In my last post on David Kinnaman’s book You Lost Me I talked about nomads, those young people who walk away from church involvement but who still consider themselves Christians. There are two other groups Kinnaman looks at in the book: prodigals and exiles.
Prodigals are young adults who leave the faith of their childhood completely. Some may call themselves atheists, others may call themselves simply “no religion” and others may convert to something else. What they have in common is that they are no longer Christian. This is different from the nomads who, though not involved in a faith community, still call themselves Christians.
Kinnaman further divides the prodigals into two groups. First are “head-driven”, those who leave Christianity for intellectual reasons. Second are “heart-driven” who leave for more emotional reasons: “These are young people whose faith burns out in an extreme fashion, usually as a result of deep wounds, frustration, or anger, or of their own desire to live life outside the bounds of the Christian faith” (Kinnaman, David (2011-04-01). You Lost Me (Kindle Locations 1041-1042). Baker Book Group. Kindle Edition).
Finally there are exiles. Exiles may be, like nomads, physically disconnected from church involvement. Or they may be involved, but feel an emotional disconnect to their church. Either way, they still desire to honor God with their lives, to live as Christians. Kinnaman says they are “lost, yet hopeful.”
Exiles tend to feel a disconnect between their church life and their life the rest of the week. This causes dissonance because they desperately want a spiritual life that brings all of who they are every single day together. They see less of a dualism between the church and the world. Instead they see God is at work outside the walls of the church and they want to join God in that. Thus, they want to use their gifts to serve God every day but they are not sure how. Further, in wanting to use their gifts in this way they are sometimes questioned by other members of the church.
For example, a Christian who wants to make great films finds his faith questioned because such great films may have questionable language. Why not make “Christian” films that promote family values, some ask.
They are not disillusioned with tradition; they are frustrated with slick or shallow expressions of religion. In some of our research, we discovered a common theme to be “I want to be part of a Christian community that is more than a performance one day a week.” Similarly a frequently expressed sentiment was they “want a more traditional faith, rather than a hip version of Christianity.” Kinnaman, David (2011-04-01). You Lost Me (Kindle Locations 1226-1228). Baker Book Group. Kindle Edition.
The line from exile to nomad to prodigal is a short one. While it appears the nomads number the greatest in the millennial generation, you can see tendencies that are similar in all three groups. They clearly have a lot in common which is why it is easy to see Christian students on campus who are perhaps exiles and have friends who are nomads and prodigals. They think similarly, watch the same movies, sit in class together.
The question to ponder is what this means for the future of Christianity in America? Will these young people return to church? Will they find community in some other way or form than traditional church? Will they continue to slowly drift away?