Book Review: You Lost Me by David Kinnaman

For quite a while now, people have been talking about the “dropout problem”—the grim reality that young professing Christians are leaving their faith behind in droves. Some catastrophize the issue and proclaim it the death of Christianity in America. Others minimize it, shrugging it off and retorting, “They’ll be back when they settle down and have kids.”

David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Research Group and author of You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith, doesn’t believe the problem is so simple. Through his research and analysis of the Mosaic (or Millennial) generation,1 Kinnaman shows that the problem far more serious than some think—but far more hopeful than we might expect.

You Lost Me, like many books on the Mosaics, is quick to point out an important reality: every story matters. It is exceptionally easy to make sweeping judgments about this generation (even in acknowledging its peculiar “Let’s change the world—look at me!” ideology), so much so that it becomes easy to overlook the reality that these are the experiences of real people. And the experience they share, both in the testimonies peppered throughout the book as well as in the research itself, is troubling.

You Lost Me‘s greatest strength is Kinnaman’s assessment of the real reason behind the dropout problem—it’s a discipleship issue. “The church is not adequately preparing the next generation to follow Christ faithfully in a rapidly changing culture,” he explains (p. 21). This bears itself out as he details the frustrations of the Mosaics participating in the study, who find that the church is:

  1. Overprotective—they see the church “as a creativity killer where risk taking and being involved in culture are anathema” (p. 92).
  2. Shallow—having been fed a steady diet of “easy platitudes, proof texting and formulaic slogans,” they don’t see how their faith connects to every facet of life and how their passions, gifts and abilities can be used for God’s glory.
  3. Antiscience—they see faith and science are incompatible, even finding that “science appears to welcome questions and skepticism, while matters of faith seem impenetrable” (p. 93).
  4. Repressive—”Religious rules—particularly sexual mores—feel stifling to the individualist mindset of young adults,” Kinnaman writes. “Consequently they perceive the church as repressive.”
  5. Exclusive—Christianity’s claim to exclusivity is a hard sell, simply because of how this generation has been shaped by “a culture that esteems open-mindedness, tolerance, and acceptance.”
  6. Doubtless—they don’t believe the church is a safe place to express doubts or admit that their faith doesn’t always make sense. “[M]any feel that the church’s response to doubt is trivial and fact focused, as if people can be talked out of doubting.”

These areas of disconnection have direct implications for making disciples. Shallow platitudes don’t build a robust faith, nor does cultural withdrawal assist in connecting with those outside the Christian community. An antiscientific mindset doesn’t help those who are genuinely interested in the sciences feel like they “belong” in the faith. An environment where genuine questions aren’t welcome doesn’t allow us to “have mercy on those who doubt” (Jude 22).

Reading the overviews and the in-depth analysis featured throughout the chapters devoted to each issue, I often found myself agreeing with a hearty “yes and amen.” But I also found myself carefully examining the experiences depicted and asking, “How much of this is a genuine problem of the church and how much is a problem with the person’s actions and attitudes?” This again points to the diagnosis that there is a disciple-making problem at the heart of the dropout problem.

For some, it’s because they legitimately haven’t been equipped—so those who believe the sexual mores of biblical Christianity are repressive should read the Puritans2 to completely shatter that image. But “repressive” or “exclusive” can often be used as excuses for “presumptuous sins” (Psalm 19:13)—you know something is wrong, you know it’s bad for you, but you’re going to do it anyway.

While some might struggle with the widely ecumenical view of Christianity displayed, perhaps the weakest element of You Lost Me is its lack of gospel application particularly in terms of the questions being asked (at least as far as what was shown in the book was concerned). I can’t help but wonder what the results might have been had the surveys included a question such as “What is the gospel?” My suspicion is that it would only have further illustrated the gaping hole in our discipleship methodology, but it might have also been an opportunity to drive home the reality that the gospel is not something that you accept once and move on, but something you delve deeper into. The only place I recall this playing out at all is in all too fleeting mentions in the final chapter of the book, “Fifty Ideas to Find a Generation” (which carries on the ecumenism displayed by including voices from all across the spectrum such as Francis Chan, Britt Merrick, Drew Dyck—whose quote is perhaps the best in the entire chapter—Shane Claiborne and Rachel Held Evans).

