Drew Dyck of Christianity Today has published an excellent book titled “Generation EX-Christian: Why Young Adults Are Leaving The Faith…And How To Bring Them Back“. It’s part of our recommended Christian reading list. I highly recommend it.
Drew breaks down the people who leave the Christian faith into 6 groups based on how they think, the types of reasons they give for leaving, and how to connect with them on their level and explain the gospel in a way that is compelling for them. Just as feelings and emotions won’t sway an intellectual into believing, using intellectual or rational arguments with someone who doesn’t believe in absolute truth or “western logic” won’t sway someone that is more into eastern mysticism or spirituality.
Here is a summary of the 6 groups defined by Drew in his book:
- Postmodernists: reject Christianity’s exclusive claims and moral absolutes. They care about the poor and oppressed, but feel that Christian faith is too narrow. They see LOTS of gray and don’t connect with black and white, one ultimate truth reasoning. As an example, when comparing two religions that have contradictory beliefs, a postmodernist would be less likely to conclude that either one is THE truth, but would take bits and pieces of truth from each one, most typically by comparing those truths to their own personal experience (e.g. Their Truth).
- Recoilers: These leavers may cite intellectual doubts as the reason for their departure, but deep hurts and psychological scars are what really caused them to abandon the faith. These recoilers are not to be confused with Modernists (the next group below) which truly do reject Christianity or any religion based on intellectual reasons. Drew’s point is that MANY of those he interviewed cited intellectual reasons initially, but as he probed deeper, he uncovered a pattern of painful experiences within a church community that led to seeking an intellectual way to rationalize or legitimize their desire to leave.
- Modernists: Modernists completely reject supernatural claims. They believe God is a delusion and if not scientifically provable, he is dismissed as a superstition. These folks won’t believe it until they see it. And even if they were to see it, they would need to see it again and again until they could scientifically predict the recurring presence of God using the scientific method. This group is very tough to reach indeed.
- Neo-Pagans. First a definition of “Pagan”. Pagan generally refers to those who believe in many Gods. It’s more about their connection with a spiritually undefinable higher power than it is about how they practice their faith or any specific religious rituals. So, a Neo-Pagan as expressed by Drew is one who denies the reality of a single, transcendent God. They view the earth as the ultimate source of true spirituality. They view God and the universe as the same. The largest Neopagan religion is Wicca.
- Spiritual Rebels: They don’t want anyone telling them what to do. The temptation to engage in sinful behavior and the desire for self-actualization or autonomy cause them to push God away. From the Christian perspective, obviously God has something to say about good and bad behavior. And when one’s desires generate “bad” behaviors, the tendency is to not correct their course but to deny they need correction.
- Drifters: Drifters don’t leave for intellectual reasons or because of any particular event. They simply drift away. God just becomes less and less important until one day He’s no longer part of their lives. In this group you will find many churched or “saved” individuals, former “promise keepers”, former evangelists, and former “on fire for God” believers. In fact, if you asked them, they probably wouldn’t say they ever left. They most likely still associate with the name “Christian”, but their life is lived as if they were non-believers. There is another book that addresses these Christians. It’s called “The Christian Atheist: Believe in God but Living As If He Doesn’t Exist” by Craig Groeschel. It’s also on our reading list.
Drew’s book was very enlightening about why current evangelism efforts are becoming impotent to our younger generations. After each chapter of Generation Ex-Christian, drew talks about how to bring each group back and it’s well worth your time to read.
It exposed some disturbing trends I wasn’t aware of, such as the growth of a religion called Wicca which is known for it’s witches and spells, worship of the earth and many Gods, and it’s appeal to a younger female population. If you want to know “what’s going on with kids these days?”…then pick up a copy of Generation Ex-Christian by Drew Dyck.
Here are some thoughts from the Changing the Face of Christianity perspective. This book and the conclusions it draws are incredibly important to the future of our faith. Consider this: these “leavers” used to be part of our community of believers. They left. Each group has arguments and reasons for doing so. The Gospel isn’t the problem. But how we apply the Gospel to our lives and how we teach it to younger generations must be done in a culturally relevant way.
One big example is how we evangelize. There are some methods that will always be effective…personal testimony; sharing how Christ has worked in our lives. Because even if post-modernists reject any “meta narrative” or overarching story to explain why the world is as it is, they will value your personal testimony because it is YOUR personal experience.
We need to help post-modernists experience our Christ, so they adopt it as their own truth. One way is to engage with them in service projects aimed at helping make the world a better place. They WILL join you, because they would consider it a noble cause regardless of any faith based reason for wanting to do it.
My belief is that “recoilers” need a Knight in shining armor to defend them and create a safe place within our faith. They’ve been hurt by people in the church…and so they don’t trust us. These people need to be surrounded by loving folks who will acknowledge the pain, hold accountable those who caused the pain (e.g. not excuse it), and create an environment where trust can be regained.
For modern leavers, we need to continue to speak the truth, but get much more educated on our apologetics. These people use reason, rationality, and logical arguments as the basis for leaving. That’s fine. They are many rational and logical arguments for why Christianity is true and why the Bible is valid and worthy of our trust. However, we’ve done a poor job of learning these reasons. We are called to live by faith and some people use that as an excuse to not learn basic apologetics (defending our faith). We should live by faith in the things we don’t understand, but we should also seek to understand why we believe what we believe, and share that with the world.
Wiccans have a profound respect for earth, the environment and nature. That’s great. We are called to be stewards of this world and this is an area we should have in common. Join these very spiritual folks in projects which seek to make the world a better place. One distinction is that Wiccans (from a Christian perspective) are worshiping God’s creation rather than worshiping the creator. So, as we work along side these people, help them to understand Who you are worshiping and why you think it’s important. God is clear that we are not to make idols out of His creation. But we CAN and should take care of His creation as an expression of worship and love for Him.
Rebels leave because that’s what they do. They don’t want to be a part of any establishment that attempts to enforce any particular way of thinking or behaving. So they leave a family, they quit a job, they reject a church. How can we bring them back? Love them without rules and conditions. Make sure that you teach them (before they leave) that Christianity and church is not about do’s and don’ts…it’s about a relationship with Jesus Christ. There are things God doesn’t want us to do (sin) and we can’t avoid or minimize that. However, for these special people in our lives, we must focus on the relationship and connection they can have with Christ. Teach them right from wrong, but express it in terms of guiding principles for one’s lives…not in terms of rigid rules that one must follow in order to be saved. We are ALL saved by grace alone, not because we do all the right things.
Drifters just drift away. My feeling is it happens because they slowly distance themselves from a close group of authentic Christians. Eventually they find themselves outside of the group. We must encourage relationships and close connections with other believers. Get them involved in community service projects and groups that meet on a regular basis. This is easier than ever with Facebook. Stay connected with Facebook and continue to reach out TO these believers. But here is the key: you won’t know these people are drifters until they are gone. So, find a group of fellow Christians and STAY connected. Reach out to those who miss an event. Call, email, facebook poke, etc. Also, raise your awareness of people who might want to join your group that might be too shy or lacking self-confidence. Take it upon yourself to ask them to join your group. Make them feel at home and comfortable. In other words, share Christs love within your group and make sure people are quickly accepted and encouraged to participate.
Changing the Face of Christianity strives to be part of the solution. We will continue to address these vital issues of our church and faith on this site. We invite you to join our cause and support our mission.