Kinnaman Examines the Journey from Lost to Found, Part 1

LostMe_review_06302015David Kinnaman with Aly Hawkins. 2011. You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Faith [1].  Grand Rapids: BakerBooks. (Goto part 2; goto part 3)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

I dropped out of church when I went to college.

I was neither angry at God nor questioning his existence—problems closer to home dominated my life:

  • I felt lost when our church youth group vanished overnight after the youth director was sacked;
  • I felt lost when I failed my college audition for music school;
  • I felt lost when the Vietnam draft loomed over me and I had trouble explaining to my parents why fighting in an unethical war was wrong; and
  • I felt lost in my singleness at a time when most of my peers were getting married.

In my junior year, my lostness gave way when I roomed with a persistent navigator [2] who helped me re-engage with the church. This is when I realized that my relationship with God was separate from my relationship with the church. This realization helped me reconnect with God and begin to share my other feelings of lostness with friends in Christ.

In his book, You Lost Me, David Kinnaman describes today’s drop out problem as a “faith development” or “disciple-making” problem (21). Kinnaman classifies drop outs into 3 broad categories:

  1. “Nomads [who] walk away from church involvement but still consider themselves Christians.”
  2.  “Prodigals [who] lose their faith, describing themselves as ‘no longer Christian’”.
  3. “Exiles [who] are still invested in their Christian faith but feel stuck (or lost) between culture and the church” (25).

This drop out problem is critical because the drop outs make most of their important decisions at a period in life (ages 20 to 30) when they have disengaged from their spiritual life in the church. Ironically, teenagers are some of the most religiously active Americans while 20-somethings are the least religiously active Americans (22).

Following George Barna, Kinnaman prefers the term, mosaic, and not the term, millennials, to describe this 20-something generation because of the eclectic (and often contradictory) nature of the relationships and the values that they pursue (29). In this context, the catchphrase, “every story matters”, is helpful because generalizations about mosaics are misleading (25).  Thus, Kinnaman is constantly highlighting the diversity among nomads, prodigals, and exiles even when he writes about these particular categories.  This diversity often takes the form of stories and counter-stories.

Kinnaman sees 3 important areas where the church needs to fill gaps in disciple-making among mosaics [3]:

  1. Relationships. Mosaics are both “extraordinarily relational and, at the same time, remarkably self-centered” (29).  It is hard to get to “we” when it’s all about me.
  2. Vocation. Mosaics receive “little guidance from their church communities for how to connect these vocation dreams deeply with their faith in Christ”. Special problems arise with creatives (artists, musicians, filmmakers, etc) and scientists (29-30, 80-83).
  3. Wisdom. Mosaics are inundated with information, but often lack the wisdom to filter through it (30-31).

Kinnaman sees the need to think of discipleship in terms of apprenticeship relationships where the uniqueness of the individual is both known and cherished (35).

David Kinnaman is the president and majority owner of the Barna Group [4], a private resource group in Ventura, California, which specializes in interviews and surveys on matters of faith.  He is well-known as the co-author of unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity.  You Lost Me is written in 12 chapters divided into 3 parts:

Part 1:  Drop Outs

  1. Faith, Interrupted,
  2. Access, Alienation, Authority,
  3. Nomada and Prodigals,
  4. Exiles,

Part 2: Disconnection

  1. Overprotective,
  2. Shallow,
  3. Anti-science,
  4. Repressive,
  5. Exclusive,
  6. Doubtless,

Part 3: Reconnection

  1. What’s Old is New
  2. Fifty Ideas to Find a Generation (7).

The focus in part 1 is on mosaics, in part 2 on the church, and in part 3 on how to respond to what has been learned.

David Kinnaman’s You Lost Me is a well-written marketing study complete with statistical results, analysis, and recommendations. Kinnaman’s research is thorough and he displays a deep understanding of the literature on dealing with generational shifts in the church.  My first response on finishing this book was to order his other book, UnChristian.  Pastors and lay leaders need to be aware of this research.

Here in part 1 of this review, I have given an overview of Kinnaman’s book.  In part 2, I will look in more depth at his discussion of mosaics and the 3 classes of drop outs.  In part 3, I will explore his discussion of the challenges facing the church.



[3]George Barna prefers the term, mosaic, to millennial because of the eclectic nature of relationships in this generation (29).



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