Despite this weakness, You Lost Me is an extremely helpful and revealing look at what is causing young Christians to leave the Church, one that I hope will serva as a wake-up call to those who have become complacent and an encouragement to those who are pressing on in the hard work of making disciples. Read it carefully, give it due consideration and allow Kinnaman’s findings to help address any changes that might need to be made.


Title: You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith
Author: David Kinnaman
Publisher: Baker Books (2011)

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Kinnaman defaults to “Mosaic,” in part because the Barna Group coined it.
  2. True story. Read chapter 23 of Living For God’s Glory by Joel Beeke to see what I mean.
  • http://sightregained.com Louis Tullo

    I always find it fascinating reading about this topic because I am an oddity in my generation. I grew up in church (from the age of 5 on I attended a church, children’s group, youth group and was in their Christian school), and was a faithful member of my church even when I was in public high school. As I was growing up I became very frustrated and angry at the church and disengaged while I was away at college, but even when I couldn’t bring myself to be in church I still held tightly to my faith. 

    While I know it’s not healthy for a believer to not be a part of the visible body of Christ, the time in my life where I wasn’t in church really helped draw me to the powerful relationship I have with Christ today. During those years I really saw how depraved my heart truly is, and how much I needed Jesus. It’s particularly hard for believers who grow up knowing Christ because the experience of salvation is not as dramatic. Instead it’s a gradual journey of growing in truth, and learning through experience. 

    Without being grounded in the Bible as I grew up, I’m not sure I would be in the place I am today. Thankfully, God saw fit to put an extraordinary passion for studying the Bible in my DNA. It’s the most awe-striking gift I have from God and am beyond thankful for it. 

  • Alan

    Louis, powerful witness to the work of Jesus in you. I think that polls in politics must find the goofiest demographic in the world: up one day and down the next, it seems as if you could just make up any poll you want and find corroboration for it (punctuation globule with a wink goes here). So I have a skepticism of poll-driven anything, including this book (which is a very good look at a very real problem). I am 58, and the methods decried in this article worked to keep me close to Jesus and the church. I think the laziest question in the world is, “How can you make Christianity affect my life,” because it abdicates all responsibility for the very process you describe, Louis: making Jesus apply starts with dying to ourselves and allowing the Spirit to make our lives conform to the Kingdom, not the other way around. I may be too old for this topic, but I don’t think so. To me, it’s not how does the church change to capture the wandering youth, but how do we challenge the youth to live up to their own claimed faith in Christ. Groups like AIM seek to provide a context for this. I’ll stop now!

    • http://sightregained.com Louis Tullo

      Couldn’t agree with you more here Alan - making Jesus apply starts with dying to ourselves and allowing the Spirit to make our lives conform to the Kingdom, not the other way around. That’s Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-30 are all about! We have to be so careful of not creating consumer Christianity!

  • Pingback: Tons of Cool Stuff: Volume 1 | Juan The Baptist

  • http://SeekFind.net/ Bob Stenson

    I saw a very brief reference to this book in the AFA Journal and thought that it seemed to be endorsing things that aren’t part of Christ’s Body, so I googled and came to this site.  From the young Christians and those who have turned away from God whom I have worked with, it seems that inconsistency is a key.  Parent don’t teach in the home and live two lives.  The Church says we believe the Bible . . . except for certain parts.  Some get rid of creation.   Some get rid of power for righteousness.  Some get rid of power for miracles.  Some get rid of all the things in Scripture (and experience) the tell us that God communicates His will to us in many ways.  Some get rid of the pattern of Christ’s Body in Scripture that don’t enhance money, power, prestige, and entertainment.  There is more emphasis on making sure everyone is having a good time than in actually connecting with the Spirit of God.  Your experience?

  • Pingback: Discipleship: A New Look | Juan The Baptist

  • Pingback: The Backlist: The Top Ten Posts on Blogging Theologically | Blogging Theologically

  • Pingback: The real secret of keeping millennials in the church | Blogging Theologically