Family Ministry Today

The Center for Christian Family Ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Book Review: ‘You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving the Church…and Rethinking Faith’ by David Kinnaman

by Benjamin D. Espinoza – Apr 3

You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith. By David Kinnaman. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011, 256 pp. $17.99.

In 2007, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons co-authored the groundbreaking book unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity…and Why it Matters (Grand Rapids: Baker Books). That text explored Christianity’s reputation amongst non-believers, and why they choose not to join the faith. In the course of his research, Kinnaman discovered that many young Christians share the same skepticism and criticisms of Christianity as their non-Christian counterparts. This generation, known as “Mosaics” (because of their “eclectic relationships, thinking styles, and learning formats, among other things,” 246), exist in a different socio-cultural context than previous generations; they experience unlimited access to technology and knowledge, profound alienation from generations before them, and intense skepticism toward authority. Thus, it is important that church leaders thoroughly understand the cultural assumptions of this generation to minister effectively to them. To this aim, the purpose of Kinnaman’s work You Lost Me is to help pastors, educators, and family members “consider how to transfer faith from one generation to the next” (14).

In Chapter 1, Kinnaman describes the pervasiveness of young Christians leaving the church and why it matters. According to Kinnaman, “there is a 43 percent drop-off between the teen and early adult years in terms of church engagement” (22). Kinnaman offers several reasons why the church should care about the spiritual lives of these young adults. First, “the spiritual lives of millions of young people are at stake” (31). Second, “awareness of young adults’ faith journeys is a matter of accuracy” (32). Some are unconcerned with the drop-offs and even posit that these spiritual nomads will return to the faith in adulthood (32-33). Third, this is an issue of responsibility; Kinnaman does not blame one single constituency, but believes that the church as a whole bears some responsibility (34). Therefore, ministry to Mosaics requires cultural sensitivity and a deeper understanding of how Mosaics perceive the current state of the church.

Kinnaman describes three types of disengagement from the church among young Christians—nomads, prodigals, and exiles. Nomads generally believe that involvement in a Christian community is optional, readily admit that their faith was more important in years prior than the present, and are spiritually eclectic (64-65). Prodigals, on the other hand, have completely left the church due to intellectual, emotional, spiritual, or relational reasons. They tend to resent Christians and Christianity at varying intensities, disavow church attendance, and feel liberated as a result (68-69). Exiles “feel stuck (or lost) between culture and the church” (25). Exiles typically feel a disconnect between their faith and their chosen vocation, a skepticism toward, but not total rejection of, institutions, disillusionment with shallow expressions of faith, and a deep sense that God is moving outside the church (77-78). Kinnaman devotes a longer chapter to describing this last group, since he believes that exiles are in a unique position to navigate the “Christian community toward faithfulness in a new [cultural] setting” (86).

Kinnaman devotes most of his book to identifying specific criticisms these Mosaics carry toward the church. They see the church as:

Overprotective: Christians have the tendency to separate the sacred and the secular, demonize cultural objects outside the church, and neglect to engage the complexity of the world (97-98). Shallow: To these young Christians, “Christianity seems boring, irrelevant, sidelined from the real issues people face” (114).

Antiscience: Christianity tends to neglect the insights of science and helpful role it can play in understanding the world, much to the dismay of Mosaics.

Repressive: Young Christians view the church as a sexually repressive institution, as many churches reduce Christian sexuality to abstinence and marital faithfulness instead of building a robust theological attitude toward sexuality, dating, and relationships in general.

Exclusive: Since Mosaics reside in a culture that embraces relativism and open-mindedness, they tend to view the church, with its “insider and out-sider” mentality as exclusive and damaging to the Christian witness.

Doubtless: Many young Christians do not feel that church is a safe place to express doubt, as the church often tends to (somewhat futilely) combat doubt through reason and logic.

Kinnaman points to a recent study that indicates “four out of five unmarried evangelicals ages eighteen to twenty-nine have had sex” (152). He also notes that the majority of young adults with a Christian background do not feel that the Bible is taught enough, that God seems to be missing from their church experiences (116), and do not think they are encouraged, or even allowed, to ask “life-pressing” questions in church (190). Basically, Mosaics do not, as a whole, see Christianity, particularly the church, as necessary. Kinnaman’s vision for the church is that it engages healthily with the world, that it seeks every opportunity to exemplify the heart and mind of Christ, and that it reevaluates its priorities according to Scripture, ministering to each generation through thoughtful contextualization.

I recommend this book not only to those who minister to Mosaics, but also pastors in general and older adults. Kinnaman’s work can perhaps serve as a bridge between older and younger generations, and ignite a powerful intergenerational conversion that may unite the generations for the purpose of spreading the Kingdom.

[Editor's Note: This review originally appeared in The Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry 3.1 (2012).]