I believe this book can clue us in on some of the larger trends in American Christianity and the changing landscape of church life. We are closer to 2050 than to 1950, and the church must translate the Gospel for today's world without losing the heart of our heritage. I believe it can be done and I believe the vital signs are present at my congregation (Bethesda Lutheran, Eugene, OR) and countless other places to continue stepping into God's future, in faith and service.
Kinnaman first notes three realities we need to keep in mind:
1. "Teen church engagement remains robust, but many...are not growing up to be faithful young adult disciples of Christ."
2. "There are different kind of dropouts...we need to take care not to lump an entire generation together."
3. "The dropout problem is, at its core, a faith-development problem...it's a disciple-making problem. The church is not adequately preparing the next generation to follow Christ faithfully in a rapidly changing culture."
Next, Kinnaman gives a helpful distinction between three broad ways of being lost:
1. Nomads walk away from church engagement but still consider themselves Christians.
2. Prodigalslose their faith, describing themselves as no longer Christian.
3. Exilesare still invested in their Christian faith but feel stuck (or lost) between culture and the church.
Finally, Kinnaman offers three contexts in which disciple making needs to be addressed:
1. Relationships - most young adults surveyed feel frequently isolated from the parents and other older adults in the realm of faith and spirituality. A majority reported never having an adult friend other than their parents.
2. Vocation - millions of young adults are interested in serving in mainstream professions, but receive little guidance from their church communities for how to connect these vocational dreams deeply with their faith in Christ. This is especially true with vocations in the sciences. There is also a noted loss in the church of "creatives," musicians, visual and performance artists, filmmakers, storytellers, writers, etc.
3. Wisdom - young adults have more access to knowledge than any other generation in human history, but many lack discernment for how to wisely apply that knowledge to their lives and world. How can the Christian community help young Christians live wisely in a culture of mental, emotional, and spiritual distraction?
In the weeks to come, we'll look at Kinnaman's descriptions of dropouts, the most common reasons cited for disconnection, and some possibilities for reconnection.
How about you?
Do you see this pattern of dropouts in your church?