Book Overview: Generation EX-Christian

I read a great book recently about young adults leaving the church.  It is called Generation EX-Christian, Why Young Adults Are Leaving The Faith…. And How To Bring Them Back by Drew Dyck.  Drew is the editorial manager of the ministry team at Christianity Today International where he oversees four online publications; including  Drew holds an M.A. in theology from Fuller Theological Seminary and previously served as editor of New Man magazine.

I highly recommend this book to parents with children, pastors, those involved in student ministry, and anyone interested in the topic.  Below is a bullet pointed overview of the different types of “leavers”, how they think, and how we can reach them.  You really need to read the book to get more detailed information.  It is an easy read, and I’m sure you will learn a lot from, as I have.  For everything written below, I give all credit to Drew Dyck, as these are his thoughts and words, and not my own.  Please buy the book here.

Types of Leavers: 

  1. Postmodern Leavers
    1. Their views
      1. A different “truth” for each person. What is “true” for you, may not be “true” for me.
      2. They place a high premium on individual experience. How they feel in a particular moment trumps any previously made commitments, including wedding vows.
      3. Their mantra “Do whatever works for you”.
      4. They don’t respond well or believe in reason, and are against any form of absolutism.
      5. In a postmodern world, no one story is large enough to contain the whole of reality, much less define it for all people.
    2. How to reach them
      1. Appeals to logic and reason are clearly inadequate.
      2. In their view experience, and not rationality, is the key to finding truth.
      3. Tell them your story. Whatever you experience or feel deeply will be respected.
      4. They might say “Don’t tell me anything about Christianity” but they don’t mind you telling them your story, because it is your story.
      5. They will be far more impressed with transparency. Be honest with them about your struggles and doubts.
      6. In the end, they will respond more favorably if they can see that you are not so different from them.
      7. Befriend them unconditionally, and show them genuine love and interest.
      8. Most postmoderns have a strong social conscience and a willingness to serve the poor and oppressed. You can invite them to participate in service projects with you and other Christians.  They will see God’s and our heart.
      9. Jesus earned people’s trust through service and sacrifice. He invited people to serve alongside Him.  He preferred colorful stories over linear arguments, to sketch a compelling picture of God’s radical, beautiful kingdom.
  2. Recoilers
    1. Their views
      1. Their negative child-hood and teenage experience are the primary reasons they have left the faith. They have suffered abuse, and vowed that they would never take the chance to be victimized again.
      2. For many, retaining their faith means swimming upstream against a current of painful memories.
      3. Many actually leave the faith for emotional reasons, and find intellectual reasons to back it up.
      4. Emotional atheism is when people feel wounded by God and decide God doesn’t exist. It is a common response to disappointment with God.
      5. Often their disbelief is a smoke screen, a reflex of recoilers to mask deep disillusionment and pain.
      6. They ask questions like “If a loving God exists, why is there so much suffering in the world?” or “Why didn’t God intervene when I was hurt?”
    2. How to reach them
      1. Ask them questions like “Have you encountered Christians you consider hypocritical or cruel?” “How would you characterize you childhood experience with the faith?”  Often these types of questions will elicit stories that give you a window into the person’s experience, and let them open up about their grievances.
      2. Be careful not to ask questions that put them on the defense, or that are too direct, such as “Have you been hurt by Christians?” or “Are you made at God?” They find those questions too personal to answer.
      3. Don’t say “It’s all God’s will” or “God lets things happen for a reason.” They will have to come to that conclusion on their own in their own time.  Forcing this on them too early could cause them to get angrier.
      4. Say “This is a horrible evil thing that happened to you, and I don’t understand it either. I’m here and I’m angry for you.”
      5. Work with them on reconciliation, but help them make the distinction between reconciliation with the people who hurt them, and reconciliation with God.
      6. Show them that you enjoy your faith. How can we expect them to want something that we don’t appear to enjoy?
