I am a college professor with three young adult children of my own. It is not an understatement to say that I am immersed in the world of emerging adults! My previous post with a link to my sons’ creative work is perhaps an appropriate prelude to my next few posts regarding books I am reading about emerging adults and faith.
In You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Faith, author David Kinnaman who is the president of Barna Group, reveals survey results of 18-29 year old young people who grew up in the church, but are leaving in various ways and for various reasons. He sees three categories of “leavers”: nomads who consider themselves Christian but are rethinking or pausing faith and are attending church sporadically, prodigals who no longer consider themselves Christian, and exiles who are critically engaging their faith and seeing a disconnect between their life in church and culture.
Why are there nomads, prodigals and exiles from faith and church? Kinnaman lists six reasons: 1) Overprotective parents and churches who are suspicious of culture and try to shelter their children from it, 2) Churches that are boring, shallow, and irrelevant, 3) A faith is taught that is anti-science and does not engage new discoveries, 4) Moral teaching that is repressive of blooming sexuality, 5) Churches that are exclusive and non-accepting of difference, 6) No room for doubts and questions about faith.
To conclude he gives some advice to parents, church and institutional leaders and to emerging adults themselves. He urges us to consider an intergenerational model of discipleship saying that the church is one of the few institutions that includes all generations. Secondly, we need to rediscover the idea of Christian calling and vocation. Thirdly, he says that imparting wisdom is more important than imparting information in the process of spiritual formation.
There was nothing particularly new or surprising for me in the results of the survey; what surprised me was that the percentage of emerging adults leaving church and faith was not higher than he reported. I do not think that countering all six of the problems that he notes guarantees anything. This sociological research also needs to be combined with developmental realities. Some emerging adults will be nomads, prodigals and exiles even when the church gives space for risk, is relevant and engaging, more open and inclusive and leaves room for questions. It may be troubling for me that my kids and my students are nomads, prodigals, and exiles but part of what I need to learn is that this stage of searching and wandering can also be part of the formation of a strong adult faith. I felt affirmed with his second piece of advice regarding the importance of Christian vocation. To “be fruitful and multiply” is to be creative and productive in artistic endeavors, science, family, construction, manufacturing, gardening, social services, ministry, and the list goes on. This is a hobby horse so I will leave it for another post.