Book Review; You Lost Me

Why Young Christians and Leaving the Church and Rethinking Faith – David Kinnamen


The shallowness equation has two sides. On the one, we find young adults who have only a superficial understanding of the faith and the Bible. The Christianity they believe is an inch deep. On the other, we find faith communities that convey a lot of information about God rather than discipling young believers to live wholly and deeply in the reality of God. Thus the Christianity some churches pass on is a mile wide. Put the two together and you get a generation of young believers who’s faith is an inch deep and a mile wide – too shallow to survive and too broad to make a difference. – David Kinnamen; You Lost Me; Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Faith

I first discovered the work of David Kinnamen and the Barna Research Group, the organization he heads up, with his first book, unChristian. That work was a look at what the current generation of atheists and agnostics think of the Church. It was so well researched and made so much sense to me that the minute the follow up was released it went on my must read list.

I was on the waiting list at my local public library for almost 6 months before I got my chance, clearly there are quite a number of others out there who feel the same way. The question of why young people are leaving the faith, or as in the case of unChristian, why they never give it a chance, is not new but I think that in the last few decades the issue has resurfaced with a different level of urgency. Our population is aging and churches are struggling to keep the doors open, we as Christians must take seriously the lack of engagement from the younger generation. This book and the work of the Barna Research Group should be required reading at seminaries across North America, especially for those planning on going into young ministry.

I don’t agree with everything Kinnamen concludes, but to my knowledge he’s the only person who is taking the time to ask the questions and stare unflinchingly at some inconvenient truth they the answers reveal.

First off Kinnamen defines the young people he is studying as those between the ages of 18 and 30, college students and those just starting their careers. At this age people are leaving their parent’s home for the first time and are exposed to differing world views, philosophies and ways of life that they may never have considered before. He then breaks down the typical choices these former Christians make into three categories; they become Prodigals, Nomads or Exiles.

Prodigals are those that reject the church and its teaching and go off in search of something completely different. These are typically the ones who look at the way they were raised and the way the world speaks to them and say, “I was lied to, I can’t reconcile what I was taught with the way I see things now.” As a result most prodigals become atheists and never return to faith at all.

Nomads attempt to incorporate their Christian upbringing with the messages they receive from the world. They waffle from one belief to the next and look for common ground. They are usually the ones that accuse the church of being too exclusive and insular in its teaching. Nomads become most comfortable in an ecumenical gathering of people of faith but stop short of identifying themselves as Christians so as not to offend anyone or paint themselves into a corner.

Finally the Exiles are those who remain strongly self-identified with the Christian faith but who through personal study and conviction of the Holy Spirit can no longer reconcile their understanding of the bible with the teachings they have heard from the pulpit, church history or their own experience of hypocritical activity in the church itself. They leave the “church” because they no longer fit in but they do not ever really leave the faith. Personally I most closely identify with the exiles. During my late twenties and early thirties I went through a time when I felt as though the Church I was attending missed the point of it all. I grew increasingly frustrated and would go several weeks without attending a service. I drifted from one church to the next constantly looking for something I could connect with both on an intellectual and spiritual level but never really found it. Thankfully just as I was about to give up and leave the church entirely I found a community of people who weren’t afraid to really wrestle with the same kinds of questions I had and yet remained faithful to the scriptures and each other in community.

That is perhaps the greatest lesson Kinnamen is trying to portray with this book.

Honesty, Integrity and Community are the antidotes to the forces that pull young Christians away from the church. More information about what we believe is not going to help. We live in the information age. The young people of today have grown up with the internet, search engines and social media. Information about things is as easy to find as water from a tap. What our society is lacking is wisdom, and practical answers to the why questions. Information can be attained quickly and cheaply, wisdom on the other hand can only be acquired through experience and community life.

