You Lost Me 2

David Kinnaman has written what I suspect will be a much-discussed, perhaps much-debated, book about why it is that young adults are walking out the doors of the church. His book is called You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith. David’s previous book, called unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity… and Why It Matters, focused on outsiders. This one focuses on insiders — those reared in the church. It offers description of various types of young adults who are walking away from the church.

So why are young adults walking away from the church? What can be done about this? If you could suggest one thing, what would it be? What will have to change for that one thing to happen?

David’s research has led him to six major elements of “disconnection” with the church that leads to those reared in the faith to becoming “nomads” or “prodigals” or “exiles.” Here are the six major elements of disconnection:

1. Overprotective. Mosaics are shaped more by creativity, cultural engagements and progressivism — re-imagine, re-create, re-think — while the church tends toward the conservative, the traditional, and the lack of change.

2. Shallow. Too many platitudes, too simple of proof texting, and formulaic slogans are a problem for Mosaics. A church that is thin theologically, and who can gainsay this for far too many of America’s churches?, cannot respond adequately to the deeper level of questions of many Mosaics.

3. Antiscience. Faith and science are incompatible for many Mosaics. Science works, as they experience daily. What does this say for faith? Not much. Science is not afraid, the church is. Thank God for someone like RJS on this site, and this is not a statement about her own beliefs and conclusions but about the posture of asking questions and probing.

4. Repressive. Religious rules stifle Mosaics who are so individualist and sexually-oriented. How has the church shown that it has understood sexuality, and how has the church responded? How can a church be trusted when so many of its members are divorced? Is this just about sex or is this even more about relationality?

5. Exclusive. Mosaics are shaped by tolerance, open-mindedness, and acceptance, and the church seems so exclusive and boundary-driven. How can the church challenge such Mosaics?

6. Doubtless (no doubts allowed). Many Mosaics openly claim the church does not permit and does not welcome their own doubts. It is not safe. I still think the emerging movement offered shelter for those who were told not to doubt. This doubt is both intellectual and institutional. Will the church be able to integrate their questions into a life of faith?

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  • Bo White

    I ran across this recently and wonder if there’s some underlying synergy. The gospel story has sometimes become more descriptive rather than it is dynamic. Wouldn’t all Mosaics connect with a dynamic story that includes their own past, present, and future?

    “Can you speak Gospelese?
    Posted by Paul Levy


    Our church is a gospel church that is gospel crazy for gospel living. We believe that gospel discipleship makes gospel people who create gospel change and gospel dynamics. We believe in gospel administration for gospel organising. Gospel youth work is essential for gospel kids. A gospel welcome for gospel needers!

    What am I going on about? That’s a very good point indeed.

    Gospel has become an adjective which if you want people to think you’re kosher in conservative evangelicalism you add it, seemingly, to everything.

    What is interesting is that we are often more willing to talk about the gospel than we are about Jesus. The gospel is not a formula to stop me getting angry with my kids, the gospel is an announcement of news regarding the incarnate son of God.”

  • Maybe another category is relevant here – Authoritarian. Traditional church teaches us how to think and how to behave and all too often gets upset with people who choose to be different.

    People (all generations, not just mosaics) want to be heard and valued. There’s not much dialogue in typical church life. But read the new testament and there’s dialogue everywhere! Everyone was encouraged to contribute when they gathered. The whole point of sending the Holy Spirit was that ALL would receive him and express him.

    Church is just Jesus and his people in community, that’s very simple. A great example is Bill Hoffman’s story of the church at table number two.

  • I’d love to start a Christian “Unchurch” characterized by the counterpoint of each of these six elements!

  • Jason Lee

    Does anyone know if the Barna Group has responded to Stark and Johnson’s strong criticisms of their recent reports:

    “The national news media yawned over the Baylor Survey’s findings that the number of American atheists has remained steady at 4% since 1944, and that church membership has reached an all-time high. But when a study by the Barna Research Group claimed that young people under 30 are deserting the church in droves, it made headlines and newscasts across the nation—even though it was a false alarm.”

    The full article:

  • Scot McKnight

    Jason, apart from this statistical issue, what do you think of Kinnaman’s points here? Accurate? Inaccurate? Undemonstrated?

