Review: You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church… and Rethinking Faith

You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church... and Rethinking Faith
You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church… and Rethinking Faith by David Kinnaman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

David Kinnaman’s book You Lost Me is based on extensive Barna Research exploring the reasons a number of Millenials (or Mosaics as Kinnaman likes to call them) have left the church. The book is useful for four areas of exploration.

The first is that of generational distinctions. Kinnaman sees three qualities that mark this generation: access to information, alienation from societal structures and skepticism toward authority. Of these I thought the first the most unique–certainly Boomers experienced alienation and skepticism of authority during the Vietnam and Watergate eras–they may just have forgotten. Information access is different–youth can fact check a sermon on their smart phone during the service!

The second is his discussion of three ways of being lost–as nomads, prodigals, and exiles. Nomads have left church but not faith. Prodigals have turned from the faith. Exiles are more complicated. They believe, sometimes passionately, but struggle when they don’t find that passionate belief embraced by the church or hamstrung by cultural barriers.

The third is reasons he sees for disconnection. These include six factors: overprotectiveness, shallowness, anti-science attitudes, repressiveness, exclusiveness, and intolerance of doubt. One thing I wonder is whether those who lead such churches have just forgotten what it was like to be young and to struggle with questions, impulses, and an intolerance of hypocrisy. Most of us would have been put off by the same kinds of churches, I think, in our youth.

Finally, he explores how the church can reconnect and I was grateful that the answers he proposed were not slick techniques but a return to basics (maybe a form or repentance?): reconsidering how we make disciples, rediscovering the idea of calling and vocation, and prioritizing wisdom over information. The book concludes with ideas from fifty church leaders. This last seemed uneven and superfluous to me. I think the book would have been stronger with just Kinnaman’s concluding chapter.

My son and I, with guest posts from one of his friends who would say he has left the church, have posted a series of blogs as part of a conversation between generations around the ideas of this book. If you have missed them, here is a complete set of the links to our posts in the order they appeared: This is the post that gave us the idea for the conversation.

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You Lost Me, The Conversation: Reconnections

It has been a great learning experience for me to engage in this dialogue with my son about David Kinnaman’s You Lost Me–both online and offline. This will likely be our last set of posts on the book, but who knows, we may find something else like this in the future! I will also be posting a review of the whole book in the next few days which will include links to all our posts.

You Lost Me

In the third part of Kinnaman’s book dealing with “Reconnections” Kinnaman summarizes his recommendations to the church in these words:

     Now that we have met the nomads, prodigals, and exiles and explored their perceptions of the church and Christianity, allow me to share three things I have learned from studying the next generation: (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.

Reading this again, I breathe a huge sigh of relief. Ben and I were talking last night and I shared that I hoped Kinnaman wasn’t just going to give us six easy counters to the disconnects he observed. I said my own sense was that the church needs to go back to our gospel, back to our roots, rather than a new set of slick techniques. That would only confirm this generation in its opinion of the church as inauthentic.

I’m especially encouraged that the kinds of relationships Kinnaman envisions are intergenerational relationships. For too long, the church has age segregated itself (as well as in other ways). In my own life I experienced the power of this in a relationship with a disc jockey who served as a leader in our local Jesus Movement in the early 70s. Much of this took place in the front seat of his VW Beetle on the way to rallies. The combination of wisdom and affirmation was critical.  Equally I find myself enriched as I work with younger colleagues and graduate students whose doubts, questions and insights challenge me to dig deeper. I constantly learn from my son, who questions my frameworks and teaches me everything from computers, blogging and contemporary sci-fi to remembering how much “in process” I was in my twenties–and still am.

What so engaged me as a young Christian was a faith that spoke to life Monday through Saturday. So I resonate with the focus on vocation and calling. I honestly wonder why many of us then settled for a privatized faith lived only in our personal devotional lives and church gatherings but not out in the world. Perhaps it was because we focused on big scale evangelistic endeavors and political crusades and church growth schemes, but failed to talk in pulpits and small groups, and informal relationships about living out our call in the circumstances each of us lived in every day, with the people we met each day and the real needs both in our own communities and in communities we had connections with in other parts of the world. Whatever it is, I hope this generation can do better at living out called lives in the places we live and work.

