Dave Kinnaman, backed by research from the Barna Group, has released his latest book, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Church. The book deals with the reasons young people are disconnecting from church during late adolescence.
Kinnaman focuses on six-themes that encompasses the reasons young people are walking away from the church. It doesn't seem to include anything that will surprise those who have been invested in youth ministry for awhile and have had the courage to call a thing what it is. There is a group of us who have been saying these things passionately for at least seven years and many of us have paid a heavy price for challenging the church to awaken to these realities. I thank God that these issues are moving more into mainstream conversation. Research from the Barna Group has been helpful for many theologically thoughtful youth workers and church planters over these last several years. I hope the conversation that emerges around this set of data, Kinnaman's book, and other sources opening up space for more people to enter this conversation results in an explosion of imaginative dialogue concerning ecclesiology, mission, evangelism, Christian formation, cultural engagement, etc. I love it when people who are in ministry discover these conversations for the first time and enter into them with enthusiam. I hate it when those who have been making life miserable for those of us who have been in this conversation for many years finally wake up to these realities and begin to speak about these issues as if they are the first to discover them and are now some kind of guru (and I'm not talking about Dave Kinnaman). Watching many of my friends being hammered by other people in ministry for being prophetic voices about these issues has been painful. If you are now realizing that those early "heretics" weren't so heretical after all, no apology needed (in most cases). Let's work together. If you run into those who say, "I told you," well that's not right either. To those who have been hurt by others because you tried to raise these issues for the last several years, please don't respond to a broader openness to these issues now by feeling like you should get some kind of credit. If our motives have been pure and really for the glory of God and the sake of young people we must feel grateful and enthused about more and more conversation partners and ministry practioners who are coming to the table for this discussion. I just ask for humility for all of us so that we may nurture the kinds of environments for church communities to thrive in our lives with God through Jesus Christ in a way that passes on a vibrant, living faith to the emerging generations.
Thank you Dave Kinnaman for this book that will foster more conversation and theological reflection.
Here is a summary of the six reasons young people are walking away from the church.
Reason #1 – Churches seem overprotective.
One of the defining characteristics of teens and young adults today is their unprecedented access to ideas, worldviews and their prodigious consumption of popular culture. As Christians, they express the desire for their faith in Christ to connect to the world they live in. However, much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse. One-quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” (23% indicated this “completely” or “mostly” describes their experience). Other perceptions in this category include “church ignoring the problems of the real world” (22%) and “my church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful” (18%).
Reason #2 – Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.
A second reason that young people depart church as young adults is that something is lacking in their experience of church. One-third said “church is boring” (31%). One-quarter of these young adults said that “faith is not relevant to my career or interests” (24%) or that “the Bible is not taught clearly or often enough” (23%). Sadly, one-fifth of these young adults who attended a church as a teenager said that “God seems missing from my experience of church” (20%).
Reason #3 – Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
One of the reasons young adults feel disconnected from church or from faith is the tension they feel between Christianity and science. The most common of the perceptions in this arena is “Christians are too confident they know all the answers” (35%). Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%). Another one-quarter embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” (25%). And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.” Furthermore, the research shows that many science-minded young Christians are struggling to find ways of staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries.
Reason #4 – Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
With unfettered access to digital pornography and immersed in a culture that values hyper-sexuality over wholeness, teen and twentysometing Christians are struggling with how to live meaningful lives in terms of sex and sexuality. One of the significant tensions for many young believers is how to live up to the church's expectations of chastity and sexual purity in this culture, especially as the age of first marriage is now commonly delayed to the late twenties. Research indicates that most young Christians are as sexually active as their non-Christian peers, even though they are more conservative in their attitudes about sexuality. One-sixth of young Christians (17%) said they “have made mistakes and feel judged in church because of them.” The issue of sexuality is particularly salient among 18- to 29-year-old Catholics, among whom two out of five (40%) said the church’s “teachings on sexuality and birth control are out of date.”
Reason #5 – They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
Younger Americans have been shaped by a culture that esteems open-mindedness, tolerance and acceptance. Today’s youth and young adults also are the most eclectic generation in American history in terms of race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, technological tools and sources of authority. Most young adults want to find areas of common ground with each other, sometimes even if that means glossing over real differences. Three out of ten young Christians (29%) said “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths” and an identical proportion felt they are “forced to choose between my faith and my friends.” One-fifth of young adults with a Christian background said “church is like a country club, only for insiders” (22%).
Reason #6 – The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.
Young adults with Christian experience say the church is not a place that allows them to express doubts. They do not feel safe admitting that sometimes Christianity does not make sense. In addition, many feel that the church’s response to doubt is trivial. Some of the perceptions in this regard include not being able “to ask my most pressing life questions in church” (36%) and having “significant intellectual doubts about my faith” (23%). In a related theme of how churches struggle to help young adults who feel marginalized, about one out of every six young adults with a Christian background said their faith “does not help with depression or other emotional problems” they experience (18%).