'You Lost Me'

A Wakeup Call for the Church

The Church is losing young people at an alarming clip. But a new book offers hope and some helpful ideas. Stay tuned to BreakPoint.

Listen Now | Download

Eric Metaxas

We’ve all seen the statistics and heard the stories: Good Christian kids go to college, grow disillusioned, and leave the faith. In his new book, “You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church . . . and Rethinking Faith,” David Kinnaman writes, “Overall, there is a 43 percent drop-off between the teen and early adult years in terms of church engagement.”

Kinnaman was co-author with my friend Gabe Lyons of the book unChristian, which examined how unbelievers view the Church. But as Kinnaman says, “You Lost Me, on the other hand, is about young insiders”—those who were once part of the Church.

We lose these young people for many reasons, according to Kinnaman’s research. Some have felt that their questions about faith were ignored, or that they were given pat answers. Others had their interest in the arts or sciences discouraged by church members who believed that these couldn’t possibly be Christian vocations. Still others “feel isolated from their parents and other older adults in the realm of faith and spirituality.”

It boils down to this: Young dropouts often feel that the church doesn’t understand their concerns and needs, and has no real guidance to offer. But Kinnaman believes there’s reason for hope. “The majority of young dropouts are not walking away from faith,” he says, “they are putting involvement in church on hold.”

Many dropouts still believe the tenets of Christianity. What they need from the Church is a renewed effort at disciple-making, an effort that meets them where they are; lets them express their questions, ideas, and doubts; and encourages them to grow in Christ.

And what do we do about those younger teens who haven’t yet reached that point where so many drop out? Kinnaman says that we adults need to form one-on-one relationships with them, instead of trying to mass-produce young believers. He writes, “I think we are constantly building, tearing down, and rebuilding our youth and young adult development regimens based on the fallacy that more is better...We need new ways of measuring success.”

So, he suggests, one metric of success might be to connect young people to older people — mentoring relationships. Kinnaman says, “These relationships would not be solely focused on spiritual growth, but should integrate the pursuit of faith with the whole life.”

That makes sense to me. Today’s younger generation is relationally oriented. Teaching them a set of principles in an isolated setting is not going to inculcate a biblical worldview in many of these teens. As my BreakPoint colleague John Stonestreet says, "When it comes to teens, worldview is as much caught as it is taught'."

Even providing lots of entertainment, as some youth ministries do, is not going to do it. It’s spending time with these kids, showing them that they matter to you, and living out your beliefs in front of them. That’s going to spark their interest and their desire for God.

So let’s not read the statistics and shake our heads. To keep our young people in the church is going to require a sustained effort — and a lot of relationship building. But it’s an effort that will pay off in a spiritually healthy younger generation and a revitalized Church.

Dave Kinnaman and John Stonestreet have worked with the next generation for years, and they talk about this and Dave’s book “You Lost Me” on this weekend’s BreakPoint this Week.  Come to BreakPoint.org to listen. And while you’re there, find out how to download an audio of a talk by John titled “Why Students Walk Away from the Faith (and what we can do about it...)”

Further Reading and Information

You Lost Me
David Kinnaman | Baker Books | 2001

David Kinnaman, Gabe Lyons | Baker Books | 2007

'UnChristian': What People Really Think of Us
Chuck Colson | Christian Post | January 8, 2008

Generation Limbo
Chuck Colson | BreakPoint | October 31, 2011

They're Not Buying What We're Selling
Regis Nicoll | BreakPoint | March 7, 2008

BreakPoint this Week
John Stonestreet | BreakPoint | May 25, 2012

FREE AUDIO DOWNLOAD: Why Students Walk Away from The Faith
John Stonestreet | The Colson Center Bookstore



Good news
I rejoice that your church sees the need for discipling the next generation. Unfortunately, there are so many that don't that many of their activities and structure mitigate against maturity and discipleship. Hopefully, with leaders like Tim Keller and others, we can start to reverse this destructive trend.
Your comments give me the shudders, because I agree with them. They describe the parent I don't want to be. Having gotten the "Believe because we said so and because the Catholic Church says so" when I was a child, I certainly don't say such things to my children.

Statistics of churched youth walking away causes me some passing worries about raising our children in church. There's some irony for you! However, I see in our current church that it is possible to raise children in a church and raise them to maturity in Christ as they reach physical and emotional maturity. We largely chose this place of worship to be our spiritual home because we see their fruit in their young people; if these are the young adults this church helps families to raise, then sign me up!!

As well, I enjoy being really real with my children as well as others. Perhaps I'm the anti-"church lady" if that makes any sense.
I can relate
Francis Schaeffer lamented years ago of having hundreds of young people come to L'abri who had "accepted Christ as Saviour", but were not sure that God even existed. Having known the call of Christ to be a discipler for over thirty years, I can affirm that it has been a lonely and misunderstood calling. To say that I have not exactly been welcomed with open arms is a huge understatement. More often, I was told to "lay my intellect aside" or "we have all of these activities; what more do we need?" Sadly, many evangelicals are completely bereft of any concept of apologetics, worldview training or cultural analysis. Even more sadly, it's their children and their children who are paying a very high price.
Flawed approach?
A friend told me that, when he shared his struggles with an addiction problem with men at his church, they told him what to do -- pray more, read the Bible more, etc., etc. When he told his struggles to a Twelve Step group, he was told, "Here's what we did." The difference is huge!
The message in this story seems to be that modeling is more powerful than instruction. The former is loaded with acceptance; the latter is laced with a holier-than-thou mentality that can easily be interpreted as judgmental or even as rejection.
Perhaps many would not get disillusioned, if the church were real enough and secure enough to say, "Hey, we struggle, too! And here is what we did that seemed to help."