Recently, David Kinnaman came to speak at our CCO Fall training event and I enjoyed his presentation enough to dig into his most recent book for a deeper look at his research and conclusions. For those of us who are ministering to/with college-aged students and young adults, Kinnaman points to a variety of factors which all seem to indicate that the 18-29 crowd is disconnecting from the Church in more substantial numbers than ever before.
Although it’s always been a natural time for young Christians to explore and leave the reservation, so to speak, the numbers seem to indicate now that more Christians are walking away and staying away longer than ever before.
Coming from the president of the Barna Group, these observations certainly deserve our attention. In chapter two of the book, he argues that three key words characterize the ways in which current culture has made major shifts: Access, Alienation, and Authority.
But what I find supremely interesting are the images which are used to illustrate three main categories of young church dropouts: Nomads, Prodigals, and Exiles.
In the discussion of Nomads, Kinnaman describes “the most common category of dropout—the spiritual nomad, the wanderer. For these young adults, faith is nomadic, seasonal, or may appear to be an optional peripheral part of life. At some point during their teen or young adult years, nomads disengage from attending church or significantly distance themselves from the Christian community.”
For many in this category, leaving the church wasn’t so much an intentional decision but more of a “slow fade.” (The title of another good book on the subject by Chuck Bomar, Reggie Joiner, & Abbie Smith).
Prodigals are the most deliberately non-Christian group but also represent the smallest category. Many of these claim to have “moved on” from Christianity or see their de-conversion as an experience of freedom.
The last group Kinnaman describes are the Exiles. As the biblical metaphor implies, these young Christians are struggling to live out their faith within the context of a new cultural landscape. They may feel alienated or isolated from the Christian community (church) they grew up with but are hopeful about finding new ways of Christ-following which make sense to their communities and careers. They often feel a little lost, not sure where they fit in terms of the traditional church.
In my own context of ministry (the University of Cincinnati), I encounter quite a few Prodigals and enjoy conversations with that group but I find the Exiles particularly interesting and most willing to integrate their faith and leverage their lives for the good of others (service, evangelism, etc.) In my mind, “You Lost Me” is such a critical book to read and respond to because these Nomads and Exiles, in particular, can play a critical missional role in reaching others.