In You Lost Me, David Kinnaman explores the reasons many young adults disconnect from the church (or leave the Christian faith altogether), presenting the results of a sociological study comprised of 18- to 29-year-olds, each from a Christian background. Organizing the book into three distinct sections, Kinnaman 1) identifies the reasons young adults purportedly choose to abandon Christianity (temporarily or permanently), 2) illuminates disconnections between organized religious institutions and young adults, and 3) presents points of consideration for reconnecting various demographics within the church. While Kinnaman presents statistics to explain his findings and justify his conclusions, he continually reiterates the notion that every number represents a real person, each experiencing a unique situation and an individualized spiritual journey. Marginalizing or obscuring these micro-level details by overemphasizing statistical data and macro-level commonalities remains unacceptable.
In the first section, Kinnaman outlines three broad categories of Christian dropouts (nomads, prodigals, and exiles) before elucidating unique generational challenges among young adults and providing research conclusions concerning the modern view of Christianity held by this demographic. Kinnaman’s categories of Christian dropouts address the degree to which an individual has abandoned Christianity, describing nomads as those who abandon church attendance, but retain the label of “Christian.” In contrast, prodigals refer to those abandoning Christianity completely, thereby refusing to bear the name “Christian,” while exiles are those who invest in their faith, while simultaneously feeling lost betwixt secular culture and the church.1 According to research finding from the Barna Group, Christian dropouts are describing Christianity as “hypocritical, judgmental, too political, and out of touch with reality.”2 Kinnaman contends the discontinuous difference in modern culture, technological advancements, and generational disparities, have produced unique challenges for the younger generation and have increased the divide between church and secular cultures.
Expounding upon these concepts, the second section explores specific areas of disconnection between the Christian institutions and the contemporary culture of young Americans. While Kinnaman systematically examines various areas of contention, it seems the underlying theme revolves around relativistic leanings and tendencies to compartmentalize various facets of life. Failing to address these issues, the church ultimately perpetuates a shallow faith basis, incapable of addressing practical issues and competing truth-claims young adults encounter. Illuminating these points, Kinnaman comments,
Like a Geiger counter under a mushroom cloud, the next generation is reacting to the radioactive intensity of social, technological, and religious changes. And for the most part, we are sending them into the world unprepared to withstand the fallout. Too many are incapable of reasoning clearly about their faith and unwilling to take real risks for Christ’s sake. . . . I think the next generation’s disconnection stems ultimately from the failure of the church to impart Christianity as a comprehensive way of understanding reality and living fully in today’s culture.3
Serving as a segue into the final section, these fundamental concepts provide the basis for Kinnaman’s conclusory remarks and his recommendations for reconnecting Christian institutions with the secular society, while aiming to produce a church that is in the world, but not of the world (cf. John 17:16-18).
Practical Application: What Does This Mean to the Christian Church?
While Kinnaman’s publication is directly relevant to instructional leaders (who appear to be the target audience) the work ought to have a profound influence on everyone bearing the title “Christian.” The Bible portrays the church as the body of Christ, a community of unified believers, not an institutional governance or physical structure.4 (Therefore, the term church will henceforth express Christianity as a whole, referring to individual believers unified in a communal relationship, not a religious system, institution, or denomination.) As such, Kinnaman’s conclusions are pertinent to the church as a whole, with each conclusion (positive or negative) ascribed to the entire body of believers, rather than institutional leaders alone.
Early in Kinnaman’s work, he identifies a fundamental failure within the Church, mainly its inability to produce disciples and its focus on populating institutions by expediently winning Christian converts.5 Additionally, Kinnaman concludes the Church’s incompetence in understanding Christian calling and vocation, and its failure to prioritize wisdom over information, play crucial roles in the Church’s inability to connect with young adults.6 While these considerations are significant, cumulatively they are mere sub-components of the predominant predicament of poor discipleship. Currently, efforts to mass-produce converts is proving detrimental to the Christian community, as the church merely replicates converts with poor Bible literacy, a fundamental lack of doctrinal understanding, and ignorance concerning church history, instead of dedicated disciples of Christ.7
Unsurprisingly, this method ultimately creates a shallow, unsustainable faith, proving incapable of surviving against intellectual inquiry and common life challenges. Unsurprisingly, the current generation views Christianity as irrelevant, while questioning core beliefs, and labeling religious institutions as inhospitable places to express doubt.8 As church organizations stray from Biblical teachings and fail to incorporate apologetics into their sermons, lesson plans, and curricula, Christianity increasingly becomes inessential within the social construct. Nevertheless, such issues find resolution by incorporating proper theological instruction and apologetics—two integral parts of discipleship—in church programs.9 This understanding highlights the fundamental importance of introducing sound theological foundations and apologetics within childhood and adolescence programs, thus solidifying core beliefs, investigative methodologies, and critical thinking abilities at the earliest age possible.
Regrettably, children’s curricula often stray from incorporating these elements, focusing upon fun Bible stories rather than instilling life-altering wisdom, obtained from comprehensive Bible study. Reflecting upon his activities in creating the renowned children’s series VeggieTales, Phil Vischer alludes to this fact saying,
I looked back at the previous ten years and realized I had spent ten years trying to convince kids to behave Christianly without actually teaching them Christianity. And that was a pretty serious conviction. You can say, “Hey kids, be more forgiving because the Bible says so,” or “Hey kids, be more kind because the Bible says so!” But that isn’t Christianity, it’s morality.10
In order to produce a future generation of Christ followers, the Church must begin teaching—truly explaining and logically defending—Biblical truths, while simultaneously providing a safe environment for students to voice questions, concerns, or doubts. Additionally, it is fundamentally vital to encourage critical thinking by proving an analytical framework using sound apologetic and philosophical approaches. For example, instructing our youth in proper Bible interpretation (hermeneutics), investigative practices, and critical thinking methodology. Employing such efforts, children and teens will develop a relevant faith with foundational integrity, capable of standing up against the internal and external challenges they will enviably encounter.
While early childhood development is a crucial aspect of the discipleship process, these concepts remain relevant at every age and require the church to 1) build lasting interpersonal relationships, 2) invest in fellow believers, and 3) establish a robust community. Additionally, it requires the dedicated support of apologists who can consolidate external evidence for the truthfulness of Christianity, while facilitating training in proper Bible study methodology, logic and reasoning, and worldview analysis. Although such offerings are vital during the formative years of childhood, they are an equally important factor for developing a solid foundation of faith for new Christian converts—especially those who accept Jesus as Lord and Savior at an advanced age, thus precluded them from the benefits of proactive youth education programs.
Revamping our discipleship strategies and developmental programs to integrate apologetics, critical thinking, and biblically integrated teaching methodologies will provide a practical solution to critical discipleship failures while providing a solid faith foundation, inducing spiritual growth, and emphasizing the relevance of Christianity—regardless of external social conditions. Although such actions require the enthusiastic acceptance of institutional leaders, it also requires the collaboration of every church member—especially, Christian educators, philosophers, theologians, and apologists—to develop, train, and execute such programs.
- David Kinnaman, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Barker, 2011), 25.
- Ibid., 20.
- Ibid., 28; 114.
- Cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 27; Kinnaman, You Lost Me, 50.
- Kinnaman, You Lost Me, 13.
- Ibid., 201.
- Ibid., 27; 201.
- Ibid., 11; 24.
- Sean McDowell, Apologetics for a New Generation (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2009), 18.
- Megan Basham, “It’s not about the dream,” World Magazine, September 12, 2011, https://world.wng.org/2011/09/its_not_about_the_dream.