Kinnaman talks about prioritizing wisdom over information. We definitely are information rich! As I write this blog, the WordPress site suggests all sorts of content (including some of my own blogs!) that connect to what I’m writing.  I’d like to think my son and others could look to my generation for wisdom and yet our track record suggests otherwise. We created so much of the information technology being used today but did it make us wiser? I think of the kind of information the “Masters of the Universe” on Wall Street had in 2008 and yet it failed to protect them from hubris and the imprudent and arrogant decisions that brought us into what many are calling the Great Recession.

As I think of wisdom I think of the foundational statement in Proverbs that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” When I was younger, I was put off by that phrase “fear of the Lord”. As I’ve gotten a bit older, I’ve begun to think that some fears are healthy and to realize that all of my life is lived coram deo–that is, before God. That makes you think twice about certain actions! The flip side of that realization is that a life well-lived is one that seeks the pleasure of God, that values this above all else. There is also a wonderful freedom when we so believe and live that we know we have nothing to fear of God, and because of this need not fear anything or anyone else.

Kinnaman is right. Terrabytes of information can never give us that kind of life. Information cannot answer the question of how to live well. There just might yet be a place for the church, not in losing people, but in helping them find their way to that kind of life. What do you think, Ben?

You Lost Me, The Conversation: Disconnections

You Lost Me


First of all, I want to say thanks to Brian and Ben for the great posts on their blogs. And thanks to others who have added their comments. Ben and I were talking this morning about the fact that it seems you can have a much more thoughtful conversation on blogs than on Facebook, which just seems to invite all the crazies and idealogues. Ben posted a blog entry on Friday that includes all the links to this conversation so far in case you want to catch up with us (or even join in).

Part Two of Kinnaman’s book is on disconnectedness: why “mosaics” disconnect from the church. In his introduction to this section, Kinnaman talks about the factors he covers as applying to other generations while having particular relevance to the current generation because of our particular cultural moment. That was helpful to note in re-reading because the disconnects were indeed true for my generation as well. They were:

  1. Overprotectiveness: an attitude that tries to guard the young from the culture rather than taking risks to engage it.
  2. Shallowness: an approach that substitutes slogans and platitudes for substantive and whole-life embracing teaching and practice.
  3. Antiscience: often the church is perceived as afraid of science, out to squelch science while many of this generation see the benefits of science and the tools of technology that they use every day.
  4. Repressive: the church is often perceived as hung up and uncomfortable with sexuality while every kind of consensual experience is available and celebrated in the culture.
  5. Exclusiveness: Christians are perceived as being unwelcoming and condemning of those who don’t share their belief in the singular nature of Christ.
  6. Doubtless: many think of the church as the last place they would go with doubts and deep questions perceiving that these are often dismissed or trivialized.

As I said above, my generation reacted to a number of these things as well. The question for me is, why then did we form churches that practice the very things we abhorred as youth? A few thoughts on these:

I think our overprotectiveness and “repressiveness” may have reflected our own generation’s history of brokenness as the generation characterized by “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll.” Those of us who came to faith came to recognize that so much of our “sexual freedom” was just a pretext for taking from someone else what you wanted without really needed to commit to that person. Along the way, we discovered that sex was far more powerful as a unitive act than we gave it credit for and we ultimately either were wounded or grew hard to protect ourselves in consequence. Drugs and alcohol often were means to anesthetize ourselves from the pain and our music glorified the transient ecstasy of these experiences and the angst of our lives. Many of us experienced a richness of life in Christian communities and built marriages rooted in our trust in Christ and commitment to each other that allowed intimacy to flourish.

And we had kids! And I think the parent instinct kicked in with a vengeance because we knew that all the things that had been toxic in our own lives were still out there and we didn’t want our kids to repeat our mistakes and experience our hurts. And so we took them out of public schools in many cases (not in our family), created chastity rituals and reduced our sexuality teaching to “what not to do and who not to do it with.” (Although I think the culture does no better than this often times in simply stressing avoiding STDs and pregnancy, and talking about “no meaning no”.) It seems that we often forgot to share about the God-given wonder and at the same time mysterious unitive power of our sexuality. And we probably forgot to talk about how we got to our own convictions around these things and listen as our children ask all the questions we asked at one time.

Why did we become places that squelched doubt and science and gave simplistic answers? My own sense is that many of our churches became enamored of becoming BIG. We developed “seeker-sensitive” approaches that often were reduced to providing slick experiences of music, personal experiences, and short, easy- to- grasp messages that would inspire Christians to go slog it out for another week and help “seekers” know how to join the flock. Actually, this was quite inclusive in a way–sort of like broadcast television in a pre-cable, niche market age. The problem with substantive responses to doubt, thinking deeply about faith and science was that these were complicated and perceived as “boring” to the masses we wanted to reach, and such things took too much time in our increasingly fast-paced suburban lives.

