Halfway Home?

Michael Metzger

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.

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9 thoughts on “Halfway Home?”

  1. This is an excellent article. We all know young people who fit these categories. Many are our children. This is a huge opportunity for the church and one in which Kinnaman and Metzger can provide important leadership that is long overdue.

  2. Read a study recently suggesting that youth are not in our churches – whether they grew up in the church or not – because of two things: 1.) they’ re not married, and they’ re shacking up, and people in church are all married and look down on the cohabitors; and 2.) in their relative financial downside either via a low paying job thanks to no advanced education or because of still being young and underpaid in the market – they’re not in church because church people are doing well financially (older and married) and the poor don’t like being looked down upon by the rich. A double-whammy effect you might say. In sum, it’s not so much a world-view issue as it is a class issue. When I think about young people I know, this is so true. The only exception seems to be the truly devout who are celibate or married, and come even though their poor. But they’re not “seekers” or on the fence, they’re probably more devout than the marrieds. So in the long run, it’s the inability of the church to express a welcome to cohabiters – which is provable enough as a critical issue because the church can’t seem to express a legitimate welcome to homosexuals either. Once I read that report I felt a great deal of shame on behalf of the church: we’re trying to win them with world-view, philosophy and theology and they just need to feel the freedom to come as they are – but we don’t extend that invitation. I’m not saying we don’t preach the truth, but I’m saying that the way we do it seems to be halting our progress in being an inviting place.

  3. Great thoughts. Well put. I would that all believers who are interested in being salt and light, influencing our communities for Christ could read this and absorb it. As the men of Issachar: We must understand the culture, and then use the culture to reach the culture. Your article is helpful in all three.

  4. ANOTHER GENERATION

    As King Solomon wisely said, … “there is no new thing under the sun.”

    And here we go again with “another generation.”

    God gives us a great example of the “same old problem” from the Old Testament just after Joshua had died:

    Judges 2:10-12 And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the LORD, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel. And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served Baalim: And they forsook the LORD God of their fathers, which brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods, of the gods of the people that were round about them, and bowed themselves unto them, and provoked the LORD to anger.

    Today, trace it to a simple “unfaithfulness” of Christian’ ministers” in preserving the 7 mysteries revealed in Scripture from a King James A.V. 1611 Bible. And here they are:
    (1) The Incarnation of Christ ie. God was manifest in the flesh (ITimothy 3:16) (2) the Indwelling Christ (Colossians 1:27) (3) the Body of Christ (Ephesians 5:32, 3:1-5) (4) the Blindness of Israel (Romans 11:25) (5) the Incarnation of Satan (II Thessalonians 2:7) (6) the Rapture (I Corinthians 15:51) (7) Babylon the Great (Revelation 17:5) If every Christian pastor or preacher had been faithful in preserving these “mysteries”. we would not be in the mess we are today. (The Catholic Church doesn’t even mention the last three).

  5. Don’t know if any of your Baltimore area readers would find this interesting, but we at Hearts & Minds will be sponsoring an evening with Kinnaman to talk about “You Lost Me’ on Tuesday night, October 25th at 7:00 pm. It will be hosted at Living Word Community Church (Rt 24 near Red Lion, PA) just a mile from a store (just a few miles off of Rt 83 just South of York, PA.) So you could come up and hear him out and have a change to interact with his ideas. Thanks for writing about him. As always, good work, Mike.

  6. Mike Metzger

    Byron – thank you for mentioning this. Always happy to champion your work, as well as David Kinnaman’s. I hope Baltimore area readers come to hear Kinnaman (and meet you). Thanks again.

  7. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I find the situation quite, well, it fits our times and yet it feels like one of the deepest challenges to our faith, maybe ever. It’s as if we are at a reverse moment from Constantine’s conversion—then, the Church was the cult outsiders and the Emperor opened a door to legal standing. Before long, the normal religion was displaced and anyone who really felt an allegiance to Jupiter and the rest of the gods was basically barred from normal life. One had to become a Christian. Now, 1700+ years later, it’s going the other direction. And, if you read Barna’s reflections about the report in general (based on the book), the 5 major reflections are the types of things one says “hmm, well I can see their point, BUT, what they feel unhappy with are things God has said to do or think or feel.”

    http://www.barna.org/teens-next-gen-articles/528-six-reasons-young-christians-leave-church

  8. Mike Metzger

    Tim:

    With all due respect, the problem for the faith in exile is plausibility, not propositions about creation or arguments against evolution. Facts, whether they purport to support creation or evolution, only make sense – are plausible – inside frames. Thus, the issue in exile is plausibility, or our frames for reality – our assumptions about what is real.

    Carl:

    Good insights. The Barna report underlines my comments to Tim. Of course God has spoken about all these issues, but he does so inside a particular frame for reality. When a culture or people no longer shares that frame, the facts no longer are plausible.

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