A Review of “You Lost Me.”
Due to my schedule in recent days I’ve had to push off writing a review and response to David Kinnaman’s book, You Lost Me. It’s a follow up to his earlier, well-known book, UnChristian and a worthy sequel to say the least.
This work challenges the reader to consider the overwhelming data that points to a mass exodus of young people from the church and the process by which they are reevaluating faith in general. Most of us could quickly list some names of people we knew who were engaged with their faith while they were young and seemed to ‘lose’ it sometime late in High School or in the transition to life after High School. Kinnaman offers a great perspective in the title of the book, that the church actually lost is the one who lost them somewhere along the way.
As someone in ministry I know how easy it is to make excuses for numerical growth or lack there of as well as the folks that decide to walk away entirely. Most of these conversations unfortunately quickly gravitate toward pride and unwillingness to consider real information. In Kinnaman’s typical style he uses the highest quality of information to address the problem head on and doesn’t seek to make too strong a thesis too early. He uses the data to allow the reader to draw his or her own conclusions about the adjustments that need to be made.
Kinnaman asserts that ‘faith switching’ typically happens to people between 18-29 (32). This is devastating to consider as someone that works with families and students but it definitely bears itself out in the experience of most ministries in my area. The calculation that many churches make, and Kinnaman describes in the book, is that they will simply wait it out until they have families and want to return to their faith for family foundation. Obviously with the changing dynamics of families, the later trends of marriage and childbearing and all the experiences in between saddle people with unnecessary pain and baggage for their future, even if they return to their faith.
Some of the most troubling information that Kinnaman shared had to do with the breakdown of families in the last fifty years. Personally, I believe that this is one of the most formative changes our culture has undergone and it has a horrible impact on pointing people to their heavenly father when they have such a disordered view of fathers to begin with. According to the book, “In the 1960’s, 5 percent of live births were to unmarried women; currently, the percentage is 42 percent (46).” He also shows where that has bled into our current culture of young adults, “In 1970 more than four out of every five adults ages twenty-five to twenty-nine were married; in 2010 less than half this age group were married (46).” The generational breakdown is reflected in mountains of provided data concerning the inability for young adults to transition into life in general and faith becomes the baby thrown out with the bath water as they abandon much of their foundation from childhood.
nomads, prodigals and exiles
Three distinctions that are used that I found to be particularly helpful are the profiles of those who have walked away from their faith. The first are nomads, they may still call themselves Christian but they are skeptical of many of the things they have learned growing up in the church. They aren’t angry toward Christianity but see many of its tenants as nonessential and distance themselves from it for a season (63-65). The second, prodigals, are those who seem to have graduated from Christianity but still have warmth toward specific people or spirituality in general (67-69). The third, exiles, are those who have walked away from faith because they feel that it is out of touch and disinterested concerning the things in the world that they find very valuable and have great concern for. They sense a deep disdain for the world when they would like to engage the brokenness of it and will do so, even on their own if they must. They also see that their faith hasn’t ‘worked for them’ and have no expectation that it will do so at any time in the future (77-79).
overprotective, shallow, anti-science, repressive, exclusive and doubtless
Kinnaman offers some highly insightful points of feedback from those who left and their reasoning for doing so. The list of disconnection covered seeing the church as; overprotective, shallow, anti-science, repressive, exclusive and doubtless (92,93). These were really interesting to reflect on and think about even current students of mine who wrestle with some of these same feelings while in High School. He uses the rest of the book to highlight these areas and speak to where there are real vs. perceived slights occurring and how the church can address them.
From parenting to culture and many things I hadn’t thought too much about served to create obstacles in some of the minds of those who walked away from their faith. The practical tips that Kinnaman offers throughout the final chapters were helpful and centered on a refocusing on relationships (202), emphasizing calling (205) and a return to wisdom conversations (208). While I appreciated that he offered some help for ministers to consider my main point of contention was that the emphasis on a clear, life-transforming, all consuming Gospel message wasn’t the focal point.
I loved this book and think that every Pastor and church leader should read it for the careful research that was done and the introspective work that will flow out of it but I also think we must be careful that our goal isn’t to make a faith in Christ that is universally acceptable and that we expect no one to walk away from. I think that even if we make the changes necessary (and there are many that are) there is still going to be a huge stumbling block and foolishness to those who don’t believe…Jesus (1 Cor.1:23).
We are failing families by pretending in how we do ministry that they are living in families from fifty years ago and this book helps us see just how different our world has become. I believe that the appropriate first step is to humble ourselves before God and seek how we can offer restoration of families and people through the Gospel and let God call and keep those who are His.