Must Read for Young Adult Ministry: You Lost Me.

you lost me bookThe book is based on the results of a nationwide study of 18-29 year olds with a Christian background, with the intent of discovering why so many are disengaging from the faith community and what the church can do about it.

you lost me book

Why Young Christians are Leaving the Church…and Rethinking Faith, by David Kinnaman

I have spent quite a bit of time studying this book, and am happy to share this summary for you.

The book is based on the results of a nationwide study of 18-29 year olds with a Christian background, with the intent of discovering why so many are disengaging from the faith community and what the church can do about it.

The book is divided into three parts:

  • dropouts, a description of the young adult Christian panorama,
  • disconnections, main reasons young adult Christians cite for their distance from church or faith,
  • and reconnections, new ideas and the need for new architects of faith formation.

The “main argument” of the book is summarized by the author in Part 3, Chapter 11: “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”.

Part 1: Dropouts

The section on dropouts begins by offering evidence that “after significant exposure to Christianity as teenagers and children, many young adults, whether raised Catholic or Protestant, are MIA (missing in action) from the pews and from active commitment to Christ during their twenties.” (Part 1, Chapter 1) This is the case even when churches are effectively reaching teenagers with their youth ministry. Churches and young adults are struggling to connect. Curiously, the author claims “most young Christians are struggling less with their faith in Christ than with their experience of church.” (Part 1, Chapter 1)

The author divides his findings of disconnected young adults into three categories:

  • Exiles, who are still invested in their Christian faith but feel stuck (or lost) between culture and the church.
  • Nomads, who walk away from church engagement but still consider themselves Christian.
  • Prodigals, who lose their faith, describing themselves as “no longer Christian.”

There is a growing awareness among stakeholders (parents, pastors, teachers, youth ministers…) and organizations (schools, churches, ministries…) that we need a new way of engaging, teaching, and discipling young people, focusing on apprenticeship in the way of Jesus.

The young generation considers itself discontinuously different, and largely because modern culture is so different compared to past generations. The author describes this new panorama as largely influenced by:

  • access, in which “new technologies and digital tools provide unprecedented access to information, analysis, opinions, relationships, and worldviews”, (Part 1, Chapter 2)
  • alienation, in which there are “unprecedented levels of disconnection from relationships and institutions,” (Part 1, Chapter 2)
  • and authority, in which a relativistic culture produces “new questions about who and what to believe and why”, and answers based on personal terms as opposed to institutional terms.

Part 2: Disconnections

This section of the book seeks to identify and categorize the main reasons that this generation of young adult Christians disconnects from the church. It delineates six reasons.

  1. Overprotective: The church is seen as a “creativity killer”, whereas the new generation wants to re-imagine, re-create, rethink, and they want to be entrepreneurs, innovators, starters. “How can the church peel back the safety seal, making space for imaginative risk taking and creative self-expression, traits that are so valued within the next generation?”
  2. Shallow: A common perception of church is that it is boring, with too many formulaic slogans and easy platitudes, and too little of the gravity and power of following Christ. Young Christians do not feel their talents and passions can develop within the church, much less do they feel a sense of calling. How can the church nurture a deep, holistic faith in Christ that encompasses every area of life?
  3. Anti-science: Young Christians simply conclude that science and religion cannot mix, and feel that science welcomes questions and skepticism whereas faith seems impenetrable. How can the Christian community help the next generation interact with science positively and prophetically?
  4. Repressive: Religious rules, and especially in the area of sexuality, feel stifling and unreasonably restrictive to the individualistic young adult. How can the church contextualize its approach to sexuality and culture within a broader vision of restored relationships?
  5. Exclusive: The new generation is accustomed to diversity, acceptance, and tolerance, and wants to emphasize what’s common among all of us. They react negatively to anything that seems exclusive. How can the Christian community link the singular nature of Christ with the radical ways in which he pursued and included outsiders?
  6. Doubtless: “Young Christians (and former Christians too) say the church is not a place that allows them to express doubts.” (Part 2, introduction) How can the Christian community help this generation face their doubts squarely and integrate their questions into a robust life of faith?

[ Click here to learn about my book series on the Adolescent Jesus]

Part 3: Reconnections

There are three things the author has learned from studying the next generation: (Part 3, Chapter 11)

  1. Discipleship: The church needs to reconsider how we make disciples,
  2. Discernment: we need to rediscover Christian calling and vocation,
  3. Wisdom: we need to reprioritize wisdom over information as we seek to know God.

In this section, the author makes the point that the idea of a “generation” in the Bible is also “everybody in the church at a particular time”, and not simply a category delineated by age groups or developmental stages. The modern church tends to segregate by age-group, and thereby inadvertently contributes to the sense of alienation from the larger community. New methods and programs need to explore the wisdom that older Christians can impart on younger, and the newness and “reverse mentoring” younger Christians can bring to their elders.

For each of the disconnections described in Part 2, the author presents a corresponding solution:

  1. Overprotective -> Discernment
    1. We cast out fear by discerning our times and embracing the risks of cultural engagement.
  2. Shallow -> Apprenticeship
    1. We leave shallow faith behind by apprenticing young people in the fine art of following Christ.
  3. Anti-science -> Stewardship
    1. We respond to today’s scientific culture by stewarding young people’s gifts and intellect.
  4. Repressive -> Relational
    1. We live by a relational sexual ethic that rejects traditionalist and individualist narratives of sex.
  5. Exclusion -> Embrace
    1. We demonstrate the exclusive nature of Christ by rekindling our empathy for the “other”.
  6. Doubting -> Doing
    1. We faithfully work through our doubts by doing acts of service with and for others.

Disciple making has to take place within a context of relationships, vocation, and wisdom. Rediscovering vocation and calling goes further than simply catechizing or providing powerful experiences; it requires discernment, and therefore, like Jesus knew his followers, it requires that we know our youth. Are our ministries too large or too inefficient to provide this kind of knowing? This idea really requires us to rethink our disciple-making, but also rethink our programs and institutions. “We need new architects of faith formation within our established institutions.” (Part 3, Ch. 11) It will also require us to focus on teaching wisdom, as opposed to facts, which will help young people live faithfully in a changing culture.

Overall, I found many interesting ideas in this book worth reflecting on, and the fact that it is all backed up by extensive research makes it more moving. Even though I didn’t post any statistics, the author does present statistics throughout the whole book. I simply have two critiques. First, the “anti-science” attitude is not as relevant in the Catholic Church, and he could have made mention of “Theology of the Body” when calling for new methods of teaching sexuality.

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