The “exclusivity” thing is a real head-scratcher for me in some ways. We were the civil rights generation. I remember singing the Youngbloods chorus, “Come on people, now, Smile on your brother. Everybody get together, try to love one another…Right now” (I think a contemporary group tried to cover this a few years ago).  I think this changed in some parts of the Christian community in the 1980s during the Reagan years as some thought they could gain political leverage to influence the country on pro-life and other issues and the Republican party was glad to accommodate them. I first knew we were in trouble when a good friend told us (inaccurately I think, but the wider perception of Christians led her to this) that she couldn’t join our church because she wasn’t a Republican.  We stopped being “Jesus alone” people and started being “Jesus and…”. We also, I think, forgot our gospel, and decided that we needed to reform the morals of the country instead of loving people, connecting them to Jesus, and allowing Jesus to transform them (and us, who equally needed it!).

Those are a few of my musings from my own generational perspective. Thanks for reading my rambles if you’ve followed this far. And forgive the somewhat sweeping statements that I’m sure are over-simplifications in many cases–this is a blog, not a book. I’d love to know what you think, whichever generation you are in and would be glad to have you join our conversation!

You Lost Me, the Conversation: Nomads, Prodigals, and Exiles

You Lost Me

In previous posts, Ben and I have discussed some of the generational distinctives Kinnaman notes between “Mosaics” and earlier generations. Kinnaman goes on to describe three kinds of people “lost” to the church. The first are nomads, who have left the church but not the faith, The second are prodigals, who have left the faith and its practices more or less altogether. I’m not going to say much here about these first two–maybe more as we get into the disconnectedness these people feel and reasons for it that Kinnaman explores in the second part of the book.

The third group are the exiles, who find themselves in tension with certain beliefs and practices of the church as well as the surrounding culture, feeling themselves “between a rock and a hard place.” This last I found the most interesting because they have neither abandoned the church nor the faith, but do have a feeling of estrangement. Perhaps the reason I most connected with this is that through a good part of adult life, I’ve probably felt something of this and lived with this tension. I also find that many of the believing people I work with in the university context experience something of this as well.

First some personal experience. I’ve often wrestled with the fact that Christian communities seem to be so preoccupied with everything but being the church in the world. Rather than seeking to be scripture-shaped communities we often prefer inspirational thoughts and five “how-to’s” to make my life run more smoothly. Or we go to the other extreme and fight about minutiae of doctrine and ignore the hungry and needy among us. Often it has seemed we are caught up in power games, both within the church and through trying to obtain power in the culture by pursuing a particular political agenda and thinking we might have influence over the politicians (I once had to threaten to resign a church board position because a church leader wanted to place voting guides in the church and didn’t see how this would convey that you had to believe in “Jesus and…” to be part of our church instead of Jesus alone). Often, it seems, all we want to do is talk about “the unbelievers” and how disagreeable their beliefs and lifestyles are to us, rather than take time to really engage with them.

I say “we” here for two reasons. One is simply a sense of identification. I am part of the body of Christ. Whether or not I personally am guilty of all of these things, I’m part of a community which is. The other is that it is the case that while I find myself in tension with these things, I’ve gone along with many of them at many points. What is hard about being an exile is that you don’t always want to be disagreeing with those around you, even if you do internally.

Then why have I stayed? It’s actually a good deal like family–you don’t get to choose. To be baptized into Christ is to be a part of his people. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together helped me in this regard. He talks about how we meet each other “in Christ”, never directly. He observes that the problem comes when we don’t accept that we are already one with those we might feel tension with but try to resolve that by trying to make them into our ideal of the Christian, or Christian community. Truth is, what I would make the church into if I could would be equally disastrous. And so the tension of living in exile seems to me, as it was for some of those Kinnaman wrote about, a space that can become creative. In this season, I find myself living toward a vision that seeks to bring the love of goodness, truth, and beauty together in both my work in collegiate ministry and in my personal life. At the same time, my community reminds me of the things I miss, the people I might overlook, and the truths I might forget. (And I must say how grateful I am for a pastor who seeks to be both faithful to scripture and to help us hear it in fresh ways.)