Community building needs to start almost immediately when I child is very young. One of the things that Kinnamen points to as the culprit for this is age and stage segregation of our entire society. We need to be more inclusive in the way we shepherd the young. It is important he says that as young people begin to formulate their questions about faith and how to apply it that they learn from the examples of those around them. The wisdom of the elders is an important piece of the puzzle that has been lost in society as a whole and most churches today would do well to lead the way in regaining this important building block for community.

I opened this review with a quote about the lack of depth in the faith of so many believers, both young and old. I believe it is true that the biggest challenge facing the church today is the question of how to pass on a deep and focused faith but as Kinnamen points out too many churches are teaching a faith that is an inch deep and a mile wide. As I read that I was reminded of the parable of the sower.

Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. [Matthew 13:3-8]

The challenge of the church today is to provide good soil. Soil that can encourage and support deep roots so that birds don’t eat the seeds, the sun doesn’t scorch the pants and weeds don’t choke out the growth.

The Gospel According to Saint Google


The world’s most popular search engine is a marvel of mathematics and algorithms.  Type just about anything into the search box on Google and the system will start providing type ahead options for what it thinks you are about to ask.  These options are based on the millions of searches that have been performed previously on the system and are there to help you refine what you are looking for and save you a few key strokes along the way.

When it comes to researching social stereotypes and societal perceptions nothing is more accurate that the Google search engine.  That’s why this article in Christianity Today was so interesting to me as a Christ-Follower.

“Church Stereotypes According To Google”

The number of times negative impressions of various Christian denominations came up is both sad and not surprising to me.  The terms “wrong”, “judgmental” and “cult” keep coming up time and time again.  I venture to say that it’s not just the atheists and agnostics that are driving these searches.  In fact I doubt it quite strongly.  I am willing to bet that the driving force behind most of these negative stereotypes is actually coming from competing Christian churches.  It’s a far cry from what John wrote would be the mark of Christians that’s for sure.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. [John 13:35]

In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed for the unity of the church that would follow.  When Christians search out other denominations with questions like “Why are Anglicans so wrong” it grieves out savior and gives a black mark to us all.

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. [John 17:20-23]

Dr. Greg Boyd of Woodland Hills Church in Saint Paul Minnesota and the author of several best-selling books including “Myth of a Christian Nation” and “The Benefit of the Doubt” said it best in a sermon not too long ago.  “The only opinion we are allowed to have about our fellow human beings is that God considers them valuable enough to die for.”

When so called Christians portray a contrary attitude is it any wonder that the church is struggling for relevance today?  David Kinnamen president of the research firm Barna Group put it this way in this book “unChristian; What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why it Matters”

When outsiders claim that we are unChrisitian, it is a reflection of this jumbled (and predominantly negative) set of perceptions.  When they see Christians not acting like Jesus, they quickly conclude that the group deserves an unchristian label.  Like a corrupted computer file or a bad photocopy, Christianity, they say, is no longer in pure form, and so they reject it.

Just for fun I tested the Google algorithm by typing “they will know we are Christians by our love”.  I got 12 characters in before Google completed the phrase for me.  At least people are searching the right things, or maybe it’s because that’s the title of a popular hymn.  Who knows?

Political Meekonomy

The following is a working excerpt from my upcoming book “Political Meekonomy; Christian Ethics in a Post Christian World”  I hope you enjoy it, any and all feedback is welcome at the bottom of the page or directly via email at

The term “Political Economy” was the original term coined in the 18th century to describe the study and discipline of moral philosophy associated with the production, buying, and selling of goods and their relationship to law, culture and government.  That’s quite a mouthful but this was the definition that the earliest economist such as Adam Smith, David Ricardo and Karl Marx used and understood in their writing on the subject.  Therefore; at the end of the day the study of political economy is really the study of ethics.

