You Lost Me

Have you drifted away from Christianity and/or the church?  I have been reading the book You Lost Me by David Kinnaman, and I have been challenged by some of the thought provoking (and hopefully action changing) points that he raises, many of which resonate with my own observations about both church and culture.

As part of his statistical and anecdotal synthesis, Kinnaman has surveyed 18-29 years who had church backgrounds but had drifted away, and he categorizes them into three broad categories:  Nomads, Prodigals, and Exiles.  Kinnaman identifies and defines these three general groups:

  • Nomadsyoung adults who walk away from church engagement but still consider themselves Christian.
    • You describe yourself as a Christian.
    • You believe that personal involvement in a Christian community is optional.
    • The importance of faith has faded.
    • You are probably not angry or hostile toward Christianity.
    • You are probably a spiritual experimentalist.
  • Prodigalsyoung adults who lose their faith, describing themselves as “no longer Christian”.
    • You feel varying levels of resentment toward Christians and Christianity.
    • You have disavowed returning to church.
    • You have moved on from Christianity.
    • Your regrets, if you have them, usually centre on your parents.
    • You feel as if you have broken out of constraints.
  • Exilesyoung adults who are still invested in their Christian faith but feel stuck (or lost) between culture and the church.
    • You are not inclined toward being separate from “the world”.
    • You are skeptical of institutions but are not wholly disengaged from them.
    • You sense God moving “outside the walls of the church”.
    • You are not disillusioned with tradition; you are frustrated with slick or shallow expressions of religion.
    • You express a mix of concern and optimism for your peers.
    • You have not found faith to be instructive to your calling or gifts.
    • You struggle when other Christians question your motives.

What about you?  If you are a young adult, have a background in the church, and feel a drift away from the church, which of the three categories would define you best?

Cast your vote in the poll below, and the post your comments and observations.


[poll id="11"]

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6 Replies to “You Lost Me”

  1. I think you’re missing a few categories for folks who have drifted from the church. Many leave because it cramps their style, and don’ like the guilt-trip. Some depart when their contract is up — they attended to please their parents (or girlfriend/boyfriend, etc.) and apologetically excuse themselves after serving their time and reaching adulthood. Some drift because they can’t justify the time, or don’t fit in with (or even like) the subculture(s) that exists in a church. A big one would simply be a weighed decision for atheism, agnosticism, another denomination or a whole other faith that was made without prejudice to parents or an existing church community. Many of my friends in university left when their eyes were opened to other ways of seeing the world (and their purpose in it) that were incompatible or at least in sharp tension to a Christian viewpoint. Another would be a matter of self-respect for individuals who felt that church was a place of judgement or hypocrisy; I have a gay (Mennonite) friend who needed to make that choice in order to maintain his dignity.

    One that I can identify with, or at least can re-imagine from the younger version of myself that “drifted,” is a bit more complicated and looks more like the centre of the Venn diagram that would be made from your three categories, admittedly closest to the EXILE camp. In the mid-1990s I found myself with a disdain for the political and organizational structure of the church, and a desire to escape the theological tautology that had little tolerance for questions from the “doubt” spectrum or a skepticism about the historical Jesus. I was also increasingly appalled by the sexism, homophobism, stogyism, assumed hierarchies, engineering of the board, service contracts, redefinition of communion, and social conservatism of the church. A minor irritant was the loss of hymns and the dumbing down of language for the perceived audience. There was also the immediate context and a sense that I wasn’t really in tune with the concerns of my peers and friends at church. This was coloured by some of the internal church politics of the 1990s with which I’m sure you are familiar. And finally I felt a sadness for the loss of Anabaptist theology and cultural understanding, particularly the tendency to bury stances on peace and nonresistance and replace them with a general comfort in consumerism and the marriage of church & state. When asked about my lack of church attendance, I provided some version of these reasons and a few others, and was told as a result that I should probably remove my membership, that my concerns were outside of what the church could address. Being asked to leave, essentially, made the decision to permanently leave easier, but added a bitterness that I did anticipate, for my original intention was to linger at the margins and participate only when I felt I had something to offer. I suppose I could have found a new church that tolerated my questions, but I am a cultural Mennonite as well as an Anabaptist refugee, and it was important for me to seek change and dialogue within a milieu that had ramifications for my historical identity.