Most of those I work with also feel themselves exiles within the church but also with the surrounding culture of the university. They cannot accept either the pervasive naturalism and materialism of the academy nor the simplistic apologetics, or even a lack of a reasoned response they often encounter in the church. They long to bring love of God and learning together rather than make them enemies and find opposition to this project from both academy and the church. Once again, for some of these friends at least, this has become a place of creative tension, though not without pain as they draw deep connections between their faith and their intellectual work that may only be understood by fellow exiles.

Perhaps this is as it should be in some ways. I think about how the apostle Peter opens his first letter: “To the elect, exiles…” In some crucial way, the identity of being an exile seems to be part of our identity in this life. It makes me long all the more for the new creation where we will truly be at home. But I also wonder if we could do a better job in our Christian communities particularly in valuing those who seem “different”, who “don’t fit in” and to recognize that we desperately need their gifts and perspective?

Ben, what do you think?

You Lost Me, The Conversation: Generational Distinctives

You Lost Me

So, my blogging son and I are trying a conversation (or is that a blogversation?!) on David Kinnaman’s book You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church…and Rethinking FaithBen’s led off last week with the post, Generation Gap. I’m going to pick up on that with exploring three characteristics Kinnamen highlights that distinguish, for him, “Mosaics” (his term for Millenials) from other generations.

The first is the idea of “access”.  He observes that Mosaics have grown up with unprecedented access to knowledge and the world because of the internet and related technologies. I think Ben makes a perceptive observation that early and later “Mosaics” may have different experiences here. However, I would agree with Kinnaman that this has a profoundly shaping quality, particularly in the idea that access doesn’t come in the context of one’s physical community where we gained knowledge through parents, ministers, school teachers, librarians and others who were all embedded in the same physical community, but rather in a placeless virtual community that is everywhere and nowhere at the same time and is not curated by trusted adults in our lives but is wide open and un-vetted.  Social interaction is also changed. Direct dial long distance calls became available while I was growing up–even so this was costly and mostly limited to the US and Canada. We could not have imagined instant contact with someone halfway across the world via tweets or Skype. Mosaics cannot imagine the world any other way. This is a real difference.

The second was a discussion of alienation, and here I wonder if this is a point of contact between Boomers and Mosaics, if we can remember being the age of Mosaics. Growing up in the Vietnam era, many of us felt alienated from a government and educational structures that we felt had lied to us. Many of us had workaholic parents pursuing the American dream (although in many more cases, those parents were still together). Some of us experienced alienation from churches as well that seemed out of touch with concerns about the war, civil rights, and the other issues we were facing. Were it not for a few powerful counter-examples in my own life, I probably would have ditched the faith. For some of us, the experience of re-connecting with God and other people in the context of Christian community powerfully addressed our sense of alienation. I wonder if in the intervening years we’ve forgotten that journey and the painfulness of the alienation we experienced.

The third characteristic Kinnaman noted was a skepticism of authority. Once again, I think there are real points of contact. Our mantra was “don’t trust anyone over thirty”. It is funny how you forget that when those of your generation become “the authorities” or you yourself occupy such positions. I do think the issue of the authority of the Bible among Christians has changed. We certainly had a number of people in our own day who were skeptical of the Bible. But that was not true inside the Christian communities we were part of. We not only spoke of biblical authority but did try to live it, if imperfectly and sometimes selectively. And that last may be the problem–where we were blind to our own failings while being critical of the failings of others. I also wonder if “personal interpretation” where people defended divergent and idiosyncratic readings of scripture contributed to our current generation’s dismissal of biblical authority altogether. Too often, Christians just turned scripture to their own ends without recognizing the larger problem they were creating in tolerating such divergent and individualistic interpretive approaches.

In sum, I find that Kinnaman’s first distinctive, that of access, is indeed a genuine distinctive. The issues of alienation and skepticism of authority are not new, although the nuances of this generation’s experience need to be understood. That last word, “understood” leads me to two things that I think are critically important if my generation is to re-connect with my son’s generation and those who are saying, “you lost me”. One is understanding that genuinely tries to enter this “brave new world”. Perhaps here it is not, in Crosby, Stills, and Nash terms a matter of “teach your children”, but rather to be taught by them and to make the effort to really learn the new technology and the new world mediated by that technology, even if it is bewildering. It also means understanding from their perspective the pain of alienation and why one might be so skeptical of authority. The second thing for me is remembering–particularly our own experiences of alienation and skepticism of authority. While no two journeys of people are alike, it might be that we each might learn from the other’s journey if we are willing to honestly remember them with all their warts and struggles–not the sanitized, all worked out versions we may be tempted to present.