  • Scot McKnight

    And Jason one more…

    Christian Smith’s research showed that 20somethings are not deserting the church any more than they have before and he showed me the numbers being bandied about were not accurate and I changed my mind because of Smith, but that group is not well represented in churches (and never have been). But the delay of children, and parents-with-children is the best predictor of return to church, is concerning … no?

  • AJ

    I agree with the list. I also agree with Chris in comment 2 – Authoritarian. The most recent examples of people leaving “church” that I have seen are primarily because of the authoritarian issue and #5, usually using the word “judgemental”. It seems to me that all of these things would change if churches were committed to a full gospel, as described in King Jesus Gospel.

  • Lisa

    This is true not only for tweens, teens and 20 somethings, but for mature Believers in their 50s. I know; I’m one of them. We need to impress upon people how Christianity is a relationship with GOD, not a contract. It’s not about what we do but who we are and most importantly, Who He is.

  • Fred

    Mark @ #3

    I hope that you would do that. THe question I have pertains to recent seminary graduates. Divinity students must read these books and my guess is that most, if not all, come out of school with the same intentions. What happens?

    Lisa #8

    In the first installment of this book, many claimed the same thing, it’s not just the younger groups but us “olders” as well. And many of us “elderly” are simply giving up. We seem to be like the blind leading the blind.

  • John

    Maybe I missed something, but who are we trying to quantify with the label Mosaics??

  • Mark

    Scot – the statistical issue is important in regards to the science question. You don’t get science if you are cherry picking numbers. Cherry picking numbers makes everything you say questionable. Much too light of a brush away.

    Second thought, so many of these things are double bladed. For example, the church did become shallow in many places, but I don’t think that was ever the willing choice of many leaders and pastors. They went shallow because they wanted to fill the hall. Shallow worked numerically. If thick and deep was really what was attractive – the Roman church would be a massive net importer in the culture. Also the thicker a church becomes the more it is going to bump against overprotective, repressive, and exclusive. The thick church has something to say. It draws distinctions and asks for assent. Too many of that list are just – “I want my church my way, and if you don’t agree, well I’m going to drop out.”

  • DLS

    These are the reasons twentysomethings *give* for leaving church because it legitimizes their decision. The reality is that the average twentysomething in America is not leaving church for any of these reasons.

    I’m not buying that the average twentysomething in America is leaving church because it’s “too shallow”. Have you met any college students lately? 🙂 I’d say it’s the exact opposite.

    Also, none of this is new. Since time began, twentysomethings “don’t like people telling them what to do”.

  • rjs

    Mark (#11)

    I think that it is a slam against most leaders and pastors to claim that they “went shallow” to fill the hall. The real situation is more complex than this – and involves reaching a broad range of people simultaneously. They “went shallow”, if that is the right term to use, in order to have a broad impact for the right reasons.

    I think the problem isn’t that leaders “went shallow” as much is that it is very hard to get beyond shallow. There is not enough emphasis placed on going beyond the entry level thinking. Churches need to think hard about how to encourage people to grow. This is much harder than getting people in the door and interested in the first place.

  • DLS- I don’t think calling “Mosaics,” as Kinnaman coins them, as shallow is going to be helpful in this discussion. I know a lot of college students and I find almost all of them to be much more educated and knowledgeable than most older people will give them credit for.

    I for one, as a Mosaic, completely agree with Kinnaman’s points here. I don’t think there’s much to debate, this is simple fact for many Mosaics who have left church. I would push back on point #4 or “Repressive.” I don’t think this generation is as individualist as he makes us out to be. We simply haven’t found many communities when true community and relationship is valued.

  • DLS

    “DLS- I don’t think calling “Mosaics,” as Kinnaman coins them, as shallow is going to be helpful in this discussion.

    – Neither is ignoring reality and pretending that they’re all looking for more depth and the lack of depth is driving them away. Are there twentysomethings who are looking for a deeper faith? Absolutely. I’m sure that you’re one of them. But is that the case for the vast majority? No way.

  • This is pretty interesting. I found UnChristian to be helpful and reflective of my experience. I’m not entirely this list does though. What I am finding is that much of the disconnection lies in the silo-ing of the church along generational lines.