By the late 19th century however popular usage of the term had been shortened to the single word we use today; economics.  With the shortening of the term also came the narrowing of the focus and any thought of the morality and ethics of the issue slowly began to fade away.  A few years ago it was suggested by economist Steve Levitt, co-author of the best selling “Freakonomics” that morality actually has nothing to do with economics at all.  He said; “If morality represents an ideal world, then economics represents the actual world”.   I don’t know about you but I think that’s a pretty cynical way to look at things and it would cause Smith and the rest of the early economist to roll over in they’re graves.  The shift away from the moral and ethical considerations of the issue has caused a major, almost irreversible drift in the way the world works. Morality and ethics are no longer a political question and certainly not one we ask in a polite conversation.  “It’s a personal thing” has become the standard response to any question approaching the morality and ethics of any decision.

In my first self-published book “Meekonomics; Kingdom Economics from a Love Based Mentality”, I developed the idea that we were created for something greater than what we have become.  In the beginning God created mankind in his image both to rule over and take care of his creation.  This seemingly contradictory reasoning only makes sense in the context of God’s love and relationship with humanity.  Ever since the fall of mankind in Genesis chapter 3 and our rejection of God’s leadership, the original design for what I coined God’s Perfect Economy is broken.

My main argument in that first book was that in order to create a functional society we needed to balance the ruler and caretaker mentality that God had given us through what I called the Love Based Mentality.  The only way to do that is by keeping God in the centre of our lives, our hearts and ultimately our society.  It’s that last part, bringing God in to the centre of society that this book is designed to expand upon.

I define “Political Meekonomy” as the study of Christian Ethics as they relate to modern economics, moral philosophy, law, culture and government.

At the same time, as economics has slowly and moved to further and further subjugate morality and ethics out of the public sphere and into the realm of the personal, Christianity itself has become a less relevant political force.  We live in what politicians and anthropologists are now calling the “Post-Christian” age.

According to Wikipedia, Post-Christianity is the world-view in which Christianity is no longer the dominant civil religion.  Society has instead gradually assumed values, culture and worldviews that combine a variety of influences.  By its very nature calling society Post-Christian assumes that the dominant values were once Christian and while culture slowly challenges the assumptions of Christianity the overall basis of our cultural values remain strongly rooted there.  This creates a cultural conflict between our traditional values and progressive ideology that threatens many conservative traditionalists and causes those who wish to re-examine our cultural assumptions to dismiss anything remotely Christian as old school, repressive and archaic.  Most millennnials, the generation that have come of age during the first decade of the 21st century and are now beginning to dominate the work force and the political discourse, view western Christianity in this way, as do most immigrants to North America and the emerging economic powers of Brazil, Russia, Indian and China, the so called BRIC nations.

In 2006 David Kinnaman, CEO of Barna Research, a Christian market research firm dedicated to studying the intersection of faith and culture, conducted a survey of the millennial generation which asked a number of questions about how they view religion in general and Christianity in particular.  His findings were published in 2007 in the book “unChristian; What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why it Matters.”  What he found should disturb as much as it excites and challenges the church leaders of today.

The overarching conclusion of Kinnaman’s research is simple; the millennial generation with its easy, almost instant access to information is the smartest and fastest moving generation in history.    They are able to make decisions quickly based on a lot of relevant information.  In short they have not dismissed Christianity without examining it first, on the contrary they have perhaps over-examined it and what they see does not mesh with what they believe a church founded on the principles of a man like Jesus Christ should look like.  The unchristian label is not a label that the millenials have assigned to themselves as much as it is a label that they have placed on the Western Christian church.

To quote Kinnaman;

When outsiders claim that we are unChrisitian, it is a reflection of this jumbled (and predominantly negative) set of perceptions.  When they see Christians not acting like Jesus, they quickly conclude that the group deserves an unchristian label.  Like a corrupted computer file or a bad photocopy, Christianity, they say, is no longer in pure form, and so they reject it.

It is that observation in part that has led me to write this book.  I contend that much of what we call traditional values have very little to do with what Christ actually taught.  Christian Ethics are still relevant and dare I say necessary for the maintenance of a just and fair society.   It’s the way in which we communicate those values that needs to change.

