Rooted Recommends: You Lost Me

*There is a 43% drop off between the teen and early adult years in terms of church engagement (p. 22).

I can honestly say that in the last six years of being a youth minister, I’ve seen the cultural norms and the atmosphere of youth culture change drastically.  For example, it’s no longer the stray teen who doesn’t have their own cell phone, it’s the stray teen who doesn’t have a smart phone.  And the impact of social media on understandings of relationship has been enormous.  So, as teen (and worldwide) culture continues to evolve at a pace unlike anything the world has ever seen, how do we meet our kids where we are to love them, speak truth into their lives, and share Jesus with them?

David Kinnaman, President of the Barna Group, (somewhat) recently published a book called, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…And Rethinking Faith, wherein he evaluates years of research the Barna Group undertook in relation to the current population of 18-29 year olds in America (who are deemed, “mosaics”).  He identifies three realities of our current culture that have implications for any of us out there working in youth ministry (p. 21):

1)   Teen church engagement remains robust… (while teens) are not growing up to be faithful young adult disciples of Christ.
2)   Every story of disconnection requires a personal, tailor-made response.
3)   The dropout problem is… a disciple-making problem.  The church is not adequately preparing the next generation to follow Christ faithfully into a rapidly changing culture.

So, this means that we must seriously reconsider how we approach youth ministry if we are no longer meeting kids where they are (since ‘where they are’ is an ever changing target).  Kinnaman uses the term ‘discontinuously different’ to describe this ‘ever changing target,’ meaning that the “cultural setting in which young people have come of age is significantly changed from what was experienced during the formative years of previous generations (p. 38).”  They have unprecedented access to information, analysis, relationships, and worldviews, they have unprecedented levels of disconnection (and feelings of alienation) from family, community, and institutions, and they have a changing spiritual narrative that includes a large skepticism of authority.  All of these factors combine to create a melding pot of relativism and poorly defined boundaries to meaning and truth.
Consider: They have been raised in a culture of tolerance, inclusiveness, diversity, and political correctness- ideals that have greatly shaped their generation.  They have a compulsion toward unity, and they prioritize (their idea of) fairness over rightness.  The majority sees the church as intolerable and exclusive.  So what now?
Kinnaman brilliantly explores some of the effects these cultural realities are having on kids’ understandings of Christianity and the church (highlighting science, sex, and doubt), and the book concludes by offering some incredibly pertinent ideas for engaging our current teens in meaningful ways in the body of Christ.  Three important things we can do to serve our kids are:
1) Rethink relationships with them (especially by fostering intergenerational relationships)
2) Rediscover vocation with them, and
3) Reprioritize wisdom with them (as information is a finger-swipe away, but the wisdom of how to interpret, understand, use, and scrutinize that information is something that comes with time through relational and process learning).
I cannot speak highly enough of this book: it is crucial for us to better understand what is happening in the minds and hearts of our younger generations, so that we may better love and serve them as the church.  This book offers an insightful and pertinent synthesis of a colossal amount of research and I recommend it to anyone working in youth ministry!

Liz Edrington serves as the Fellowship Groups and Young Adults Director at North Shore Fellowship in Chattanooga, TN. She received her M.A. in Counseling from Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL, and she has worked with students in one form or another since 2002. She is an emeritus member of the Rooted steering committee, and she's the author of a 31-day devotional for teenagers called Anxiety: Finding the Better Story (P&R Publishing, 2023). Pickled things delight her, as does her snuggle beast, Bella the Dog.

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