    As children are brought into many (not all) churches they initially placed in the children’s wing. They are entertained. When they enter “big church” they find it boring, stifling, and authoritarian (not that a 10 year old would use those words). When they advance to the youth wing. Where they are catered to so as to try and keep them. When they graduate HS and go to college they connect with a parachurch ministry where they find deep community and connection and more people catering to them.

    Then they graduate collge and cannot find a church community that reflects their experience on campus. The disconnect has begun.

    When we silo according to age we do not help the “olders” or the “youngers” or those in between. What we are doing is short circuiting the discipleship process and building barriers to the development of mature worshipers among children within the faith community.

    What I think we are seeing in the “Youth Group” generations of adults is this lack of maturity as worshipers. We as the Church did this with the best of intentions. But, we are paying the price now.

  • JBL

    I think there are at least two different phenomenon at work here as far as people not continuing in the institutional forms of their upbringing. I have not read this book, but from what I have seen on this blog, this book with its nomads/prodigals/exiles and their reasons seems to be describing the phenomenon of the thinker, the intellectual, or the “educated”. There are also loads of people leaving for other reasons. I happen to relate to what has been posted here as an “exile” as I said on the Part I. And these reasons listed above are dead on.

    However there are a lot of people leaving that don’t care to and have not thought long and hard about other ways to look at things as the “mosaics” written about here have. These folks seem to be leaving because the “show” is just not as entertaining as the alternatives. Those who are culturally close to the conservative church culture will stick around only if associated with a very well run mega-church show. Those who are not culturally close to this will definitely not stick around, and even those who are close to this culturally won’t stick around if the little church can’t put on the high production value mega-church style show.

    Whether not deep(read real) enough for the “thinker” or not shallow(read fun and exciting) enough for the “consumer”, the institutional forms of church are not relating (read challenging) to the current society. The early church was exciting and real. I think the difference is the focus of the church lately is reactionary (sort of a siege mentality). Rather than an advancing, active, engaging gospel virus that meets people where they are in the culture, the church is neatly tucked away in their holy huddle trying to just survive. If the church could see there way clear to renounce the establishment and the institutional forms that are stifling the outward impulse, we could once again reach the world.

  • DLS

    Good points by Daniel Rose.

  • DRT

    While I agree with the 6 points, I don’t think they are causes but symptoms. They are symptomatic of a culture where spirituality is something that must be learned and the young are not respected as much as the old for their education. As said earlier, they are symptoms of an authoritarian mindset that the younger people need to be educated and the older folks have the education that must be imparted to the younger.

    At least that is how I felt and continue to feel.

    Spirituality is not like facts, it often (mainly?) a call of discovery. Of building the muscles that allow the insight and discover bigger and better horizons. You can lead a mosaic to the bible but you can’t make them understand. They have to discover it for themselves.

    Yes, there are those who respond well to an authoritarian approach, I have a cousin that sends out all the GOP nonsense and preaches hell. But most aren’t like that. But given the church is dominated by those people, we may never break out.

  • Rob

    This is good stuff. for anyone in the York, PA area, David Kinnaman will be speaking at Living Word community church on Oct. 25th.

  • Fred


    Great point. I have appreciated your comments on this site, especially when it comes to thinking in the church.

    But I am curious about how you would go about it. I have some ideas but they always seem to fall on deaf ears.


    Sure, spirituality is not like facts. But that is exactly where we must begin. What is the O.T. but a collection of historical facts? And you are right, we have to go well beyond that. I fear that we use the “authoritarian” approach because too many church leaders (like to?) see themselves as the authority.

  • Josh Kerkhoff

    Anyone read Putnam and Campbell’s American Grace? I think this book gives additional information to the statistics.

    Like Daniel, I do think there are generational programmatic differences in the church that are causing young people to leave. Our churches are largely silo’ed, segmented and even segregated and this is evidence of poor ecclesiology. Many reasons for this poor ecclesiology in North America. We need to go back to discerning Christ’s mission and movement for churches to change the way we function as the church.

  • Mark

    RJS (#13)

    I agree that getting beyond shallow is very difficult. And I agree that it is complex. Where I don’t agree is that each pastor is confronted almost every week with a choice of being faithful which is usually being deep and thick or being shallow. And you are also confronted with the fact that being shallow typically leads to more people. That is why it is difficult getting beyond. Most parishoners would rather have a nice polished word that doesn’t really ask anything.

