Title: You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Faith
Author: David Kinnaman (from the Barna Group)
Thesis: The church emphasizes creating a large number of Christians instead of focusing on the spiritual growth of individuals. This creates people with “shallow” faith, which cannot withstand the impact of being a young adult, with all of the changes and challenges that brings.
Ideas to Consider
- Kinnaman’s research included interviews with about 1300 people between the ages of 19 and 29.
- He believes that most young adults aren’t struggling with their Christian faith, per se, but that they struggle with the church.
- His language of nomads, prodigals, and exiles is helpful.
- Nomads: people who don’t attend Church but self-identify as Christian.
- ~40% of people who grow up Christian will be nomads at some point.
- They believe that being a part of a community is optional to faith.
- Prodigals: leave church, are no longer Christians.
- They believe that the church is not the best avenue for spiritual growth and maturation.
- Some have negative feelings towards or about the church.
- Exiles: still invested in their Christian faith, but do not see how it relates to the world/culture, so disengage and/or feel kicked out.
- They are disillusioned with slick or shallow expressions of faith.
- Kinnaman argues that the church is losing young people who are creative, because we do not know how to incorporate their creative gifts, and so they turn elsewhere to explore their gifts.
- He points out that people do not always leave for intellectual reasons. People also leave for emotional reasons, especially if they don’t have relationships within the church where they receive love, support and guidance.
- He suggests that the way that the church teaches about sexuality (traditionalism) and the way that the world teaches about sexuality (individualism) are both unhelpful; we need a third way that brings therelations back into sexuality.
- Page 191: “Nearly one out of every eight Christians (13%) said they ‘used to work at a church and became disillusioned… there are tens of thousands of twentysomethings disconnected because of firsthand negative experiences serving in a congregation.”
- The church needs to become more comfortable discussing doubt. (Kinnaman references “Doubting Thomas” to show how Jesus did not shy away from doubt.)
Critiques and Concerns
- He argues that young adults leave the church because they perceive the church to have negative or antiquated world views. Young adults see the church as: overprotective, shallow, anti-science, repressive, exclusive, and doubtless. I’m not convinced that this list addresses why young adults leave the Episcopal Church.
- He has a chapter on why the church is losing young scientists; again, this is something that shouldn’t be as much of a problem in the Episcopal Church, since we are not as resistant of science as other denominations. If it is, then we are especially guilty of not helping people make a connection between their faith and their work.
- He is clear that he disagrees with the growing acceptance of LGBT people in the church.
- On page 100, Kinnaman says that young adults leave the church because the church does not help them face their significant life issues. How can the church do this better?
- Kinnaman claims that relationships, especially intergenerational relationships, need to be fostered. Also, that people need help seeing how their faith and the outer world connect. What can we do to build these bridges? (Both inter-personally and with the people & the world?) How can we empower mentorship?
- How might the church teach about sex in a way that isn’t traditionalism (following rules) or individualism, but reminds people that sex is about “the self,” “the other,” and “the community”?
- What can parishes and clergy do to make sure that the young adults serving in those parishes (paid or volunteer) are not walking away disillusioned?
Major Take Away: Ministry with young adults must be relational, above all else. (Example, when creating “safe space” to talk about doubt and ask questions in the group, clergy must open this up as a conversation, and not give a lecture.)
Martha Korienek is Associate Rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Burlingame, CA, and an M.A. student at Virginia Theological Seminary.
Have you read You Lost Me? What did you think? Let us know in the comments.
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