YOU LOST ME – An Interview with Author David Kinnaman – President of The Barna Group

Click image above to ENLARGE. Image created by Bill Dahl – All Rights Reserved 2011.

Watch David and some young people talk about the book here on YouTube:

Here are the interview questions I have posed to David Kinnaman, President of The Barna Group, regarding his new book, You Lost Me…Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church….And Rethinking Faith (BakerBooks – October 2011).

If you have questions you’d like David to respond to, please send them to me.

This is a book that moves the earth beneath your feet, rewires the arteries in your heart, and causes one to reconsider what you think you know about discipleship.





David Kinnaman is President of the Barna Group – unequivocally the ongoing source of reliable social research about Christians, Christianity and the Church. David has designed and analyzed a wide range of projects for a variety of churches, parachurch organizations and for-profit clients. As a spokesperson for the firm’s research, he is frequently quoted in major media outlets. He also speaks and writes about new models of church experience, the profile of young leaders, and generational changes. In 2007, Kinnaman released his first book, unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity…and Why It Matters.

Below are the interview questions I  posed to David. His responses are in red.


I devoured the book and ranked it #3 in my BEST Books of 2011.  Here are a few questions that arose.In my opinion, this is a terribly important book….frightfully important. Thus, I have taken ample care and time in considering the weave of the context for the questions I have posed below. I hope you enjoy my inquiry approach and the opportunity I have provided for you to respond.

Here we go:

 1. Question: How are you and your family doing?

We are doing well. Everyone is excited about the holidays. My wife and kids are serious elves: decorating, baking, ornamenting, lighting things. My mom keeps calling from Arizona trying to find out what day we will arrive. I love December. It’s my wedding anniversary and my birthday…. And, oh yeah, Christmas. Thanks for asking.

 2. Context: Allow me to construct the context for my question — Rick Warren has written: God wants you to be in regular, close fellowship with other believers so you can develop the skill of loving. Love cannot be learned in isolation. You have to be around people – irritating, imperfect, frustrating people.” He states that we learn three things through fellowship: a. Life without love is really worthless b) Love lasts forever (leaves a legacy) c) We will be evaluated on our love — It is not enough just to say relationships are important; we must prove it by investing time in them. Words alone are worthless. Relationships take time and effort, and the best way to spell love is “T-I-M-E.”(The Purpose Driven Life pp. 124-127). Question: In terms of the research that is the basis forYou Lost Me…Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…And Rethinking Faith– can you illuminate a few parallels between the above from Pastor Warren and what your research reveals as laid out in your book?

I think this is a perceptive question. Our research leads me to conclude that many of us try to shortcut our way to building a faith legacy with the next generation. But it really does require more of a commitment to give of ourselves to the teens and young people around us. Most of the young adults we interviewed said they did not have a trusted adult friend at their church while they were growing up. In other words, in many cases we do not take the time to really become friends with young people.  

And youth ministers, even at their best, should not put be expected to befriend all the students that come through youth group. It is not a youth pastor’s job to become “friends” with everyone. It has to be a churchwide, intergenerational commitment to make friendships with young people — really loving them — a priority.

3.      Context: In his book, A Whole New Mind – Moving From The Information Age to the Conceptual Age, (2005 – Riverhead/Penguin USA), author Daniel H. Pink writes: “The last few decades have belonged to a certain kind of person with a certain kind of mind — computer programmers who could crank code, lawyers who could craft contracts, MBA’s who could crunch numbers. But the keys to the kingdom are changing hands. The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind — creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers and meaning makers. These people — artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers — will now reap society’s richest rewards and share it’s greatest joys.Question: You write on page 15, “As a faith community we need a whole new mind (emphasis is mine) to see that the way we develop young people’s faith – the way we have been teaching them to engage the world as disciples of Christ—is inadequate for the issues concerns and sensibilities of the world we ask them to change for God.” In Romans Chapter 12:1-2, Paul exhorts the church to “be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” — What is the parallel between your use of the term “a whole new mind” and the same phrase used by Daniel Pink and the Apostle Paul – as it relates to the “dropout” problem your book so comprehensively reveals?

Again, great question! Daniel Pink’s book was a big inspiration to me. This shift from right-brain to left-brain thinking is descriptive of the growing gap between the generations. Today’s younger Christians are not just sort of different than previous generations. They are very different, and the shift to right-brained aptitudes — things you mention above — are very much part of younger adults’ profile. In fact, the church is losing many of the kinds of people Pink identifies. Look at the list again — the kinds of people Pink says will reap society’s rewards. These are also the kinds of people struggling with their experience of Christianity. That’s a recipe for disaster, to have the culture shapers most disillusioned by the Christian faith.

Then, you raised the question of scriptural connections. One of the key biblical references for me was Isaiah 43:19 (Behold, I am about to do a brand-new thing… do you not perceive it?). Also, Jesus’ description of new wineskins relates to the subject at hand. God is always doing “new” things. But we are more comfortable in our ruts. And the next generation is paying the price for our lack of inspired thinking.