    My decision to “drift” was not taken lightly and had little or nothing to do with my parents, whose amazing faith and witness I admire and reep benefits. I knew it would hurt some feelings, and cause some confusion, too, for I tried to bow out quietly and did not take the time to explain “why” to the many people who cared about me. I did this because I wanted to spare their feelings and did want my departure to be seen as an attack on their faith, but as a personal decision peculiar to the demands of my own conscience and thought-life. In some ways I still avoid the topic for the same reasons. I also lacked the confidence to express my concerns and misgivings openly, aside from 3 issues of a short-lived publication called the “Eastwood” — the early 1990s paper version of a blog, dedicated to free and open dialogue on a range of topics at Westwood. We had a variety of guest authors, young and old from inside the church, and a readership of about 50 stalwart, amused souls. I think it was a piece on the implications of post-modernity for Christianity that confirmed I was in the right place at the wrong time. My co-editor and I felt we were trying to start an amateur Reformation, and the efforts met with some official rebuke. He left the church immediately as a result, while I kept on for another couple of years. The Eastwood wasn’t really a factor in my departure, more of a symbolic confirmation that I needed to apply my writing, thinking, arguing, speaking abilities in another sphere… luckily this coincided with the beginning of my teaching career.

    You’ll notice I left out any real details on theology or my understanding of God, that would be a whole new discussion, and surprisingly was not a top factor in my drift away from institutional Christianity. I appreciate your questions and what I sense is an openness to dialogue (here, elsewhere online, and in your Citizen pieces) that was missing 20 years ago… wow, has it really been that long!?

    1. Thanks for your comments! 🙂 You’ve highlighted one of the challenges of the post – the book is around 300 pages long (I can’t remember exactly, and I don’t have a copy with me right now), whereas my post was just a couple hundred words. If you have time, reading the whole book could be a good thing.

      Given your comments, it sounds like either Nomad or Exile wold fit you best (again, taking Kinnaman’s three categories out of their context). And … I completely agree that the Western church needs to recapture a willingness to both talk with and listen to a wide range of voices in the church community. Elsewhere in the book (I can’t remember where), Kinnaman makes the point that the church needs to listen to the voices of the Exiles, if the church is to navigate the future well. From what I understand, I think I would agree with him.

      I think if our Canadian churches change a number of things, become more proactive than reactive, and we learn to listen well, the future is exciting. If we don’t, well …

  2. I would call myself a nomad because, although I did walk away from church engagement, I still consider myself a Christian. However, I do not think the importance of faith has faded, nor am I hostile or a spiritual experimentalist.

    In a sense, the definition of an exile fits me, as well, because of the fact that–in a way–I a feel cut of from institutionalization. I do read the Bible daily, pray without ceasing, and even fast at times. Not as an excuse, but as my own attempt at a reasoning, I guess I would say that my personal life seems to have drawn a line between me and the church; a combination of being busy, living with a boyfriend who doesn’t quite know what he believes in, and having a family with a different belief system.

    My biggest goal is to convince my boyfriend to try church with me, and to find the right one. Perhaps then words like nomad and exile that indicate a distinct distance from the church would no longer apply to me.

  3. •You are not inclined toward being separate from “the world”.
    •You are skeptical of institutions but are not wholly disengaged from them.
    •You sense God moving “outside the walls of the church”.
    •You are not disillusioned with tradition; you are frustrated with slick or shallow expressions of religion.
    •You express a mix of concern and optimism for your peers.
    •You have not found faith to be instructive to your calling or gifts.
    •You struggle when other Christians question your motives.
    I am not between the ages of 19 to 29, but this is how I feel (Exiles) I see that Exile got 100% so far. I feel that you do not have to be in a Church to feel the presents of God.

    1. I am also not a young adult anymore (sigh) nor a drifter, but I connect with a number of the Exile perspectives (the necessity of getting outside the walls of the church, the need to express our gifts/calling in all spheres of life, etc). I think the future of the church needs the voices of the Exiles.

      I love the comment about the presence of God. This is probably a difficult question to answer on a blog rather than in-person, but how would you describe “the presence of God”? What is it? What is it not?

  4. •I’m not inclined toward being separate from “the world”.
    •I’m skeptical of institutions but are not wholly disengaged from them.
    •I have a sense God moving “outside the walls of the church”.
    •I’m not disillusioned with tradition; you are frustrated with slick or shallow expressions of religion.
    •I express a mix of concern and optimism for your peers.
    •I have not found faith to be instructive to your calling or gifts.
    •I struggle when other Christians question your motives.

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