Halfway home is better than being “stuck.”
In October, David Kinnaman has a book coming out, titled You Lost Me. Kinnaman is president of The Barna Group, a research organization. His book focuses on young adults who have left the church and in many ways have become lost to it. Kinnaman says they are “stuck.” They could however be halfway home—but don’t know it.
Readers might be familiar with Kinnaman because of his first book, unChristian, written with Gabe Lyons. That book described how and why young adults outside the church reject the faith. “The nation’s population is increasingly resistant to Christianity… the aversion and hostility are, for the first time, crystallizing in the attitudes of millions of young Americans. A huge chunk of a new generation has concluded they want nothing to do with us. As Christians, we are widely distrusted by a skeptical generation.”1
You Lost Me describes the dropout problem inside the church. Kinnaman categorizes three types of “lost” adults. There are nomads who walk away from church engagement but still consider themselves Christians. There are prodigals who have lost their faith, describing themselves as “no longer Christian.” And there are exiles who are still invested in their faith but feel stuck (or lost) between culture and the church. Kinnaman estimates there are eight to twenty million exiles between the ages of 18 and 29.
There are obviously more since exiles can be over 30. The point is they are a growing population that doesn’t think about the faith in the same way that the Western church does. Exiles think culture, then Christianity. Most Western faith communities start with the Bible and move to “applying biblical principles.” This difference leaves exiles feeling exiled in the faith community. But exiles also feel exiled at work where the faith is routinely dismissed. Feeling exiled 24/7/365 is why Kinnaman says exiles are “stuck” between culture and the church. Perhaps they can be “unstuck.”
It might be the case that exiles “get” it—they just don’t know what to do with it. What exiles “get” is the Christian faith is on the “outs” in most of the Western world. It is true that an overwhelming majority of Americans still claims to believe in God. This is however an underwhelming statistic when set against cultural trends. Half of all young adults in the U.S. no longer self-identify as “Christian” and 15 percent of all adults check “no” religion.2 The “no religion” crowd is the fastest growing “faith” in the U.S.
This explains why the percentage of people who say they never go to church or synagogue has tripled since 1972, to 33 percent in 2000.3 Western faiths are passé for a growing percentage of people. Exiles sense this even if they’re unfamiliar with the statistics. They can empathize with why Westerners wouldn’t take the faith seriously. The problem is that exiles don’t know what to do with what they “get.”
In I Chronicles 12:32, we read: “The sons of Issachar understood the times with knowledge of what Israel should do.” The sons of Issachar were clued in to culture. They thought culture, then the Jewish faith. They weren’t exiles, however. The sons of Issachar also knew what Israel should do. Exiles don’t. Exiles are clued in yet clueless about what to do. The good news is this is a problem with a precedent.
In 597 B.C., the Jews were sent into exile in Babylon. Many of them were puzzled by their predicament. They didn’t know what to do. God spoke through Jeremiah and Daniel and pointed the Jews in the right direction. The sons of Judah—particularly Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah—led the way. These four were exiles, but they weren’t “stuck.”
David Kinnaman’s book could be a big help to those who are lost. Charles Franklin Kettering, the founder of Delco and head of research at General Motors for 27 years, was fond of saying, “A problem well defined is a problem half solved.” You Lost Me can solve half a problem by helping readers discern whether they are nomads, prodigals, or exiles. Kinnaman’s book won’t however help nomads get “unstuck” since they don’t see themselves as “stuck.” Nomads are tumbleweeds, blowing in and out of churches—here today, gone tomorrow. They don’t feel exile since they are indifferent about the faith—no need to be “unstuck.”
It’s also unlikely that Kinnaman’s book will help prodigals. They have a different problem than nomads. Prodigals are peeved at the church or bored with the faith. They believe faith is supposed to be fun—and the Western faith just isn’t much fun anymore. Prodigals have decided to pick up their toys and go play in another sandbox. They don’t feel exile as they’re off looking elsewhere for excitement.
You Lost Me can solve half a problem for exiles. The Washington Post’s signature line is: “If you don’t get it, you don’t get it.” Exiles “get” it, even though few know it. If you are unsure of your spiritual status or suspect you might be an exile, get a copy of You Lost Me. It might get you halfway home. The next step—what exiles do with what they “get”—is grist for another mill. That’s another column for another day.
1 David Kinnaman, unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity… and Why It Matters (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007), p. 39.
2 This statistic is based on a study conducted in 2008 by researchers at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut and funded by the Lilly Endowment.
3 Thomas Bryne Edsall, “Blue America,” Atlantic Monthly. January 2003. Vol. 291, Issue 1.