David Kinnaman, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith
Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing, 2011.
Three (that come to mind) of my peers in the department of Bible, Missions, and Ministry at ACU are now working in traditional ministerial contexts. Myself included that makes four. I believe that is four out of close to fifty graduates of the Bible department whose focus was to train people for ministry. My other peers have found themselves in non-traditional ministry roles, often unrecognizably ministerial, or towards occupations outside the church. That observation says a lot about how “millenials” or “Mosaics” as Kinnaman refers to this group, are making departures from traditional churches and ministries. Even from the four who are working in churches, the stories of our faith that brought us into and among churches is not linear.
All of us have felt our peers’ desire to do things differently, to see church in a new light; to work towards what we feel like is a real glimpse of the kingdom of God. We are not apologists of the “old ways” or fanatics for everything novel. We found ourselves in traditional ministerial contexts, and not elsewhere, and are trying to live faithfully and authentically in the church contexts that raised us to live faithfully and authentically. David Kinnaman’s You Lost Me is one part explanation, one part hopeful dreaming about the phenomenon of us Mosaics/Millenials and our beef with churches.
David Kinnaman is the President of the Barna Group, a company that does market research on issues that revolve around religion. In many ways that is something that lends this book a great deal of credibility. He is speaking from the vantage point of real, quantifiable research done by professionals. There’s even graphs! It is sometimes easy to expound on what we think are the problems of the church and our messianic solutions, but Kinnaman does a great job of presenting level-headed and reasonable interpretations of actual research, and I like that.
Kinnaman’s underlying argument is that this generation of Mosaics “is living through a period of compressed social, cultural, and technological change. This environment invites them to live out their faith in new and sometimes startling ways” (103). Because the church tends to be static and insulating, a conflict arises that presents difficulties and marginalizes those who are not aligned with the status quo.
The book runs through several identifiable areas in which Mosaics tend to conflict with the church at present. Mosaics are frustrated that the church is (1) overprotective, (2) shallow, (3) anti-science, (4) repressive, (5) exclusive, and (6) doubtless. Each of these involves some criticism of the status quo, but also an optimistic look into the way in which each of these areas could realistically be turned into conversations for healthy development.
The book concludes with Kinnaman’s reflections on what the church needs to do in order to recapture a generation. His big emphases are on intergenerational relationships, developing and nurturing vocations in terms of God’s mission, and reorienting our teaching to be towards what he refers to as “wisdom.”
As a bonafide “young person” (how long after 30 do I still have to call myself that?) I can say that a lot of Kinnaman’s market research hit me on a personal level. It accurately reflects in many ways my own struggles and frustrations with the established churches I grew up in and in which I now work. The friends of mine I’ve talked to tend to share the same assessment. So that settles it. The books strengths lie in its analysis, which is buffeted by research.
This book represents one among a group of other recent books that suggest that the church is at a crossroads, a result of, in many ways, our own unreflective prideful cultural hegemony that is now crumbling before our eyes like Babel. Kinnaman suggests that the solution is not more zeal, but a new mind: a new way of thinking about things that can help us to grasp the bigger movements of God in the world. Okay, he didn’t exactly say it that way, but he did say the stuff about a new mind. I tend to think he’s right about this. Although much of this has to be born out into action for it to be complete, the task has to start at a theological level. The church needs a theological frame of reference that can help us to see God at work everywhere, inside and outside the church.
Our research has been tailored to understand eighteen- to twenty-nine-year-olds, asking them to describe their experience of church and faith, what has pushed them away, and what connective tissue remains between them and Christianity. (21)
[The] majority of young dropouts are not walking away from faith, they are putting involvement in church on hold. In fact, as heart-rendering a s loss-of-faith stories are, prodigals are the rarest of the dropouts; most are either nomads or exiles—those who are dropping out of conventional forms of Christian community, not rejecting Christianity entirely. In other words, though I believe these issues are interconnected, most young Christians are struggling less with their faith in Christ than with their experience of church. (27)
[There] is a countertrend in the you-lost-me data—young Christ followers are passionate, committed, and bursting to engage the world for the sake of the Gospel. (27)
Millions of Christ-following teens and young adults are interested in serving in mainstream professions… Yet most receive little guidance from their church communities for how to connect these vocational dreams deeply with their faith in Christ. (29)
I believe a reasonable argument can be made that no generation of Christians has lived through a set of cultural changes so profound and lightning fast. (38)
Imagine how it must feel to have invested four or five years of your life in earning an education from an established institution, only to find that the piece of paper you received on graduation day is not a ticket to future success. You might be disillusioned about both the education system and the workplace. Making a living and making a difference with your life—not to mention getting married and raising a family—tend to require a paycheck. (49)
The bad news is that where congregations and parishes are structured to meet the needs of the “old normal,” it will be difficult for young people to find a meaningful place. (50)
They don’t want to be consigned to a “Christian ghetto.” (103)
A growing sentiment of this generation is that they want to be, in the words of my friend Gabe Lyons, a “counterculture for the common good.” For many young Christians, there is a realization that they want to follow Christ in a way that does not separate them from the culture. They want to be culture makers, not culture avoiders. (107)
“When some Christians tell us they are praying for him,” Valerie said, “I’m guessing they really mean they hope he doesn’t go to hell in Hollywood. We wish they would pray for him to find favor and work for God’s pleasure.” (109)
[Mosaics] feel torn between the false purity of traditionalism and the empty permissiveness of their peers. (150)
The Christian community needs a new mind—a new way of thinking, a new way of relating, a new vision of our role in the world—to pass on the faith to this and future generations. (202)
Flourishing intergenerational relationships should distinguish the church from other cultural institutions…Meaningful relationships with older adults who are following Christ will help to ensure that your fresh ideas build on the incredible work of previous generations and that your passion to follow Jesus in this cultural moment is supported and upheld by this whole, living generation of believers. (203-05)
We need wise people to help us to discern God’s will in every crook and cranny of our lives. We need courageous people who are willing to do something more than attend and agree. We need people who will, like St. Anthony, hear the call of the Gospel and just do it.
Even as I write this I am paralyzed by the necessity to convey that what I mean by “do the gospel” does not necessarily mean what it meant even ten or twenty years ago. It means for Boomers, Busters, Millenials, and Tweens to read the Scriptures and have the courage to follow their convictions about them. The interpretations and consequent appropriations will inevitably differ, but they will all be united as different glimpses into the kingdom of God if they are done in sincerity and prayer. I may have gone a little beyond what Kinnaman says (read: he didn’t say that), but that is how the book inspired me and I think that is consistent with its aims.
If you are interested in legitimate research that analysis a problem that is empirically occurring in today’s churches, and in some well-reasoned reflections and interpretations of this data, this book is worth your while.