frgavin on January 25th, 2012

I’ll get straight to the point: you need to read You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith by David Kinnaman. If you’re at all interested for the future of the church. If you’re a church leader – youth minister, senior minister, or bishop. If you’re a parent, or grandparent. If you’re a teenager or young adult, particularly if you’re wondering whether or not to hang around the church for much longer. You need to read this book (here’s a video intro for the digital natives).

New from the Barna group in the US, You Lost Me is reporting on research done among young adults who used to be members of the church. ‘Used to be’ is the key. The title of the book gives voice to the response young adults are making to the church – it’s what you say when you’re talking with someone and they start saying something that doesn’t make sense anymore: ‘hang on, you lost me’.

The research spoke with young adults with a Christian background to hear their stories of why they’ve left the church and sometimes the Christian faith all together. The book is a companion of sorts to Kinnaman’s previous book, unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity… and Why It Matters that considered the reasons young non-Christians reject the Christian faith. Where the previous book spoke with the ‘outsiders’, this book is about the ‘insiders’, or at least those who were insiders in the past.

In the first part of the book Kinnaman introduces us to the young adults who have left the church: The nomads, who are disengaged with the church, continue to identify as Christian, but see little importance of faith for their lives; the prodigals who have abandoned the Christianity of their childhood and hold varying levels of resentment toward Christianity and the church; and the exiles, who remain passionate about their Christian faith but are disillusioned with the institutional church as the place to live out their commitment to Jesus.

Part two identifies six main reasons for why young people are disconnected from the church together with recommendations for how the church (church leaders as well as parents) can respond. The six problems are that the church is overprotective and unwelcoming of creativity and involvement in culture; shallow in its teaching; antiscience; repressive particularly in regard to sex; exclusive in a way that conflicts with the open-mindedness, tolerance and acceptance of the surrounding culture; and does not allow the expression of doubt.

Rather than summarise Kinnaman’s alternatives (I want you to read the book for yourself afterall!), the bottom line is the recovery of genuine relationships within the body of Christ. Kinnaman says ‘relationship is central to disciple making—and…the dropout problem is, at its core, a disciple-making problem’.

The last part of the book provides three areas for renewed thinking in the church (you’ll have to read it to find out what they are!). Each of them are grounded clearly in the Bible and the traditions of the church. There is nothing particularly new, but Kinnaman provides a clear  and powerful call to recover things that we know and have neglected.

In many ways it was the final chapter that was the most engaging. Having presented the problem and outlined a response, the book concludes with fifty ideas gathered from church leaders and young Christians that begin to make the concrete changes necessary to begin to chart a new future. Kinnaman acknowledges that he doesn’t agree with every idea presented, and neither do I. But in reading through them not only were there ideas that I’m keen to pick up and run with, reading the thoughts of others prompted me to think of other actions and changes that would be relevant to my own situation.

Bottom line is this: if you are concerned for the future of the church, if you are concerned for young adult nomads, prodigals and exiles, if you are yourself a young adult who is disenchanted with the church, then read this book.

But don’t read it on your own – read it with others: with fellow leaders, with parents and grandparents, with young adults, with teenagers. The website has discussion guides for church leaders and for parents and grandparents. What we really need though is a discussion guide for church leaders, parents, grandparents and young adults to use together. Kinneman’s analysis argues that blame cannot be laid exclusively on any one group of people. Neither will the solution come from the efforts of only one group of people. Relationships grow out of conversations and conversations need more than one voice.

And read it in the company of Jesus, praying that he would continue to lead us into truth and shape us as individuals and communities to be the people he calls us to be.


David Kinneman, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith. Baker Books, 2011

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