    Being one of those pastor/leaders I take it as fair to say that many choose the full house over being faithful. Many more just don’t have the raw skills to be thick and clear at the same time. Saying that you did it to have broader reach is an ex post facto explanation or justification of the action. It is also deeply troubling as it is akin to taking all the kingdoms of the world because then I can reach them. Unfortunately I’ve bent the knee to Satan to get that opportunity. I have rarely seen a place that really attempts to move beyond the shallows. Oh they wave flags in that direction, but concerted effort would cost money and people in the pews.

  • Josh Kerkhoff

    Mark (#23)

    What do you mean by “thick and clear at the same time”? Curious how this plays out in the context of a church.

  • If we keep thinking of “church” as a guy on stage facing a room full of people in seats, we’re missing a fundamental shift. Virtuality is pulling younger people away from a central point of authority, as they become more open to, and comfortable with, global-participatory forms of authority in their lives.

    From this perspective, the forces behind Kinnaman’s six elements of disconnection become clear.

  • Fish

    DLS (#12). I’m with you. They may give those reasons, but the real reasons they aren’t engaged with church are quite different.

    I expect a 20-something to be focused on education, starting jobs, romance, fun and all the other things that 20-somethings have always focused on.

    They have their entire lives to kickstart; it may not be the best thing for them to have roots in a church, to perhaps be held back by church family from leaving town and experiencing the wild world of God’s creation.

    To expect them to have the same spiritual attitude at that stage of life as a set of new parents in their late 30s is unrealistic.

  • rjs

    Mark (#23),

    Thanks. You have much more direct experience than I have. I am not a pastor, or a church leader, and thus have not really been confronted with this temptation. In my case the temptation would fall more along the lines of “dumbing down” the major or a course to build enrollment so the course/major “pays” (and yes there is that temptation at times).

    I am reluctant though to cast aspersions on the motivations of others, especially in the church.

  • Josh Kerkhoff

    Here is another perspective from a pastor who leads a multiethnic church:

    This might add to the conversation.

  • Glenn

    For me, David Kinnaman hit this one out of the park.

  • TSG

    Jameson’s “Chrysalis” was not an analogy that many wanted to take too far. However, he was centered on many of the issues in these comments. His suggestion of a wayfaring station type of church applies. This would be a place for interaction of different growth stages, for doubts and questions, for each to bring as the Spirit supplies. He compared the mentality needed as one that is like maintaining a bed and breakfast. I have noticed small evangelical churches that have separate buildings for office space or classes, or youth, that, with a small budget and paradigm shift, could transition to this unchurch( as labeled by Mark Farmer). A centered rather than bounded set, dedicated to a bigger idea of Jesus( as described by Jamal Jivanjee), and striving for education in tradition, reason, faith, and experience.

  • DLS

    @#28, here’s a quote from your link: “The basic problem is that we remain a Eurocentric, white, middle class church wedded to a way of doing faith that is deeply dependent on Enlightenment Rationalism…

    The horror! Yes, that “adds to the conversation”, but certainly not in a good way.

  • Mark

    #24 – By thick and clear I mean addressing something deep/thick like the theology of the cross or the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic” nature of the church while doing it in such a way that people of all stripes can hear it. The ultimate examples are the parables of Jesus – extremely profound and simple. It is easy to be one or the other. Both is tough.

    #27 rjs – I don’t really want to cast aspersions either, it is just my observation – the famous focus group of one. But I also happen to believe the Lord sends his church the people he intends and its the work of the Spirit not the individual that matters, so while I might question exactly why or how certain things are good, it is really not my place.

  • Josh Kerkhoff

    #32 The interesting thing is that when Jesus told parables, they were often heard but confusing at the same time. The disciples don’t understand why he spoke in parables and needed extra time with Jesus so that they might understand. I think the stories opened up more questions and asked for response from the hearers. Not sure our teaching/preaching does the same thing.

    I think one of the primary challenges to church is that we largely communicate in points, in phrases, in verses and yet our culture (and Jesus) communicated through image, parable and story. I think the notion of shallowness and even “boring” may be an accurate description of the church because we are communicating with people in a foreign language of points, phrases and verses. It might be the English language but it is not shared cultural language.