 4.  Context: You state the following in your book: “We are at a critical point in the life of the North American church; the Christian community must rethink our efforts to make disciples. Many of the assumptions on which we have built our work with young people are rooted in the modern, mechanistic and mass-production paradigms. Some (though not all) ministries have taken cues from the assembly line, doing everything possible to streamline the manufacture of shiny new Jesus-followers, fresh from the factory floor. But disciples cannot be mass produced. Disciples are handmade, one relationship at a time.” (pp.12-13). In his book, Out of Our Minds – Learning To Be Creative,” Sir Ken Robinson writes: “We all live our lives guided by ideas to which we are devoted but which may no longer be true or relevant. We are hypnotized or enthralled by them. To move forward we have to shake free of them.” (p. 7). Question: What are several “ideas” identified through your research that “disciple-making” must “shake free of” or unlearn – to reverse the dropout trend?

We need to unlearn the idea that the more people who attend our group, the more disciples we are making. We need to caution ourselves in the most strident possible way that our Twitter and Facebook following is not a discipleship headcount.

Think of it this way: we know that parents of young children and prospective college students seek classrooms with favorable student-to-teacher ratios. No one chooses classrooms that have more students. We generally desire the most intimate of instructional settings. But we somehow have bought into the notion that the bigger our ministries, the more people we are making an impact on.

 That’s just not the model Jesus used. I think we need to relearn mentoring, and better yet, rethink apprenticeship. We desperately need to find new models of mentoring and apprenticeship in order to properly develop the faith of today’s youth and young adults. In fact, we need this kind of intimacy in our faith development more than ever, regardless of our age.

5. Context: You write: “When the Christian faith is no longer autopilot for the broader culture, Christians who are comfortably in two worlds can orient the Christian community toward faithfulness in a new setting.” (p.86). For more clarification for readers of this interview, you are drawing a parallel between what you define as “current day exiles” with a close study of how God has used “exiles” in the Bible. In Author Steven Johnson’s work, Where Good Ideas Come From – The Natural History of Innovation, (Riverhead Books/The Penguin Group 2010), he states: we are often better served by connecting ideas than we are by protecting them. Like the free market itself, the case for restricting the flow of innovation has long been buttressed by appeals to the “natural “ order of things. But the truth is, when one looks at innovation in nature and in culture, environments that build walls around good ideas tend to be less innovative in the long run than more open-ended environments. Good ideas may not want to be free, but they do want to connect, fuse, recombine. They want to reinvent themselves by crossing conceptual borders. They want to complete each other as much as they want to compete.” P.22 (emphasis is mine). Question: How might communities of believers begin to “tear down the walls” that suffocate many good ideas, particularly those who can be identified as “exiles” – Christians who are comfortably in two worlds can orient the Christian community toward faithfulness in a new setting.”

The world is flat, as Thomas Friedman has persuasively written. And this is not more true than with the next generation. Their media (largely the Internet and video gaming) is bidirectional and interactive. The expect to participate and to dialogue. They want to mix it up. The globe feels like it’s shrinking and more accessible to them. Most churches and faith communities are not comfortable with this new participatory future.

This is part of the reason why there is such suspicion toward authority. They have come to expect more give and take. We can be threatened by this and shut down. Or we can see the tremendous opportunity for the Gospel. I think the generation must be confronted with the false hope of their narcissism. But they can also find the Christian community willing to engage them with truth and dialogue and participation. Jesus trusted his Church to a messed-up bunch of men and women after just three years of participatory ministry. That’s more trust than we typically show toward the next generation of leaders and influencers.

6. Context: In their book, “Surveying The Religious Landscape – Trends in U.S. Beliefs,” George Gallup Jr. and D. Michael Lindsay wrote: “Spirituality in America may be three thousand miles wide, but it  remains only three inches deep” (1999 – Morehouse Publishing). You write in You Lost Me in  2011 regarding young adults: “The Christianity they believe is an inch deep….Thus, the Christianity some churches pass on is a mile wide. Put the two together and you get a generation of young believers whose faith is an inch deep and a mile wide — too shallow to survive and too broad to make a difference”(pp.114-115). Which is followed by your thesis that “the Christian church in the U.S. has a shallow faith problem” — and – “we have a shallow faith problem among all adults” (p.120 – emphasis is yours). Question: As a leader of a community of believers, where does one start with addressing this, seemingly enduring “depth” issue?

That is such a challenging question. I think we need to first appreciate the rich faith legacy we have in this country. The fact that more than 7 out of 10 Americans call themselves a Christian is a remarkable fact and a reason for hope. Most of us want to think of ourselves as believers!

Of course, our faith leaves much to be desired. And I guess it comes down to two simple insights we might learn from Jesus: (1) being willing to tell the culture the truth (you wicked and perverse generation), but (2) working out the spiritual depth problem in your own life first. I think part of the reason we struggle is that we are so busy worrying about other churches, other Christians that we fail to keep growing ourselves. Matthew 6:33 says we should, ourselves, seek first the kingdom.

