culture, Jefferson Bethke didn’t find much use for Christianity when he got into high school and then the college scene. He felt that there were better things out there and God was just too far away and didn’t feel real to him.

But three major events in his freshman year in college served to really get his attention in an abrupt manner that completely altered his course.

  1. His girlfriend broke up with him—a girl he greatly loved.
  2. He got kicked off the college baseball team—the reason he even went to that college.
  3. He was put on academic probation.

Instantly, Jefferson was taken to a level of broken where he learned that being king of his own life didn’t end well.

“We are not created to be autonomous in our own stories,” Jefferson said.

Throughout this broken time, where there was nothing “good” that Jefferson could bring to the table, God revealed Himself as the Initiator, where previously, Jefferson had thought he had to be the initiator—meaning he had to be good enough and continually reach out to God. But in fact, Jesus is the only One who is good enough and He is continually reaching out to us.

The pivotal moment was when Jefferson realized God had seen all of his sins, all of his screw-ups and still wanted him as son. That was the moment Jefferson first started to follow Jesus. God became very real to him.

Dear Nation of Nones: It’s Not What You Think

It’s no secret that there are many people leaving “religion.” In 2007, 78% of Americans identified themselves as some type of Christian denomination. In 2014, only 71% of Americans checked that block. In fact, 56 million Americans identify themselves as having no religion at all—checking the “none” box. That is the second largest group after Evangelical Christians.

At Shattered, we believe one of the reasons people are leaving Christianity is because they haven’t experienced a relationship with Christ. They’ve been sold religion, and religion doesn’t work. We believe the answer to showing people that God is real and that they can have a relationship with Him because of Jesus is by sharing our stories—and being authentic and real about where God has met us, redeemed our screw ups, and turned good from evil intentions. We want to tell them Christianity is not what you think it is, and that Jesus is not religion.

Jefferson Bethke has a similar conclusion. When I asked him why he thinks people are leaving the church, he responded with this:

“That’s a tough question with tons of layers and tons of different reasons. There is no uniform answer… [What is interesting is] it seems city-centered churches are growing like Hill Song, Church Redeemer, and Trinity Grace to name a few. All of these have different expressions of how they’re doing church, but they are all growing like crazy. The one thing they have in common is authenticity.”

Let’s Get Real 

“I think people are leaving church because of a lack of authenticity, and that leaves people feeling really beat up by things that we’ve done,” says Jefferson. “The church is having a hard time portraying that Jesus meets them. The people are looking for an entry point – that Jesus really meets them in their brokenness and in their hurt and in their pain and actually affects their real life.”

So, what do we do? How do we reach out?

Jefferson’s advice is that if you want others to believe, you have to believe first. If you want them to come to a place of honesty and vulnerability, then you have to lead with your vulnerability. We have Jesus as our king and our high standing, we don’t have to dress it all up and be perfect because our standing isn’t about us.

We here at Shattered couldn’t agree more.

And now, Jefferson Bethke’s new book, “It’s Not What You Think” is releasing today, October 13, via Barnes and Noble and Amazon. He sums up the book as a big idea book at the 30,000 foot level about Christianity. He wanted to recover the potency of Jesus the Jewish Rabbi and the words that Jesus spoke back in the Jewish culture. When you dive into Jesus’ words in the context of that day, His words are so transforming, life changing, scandalous and beautiful. The heartbeat of Jefferson’s book, “It’s Not What You Think” is about taking our concern of “getting to heaven” and realizing the Scripture narrative is about Jesus coming to earth and that relationships matter, our lives matter, and our community matters.