  • Josh Kerkhoff

    #28 – Do you think this is destructive or threatening to the conversation? What makes it so?

  • Randy Gabrielse

    #2:”People (all generations, not just mosaics) want to be heard and valued. There’s not much dialogue in typical church life.”

    I believe that this is a key issue. Young people, particularly those who are thinking hard about such things as faith and belief want to be heard and valued. I think that one of the key issues here is that many churches assign listening and helping youth to professional youth pastors, rather than encourage everyday church members to listen, share and model. I think of a whole cadre of people whom I listened to and raised questions with. And I asked some HARD questions.
    Randy G.

  • Josh Kerkhoff


    Another example of how younger people are silo’ed into separate ministries from the church and body. The people of God, even parents, expect someone to listen to the questions of their kids instead of listening and modeling faith for our younger generations.

  • TJJ

    I agree this is a pretty accurate list. I think most of these are more prevelent the smaller, numbers wise, a congregation is, and less so the larger the congregation is, although not always, to be sure. Geography is also a large factor. The more rural a setting, the more these things are present, the more urban/suburban, the more likely to be less so. I have no stats to back this up, only personal experience of pastoring/attending churches in such contexts for the past 30+ years, but based on that, it seems likely to me to be the case.

  • I agree with all the points. The question is what new forms of discipleship need to emerge to engage this generation.

    #25 Johnl wrote “If we keep thinking of “church” as a guy on stage facing a room full of people in seats, we’re missing a fundamental shift.” I agree.

    The young people approaching our ministry are doing so because they want to engage, to experience, to discover for themselves the mysteries of the faith. They are not as interested in having someone unpack it, put it on a power-point and list the main premise of the text for them along with 5 easy to apply points. They are however interested in discovering Jesus for themselves in the streets of our city, in the faces of the homeless, in the stories of the oppressed.

    The point I get about them not wanting the easy pat answers points less to “shallow teaching” and more to a thirst for the mystery. Mystery is messy, it allows space for doubts and invites an understanding of God that is bigger than human definition. It creates that space for wrestling and personal reflection and connection that we all thirst for.

    I recently wrote a post “Following the Leader” that compares our institutional(authoritarian) approach to Jesus more “on-the-job” training style. I think teaching people to see God in the world for themselves is where we need to invest – not just for young people but for all who want to live like Jesus.

  • Dan Arnold

    To those who say that Barna’s research is flawed and Mosaic’s are not leaving the church anymore than in previous generations, I’m not sure that Kinnaman is saying that their numbers are that much more. What I read him to be saying is that, due to significant changes in the culture, Mosaics will be substantially less likely to return, in large part because of the wide availability of information on the internet and because they achieve the typical markers for adulthood much later in life (can you say, failure to launch?) than previous generations.

    Given this cultural change, unlike previous generations, Mosaics will have no driver to overcome these six elements of disconnection.

    I’m not convinced of this because I see these same disconnections in myself and others who comment on this blog who appear to be well beyond the age range of Mosaics and yet are still vested in their churches. The disconnects are common to some extant but clearly not limited to Mosaics. Why is it, then, that only Mosaics won’t return to the church?

  • Of course one has to give the milk of the word, but if there isn’t more, than how can it be for everyone present? We all need stretched and challenged in every way. While also helped to remain true to the core of the faith in Jesus.

  • Steve Sherwood

    #12 DLS

    I have to disagree with you here. I spend all my time with college-aged students and those just out of college. The issues described in this book seem very real to the lives of the people I talk to. While SOME might use these kinds of reasons as a way to brush off, “I’m really just leaving the church so I can have guild-free sex with my girlfriend,” I talk a LOT to folks wrestling with the exact issues listed here.

    And, things are not just the same-old-same-old with young people. Prolonged adolescence, growing up in a flat, technology driven world, and not just dabbling in postmodernity, but living in it as naturally as fish in water makes this generation very different than the one I, and I suspect most posting here, grew up in.

  • Steve Sherwood

    “guilt” not “guild” obviously, though “guild free sex” is an interesting thought.

  • Dutch Rikkers

    Pornography, consumerism, distraction are rotting the “saints” in the church The Holy Spirit is quenched. No one hears “the call” anymore.

    Perhaps these are the days when the Holy Spirit is withdrawing–since no one is listening anyway.