It is my hope that as we work through this study together many of you will see that true Christian values, the ethics that Jesus taught are precisely what society needs more not less of.  Our society needs a greater emphasis on community service, social justice and tolerance.  Sadly however I am afraid that many others who read this book and claim Christian tradition as the basis of their ethics quite frankly will disagree.  Those are the same people though who wouldn’t recognize Jesus if He walked up and asked them for a hot meal, a la Matthew 25.

If we are to move our culture beyond stereo-types and truly embrace Christianity as a viable cultural, ethical and political movement in a our modern, multi-ethnic, pluralistic society we need to re-examine what it was that made it unique in the first place and what propelled “Christendom” to become the dominant cultural force it was for nearly two millennia.  We as Christians also need to be honest with ourselves and look closely and unflinchingly at what we did wrong, where we deviated from our own stated ethics and how we allowed culture to get so far off track.  Indeed much of what has been considered morality inside the cultural assumptions of Christendom is far from what the early church fathers could have envisioned in the so called Pre-Christian world, when they were being heavily persecuted for their faith.

As I mentioned earlier; Political Meekonomy is the study of Christian Ethics as they related to modern economics, moral philosophy, law, culture and government.  So I’ve divided this work according.

I start by defining Christian Ethics and ask the question, what does it mean to be ethical? Next I compare and contrast that to modern moral philosophy, the origins of law and the basis of our culture.

Jesus was a radical teacher who wasn’t afraid to challenge the status quo.  The religious establishment and the political leadership of the day at times demonstrated equal parts curiosity, offence and fear of him.  In order to hold on to power they had watered down and distorted the meaning of much of the Jewish law and built up an elaborate cultural code of conduct that was hierarchical and exclusionary.  Jesus wouldn’t stand for any of it.

The socio-political climate of today is not much different.  An honest look at what Jesus really said, the context that he said it in and the obvious implications of it is no less curious, offensive and fear inducing for those on power today than it was over two thousand years ago.

When I first started to formulate the idea for this book I asked my dad what he thought.  Before I give you his answer you need to know a little about this man.

My father was a Baptist minister in the mid 1960s and 70s. After some early success the church hierarchy took notice and he was placed on the fast track to one day lead a large urban congregation.  But somewhere around the time I was born he began to preach a version of what has become known today as the Emergent Church.  He dared to ask the question “what if Jesus really meant all this stuff?” and challenged his congregation to get radical about how they viewed the poor, mentally ill and developmentally challenged.  He met with a lot of resistance and a few influential (wealthy) individuals complained.  As a result he was banished to a rural backwater.  He languished there for nearly a decade and finally left the ministry for a position as director of a social services agency working with the very people he had earlier gotten in trouble for trying to help from the pulpit.

I may not have all the facts straight, all this happened when I was very young and most of my family memories were formed well after he left the ministry but this is the story I kept in the back of my mind as part of my personal narrative.  I came to the conclusion as a result that at the end of the day, church is a business and the pastor’s real job is not to offend anyone in order to keep the money flowing.  Sadly, thirty years later I witnessed the same thing happen again at a church I was attending when another pastor dared question the cultural paradigm of a long established and fairly wealthy congregation.  Very little has changed.

So I said to my dad, “I’m writing a second book on Christian Ethics in the Post-Christian world”.  He laughed and said simply, “There are none.”

What he meant was that the Christian church has utterly failed in its duty to spread Jesus’ ethics to the rest of the culture.  For the most part they church itself doesn’t even understand what those ethics are.

I’m going on ten years now since I declared personal bankruptcy and started to really study the impact of faith, economics and culture.  One thing has become crystal clear.  Our society needs to stay true to its ethical roots now more than ever and even though we are a Post-Christian society, our ethics remain rooted in the teachings of Jesus.  If our society is to survive we need to take another look there and begin to rebuild on the solid foundation that he laid for us.

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash. [Jesus, Matthew 7:24-27]