David Kinnaman with Aly Hawkins, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…And Rethinking Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: BakerBooks, 2011). $17.99, 256 pages.
“The ages eighteen to twenty-nine are the black hole of church attendance,” writes David Kinnaman. Most church leaders and Christian parents know this. And most believe that the “next generation” will return to church once they’ve married and had kids. There’s some truth to this belief. Church involvement among Boomers and Busters followed predictable patterns, with participation in childhood and adulthood sandwiching non-participation in young adulthood. And yet, this generation—referred to as Mosaics—may very well be different than preceding generations. The goal of You Lost Me is to “define the dropout problem [of Mosaics] and interpret its urgency.” No church leader or Christian parent can read Kinnaman’s research and remain complacent about the absence of Mosaics. It is an urgent problem requiring thoughtful solutions.
The culture in which Mosaics have grown up is “discontinuously different” from the culture of preceding generations. “The next generation is living in a new technological, social, and spirituality reality,” Kinnaman argues; “this reality can be summed up in three words: access, alienation, and authority.” Access refers to “the changing means and methods of communicating and finding information.” Alienation refers to the “very high levels of isolation from family, community, and institutions” experienced by Mosaics. And authority refers to “[t]he changing spiritual narrative” told by the culture, leaving Mosaics asking “new questions about what to believe and why.” Mosaics have more information, fewer role models, and more questions about what constitutes truth than preceding generations. These social realities “have deeply affected the cognitive and emotional process of ‘encoding’ faith” in the next generation.
But though subject to the same social realities, not all Mosaic dropouts have dropped out in the same way. Kinnaman reminds readers that “every story matters,” but the stories themselves take one of three narrative forms. For nomads, “faith is nomadic, seasonal, or may appear to be an optional or peripheral part of life.” Prodigals are “young people who leave their childhood or teen faith entirely.” Exiles are “those who grew up in the church and are now physically or emotionally disconnected in some way, but who also remain energized to pursue God-honoring lives.” Notice that nomads and exiles continue to identify themselves, in varying degrees, as Christians. Only prodigals are hard dropouts, that is, deconverts from Christianity, and they make up a small share of all dropouts. Given these distinctions, Kinnaman concludes: “The dropout phenomenon is most accurately described as a generation of Christians who are disengaging from institutional forms of church.”
Why they are disengaging, and what to do in response, take up the bulk of the book. Based on extensive surveys of Mosaics, both quantitative and qualitative, Kinnaman offers “six reasons” why the next generation is disengaging from church.
- Overprotective: “The church is seen as a creativity killer where risk taking and being involved in culture are anathema.”
- Shallow: “Easy platitudes, proof texting, and formulaic slogans have anesthetized many young adults.”
- Antiscience: “Many young Christians have come to the conclusion that faith and science are incompatible.”
- Repressive: “Religious rules—particularly sexual mores—feel stifling to the individualist mindset of young adults.”
- Exclusive: “Although there are limits to what this generation will accept and whom they will embrace, they have been shaped by a culture that esteems open-mindedness, tolerance, and acceptance. Thus Christianity’s claims to exclusivity are a hard sell.”
- Doubtless: “the church is not a place that allows them to express doubts.”
Church leaders and Christian parents need to read this section of the book non-defensively. Many dropouts exhibit a keen interest in spirituality generally and Jesus Christ particularly. But they don’t like e church—the church that their leaders and parents have worked hard to build. When they say, “You lost me,” they are pointing fingers. At least that’s how leaders and parents might feel. Moreover, they might have strong disagreement with Mosaic ethics, particularly with regard to sexual behavior—as well they should. Rather than reading defensively, however, church leaders and Christian parents should read these chapters to learn the unique social forces that are shaping (and in some cases misshaping) the next generation.
By reading non-defensively, leaders and parents may also see new, biblically faithful ways of being Christian in community that have been neglected by their generation of Christians. On this issue, Kinnaman does not merely describe the dropout problem, he prescribes potential ways of moving forward. The penultimate chapter of the book outlines three things Kinnaman has learned from his research: “(1) the church needs to reconsider how we make disciples; (2) we need to rediscover Christian calling and vocation; and (3) we need to reprioritize wisdom over information as we seek to know God.” The final chapter surveys Christian leaders—both inside and outside of church ministry—and offers “50 Ideas to Find a Generation.”
I highly recommend You Lost Me to church leaders and Christian parents who are concerned about “the black hole” in their churches. It will help them understand how their Mosaics think, why they are disengaged from church, and what might be done to hand on the faith to a new generation.
P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.
P.P.S. I’ll interview David Kinnaman live via Skype on Thursday, November 3, from 2:00-3:00 p.m. on MinistryDirect.com/live. Submit your questions via email to firstname.lastname@example.org, via Twitter using #MinistryDirect, or via Facebook using the interaction tool on the live page.
UPDATE: Here’s the video of my interview with David Kinnaman:
Vodpod videos no longer available.
Interview with @DavidKinnaman, Author of “You L…, posted with vodpod