I wonder if we spent more time pursuing the Father ourselves — and modeling that for the next generation — if we wouldn’t be better off. I have a deep faith today, such as it is, because of what I saw modeled in my parents and grandparents lives. Not because they spent so much time worrying about the problems in the world.

One more thought on this: I hope our research and writing (like in unChristian and You Lost Me) helps point people to addressing gaps in their own life first, before it causes them to hand-wring about everyone else’s problems. Research is strange that way, because it can be abused when it simply creates this overwhelming sense of hopelessness.

The shallow faith problem in America is daunting. But it’s not really our problem to solve. It’s God’s. We can only work out our own feeble faith with fear and trembling.

7. Context: Dr. Billy Graham has written: “numbers by themselves are never a true indication of what God accomplishes.” (Just As I am – The Autobiography of Billy Graham pp.133-134 1997 HarperSanFrancisco & Zondervan). You suggest in You Lost Me, “What if, instead of measuring our success by the numbers we changed our metrics…that the hallmark of mature Christianity is a willingness to invest in a young person for a period of two to four years, teaching him or her the fine art of following Christ” (p.128). Question: In terms of the “depth issue” referred to in question # 6 above, how do we go about “measuring” whether one is “qualified” to invest in the mentoring of a young person? What might “qualified” look like? Might one look for “qualified personnel” amongst those “outside” an established church community?

Lots of stuff here and a whole book could be written on this. Of course, I think the idea of measurement is important. And I agree with Billy Graham. I would say it this way: we have to be careful not to measure what is important to man and miss what is important to God.

I find it interesting that what is important to God is very difficult to measure: a broken and contrite heart. But these are not impossible to find. I think we should be searching for teachability, eager pliability to learn and grow, willingness to apologize, people who are able to think about themselves in the third person, through the power of the Holy Spirit. We should be looking for these characteristics in both mentors and their apprentices. Jesus was the Son of God, yet he had this readiness to learn from his father.

I guess this means the most important leadership quality is pliable, ready, willing souls.

8. Question: What tools are currently readily available to measure “spiritual growth and transformation” in young adults (or adults for that matter), that you might be aware of?

The best tool should come from our own clarity about what we are trying to create in young people. We need to first start with the hard work of being very clear and concrete in what we think counts before God. And then we should develop some process to “notice” those things in the lives of young adults.

 You might think of creating five questions before and after a sermon series that measure the key outcomes – both knowledge and attitudes. Then use the same questions at the end of the sermon series to see if your teaching had any effect.

9. Context: a central thesis of You Lost Me is every story matters. This thesis assumes several things a) somebody cares b) somebody is willing to listen c) there is a huge “relational” component to capturing the essence of this opportunity. You also suggest moving away from “experts” to another mode of relationship development within the Christian community. Question: What might that look like?

I think that the Christian community does care about the lives of individuals. That’s what got most pastors into this line of work. Most of the influencers in ministry (paid or volunteer) want to see transformation in the lives of people.

The relational opportunity is huge, but it is the hard part. I think we have the interest, just not always the capacity to love people the way we should. Part of the key to this might be the next generation. They are highly relational. They want to get out there and engage the world. They want to be involved and invested in the lives of others. I think helping them to understand the relational opportunity and to become God’s listeners and healers is a huge way that God could use young adults in his Church today.

10. Context: I stumbled onto a guy named John Medina and his book entitled Brain Rules – 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School. John is a developmental molecular biologist and research consultant (I have no clue what that actually means other than he’s a lot smarter than I am). He’s also an affiliate Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Washington School of Medicine. In his spare time, (the guy doesn’t really have any does he?), John is the Director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University. (Makes my brain ache just thinking about all of the above). Medina writes: “Researchers have shown that some regions of the adult brain stay as malleable as a baby’s brain, so we can grow new connections, strengthen existing connections, and even create new neurons, allowing all of us to be lifelong learners” (p.271). In You Lost Me, you suggest, the media perpetuates “the damaging misperception that older people do not have much of value to offer the younger generations, thereby increasing generational fragmentation in our cultural imagination” (emphasis is mine – p. 118). Question: How might we invigorate the truth of “lifelong learning” as a biblical principle that might serve to accelerate diminishing the destructive nature of this deception, within Christian communities?

The church is the one place on earth where the generations come together without any ulterior motives. Really, this is the picture of the Body of Christ — not just our giftedness, but our intergenerational potential.

Being intergenerational is hard work. It takes intentionality. Being a good basketball player helps if you’re tall and can jump, but it also takes will power and practice. The book includes a lot of practical intergenerational examples. But it takes leaders prioritizing the interdependence of generations and making it happen in their ministries. It’s not easy. But it certainly can be done through human intention and God’s blessing.

David, I realize this book was incredibly difficult to write. The reality of biblical truth spoken so boldly – and its implications – typically cause us to question what we think we know – and how we behave – both as individuals, organizations and social institutions. We would like to thank you for your display of courage…and pray…that minds, hearts and behavior shall be changed – for His glory.

Thank you!

Bill Dahl

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