  3. Modern Leavers
    1. Their views
      1. Atheists are almost always modernist, since they absolutely negate God’s existence.
      2. There is no such thing as a spirit, soul or the supernatural. They deny reality beyond the physical world, so they are called naturalists.
      3. Truth isn’t found through relation, but through scientific investigation and reason.
      4. Knowledge has to be dispassionate, objective and certain.
      5. Reason, and not authority is deemed to be the best source of guidance about truth, morality and God.
    2. How to reach them
      1. They will tune us out when we make arguments based upon premises that they do not share.
      2. Ask questions designed to unearth their worldviews; like “How do you determine what’s true?” “Do you consider yourself spiritual?”  “What do you really admire?”  It will make them feel validated and grateful that you have given them an opportunity to describe what they believe.
      3. Being listened to is powerful, and it will make them more open to listening to what you have to say.
      4. Once their world views are out on the open, it means they too must defend their beliefs, which levels the playing field.
      5. Your job isn’t to straighten out all their opinions; it’s to light the path back to Christ.
      6. Stick to the essentials of the faith. Talk about Jesus – His life, death and resurrection.
      7. Ask them to consider if Christianity’s alternative to what they believe is more satisfying. Theirs is a hopeless worldview, with nothing after their short natural life.
      8. Understanding that people can be good without God, ask them “Why should people be good without God?” “What’s the basis for morality?”
      9. If they ask you a question you don’t know, say “That’s a tough question. I’m going to spend a few weeks studying it and get back to you.”  That models a concern for truth, and will appeal to the modernist since they hold questions of truth so prominently.
      10. On at least one point both modernist and Christians agree; truth and absolutes do exists, and they are worth fighting for.
  4. Neo-Pagans
    1. Their views
      1. Wicca, derived from the word witchcraft, is a neo-pagan, earth based religion. Wiccans worship a goddess and a god, practice magic, worship nature, and engage in seasonal rituals. They believe in a unifying energy present in nature that can be manipulated through magic to bring personal rewards such as love, financial blessings, and general happiness.
      2. Feminists are attracted to Wicca because of the feminine language and imagery, and two-thirds of Wiccan’s are female.
      3. The Christian God demands that you submit to His will, but in the Wiccan faith, it’s the other way around. Your will is paramount.  They believe in gods and serve gods, but the deities we choose to serve are based on our will.
      4. It is rare to meet a new Wiccan who wasn’t raised in the church. They have had tremendous success in converting Christian teens or twenties.
      5. Consumerism, secularism, and witchcraft being out in the open on TV and in movies has aided the rises of Wicca.
      6. They reject Christianity because it is not earth-centered, and because it teaches that humanity is the crown of creation.
    2. How to reach them
      1. Neo-pagan leavers have the strongest emotional reaction to Christian faith. They are not apt to argue, but once they open up to you, be ready for a river of molten rage.
      2. Why do they have such negative feelings for Christianity? We have repeatedly twisted and misrepresented their beliefs.  We’ve called them Satan worshipers, accused them of sacrificing animals, and even said they murder babies.  These are misperceptions which makes them angry.
      3. Demonstrate a familiarity with their basic beliefs. They will find this refreshing and will be more open to listening to you.
      4. Ask them questions about what attracted them to Wicca. You will likely hear some of the specific problems they have with Christianity.
      5. Neo-pagans sense something sacred in nature, and they are not mistaken. The Bible describes creation as a reflection of the Creator.
      6. They stop short and bow before the nature they encounter, rather than directing their worship to the true source of nature’s awe-inspiring power, God.
      7. Respect their experience by expressing and demonstrating care for the environment. Reaching them begins with showing an appreciation for nature and a desire to protect it; all while directing them to the God of whom nature is a grand reflection.
      8. Wiccan women who left Christianity often say they felt undervalued in the church. Their gifts had been confined to teaching Sunday school and making coffee.  They searched for somewhere that celebrates their womanhood.  So when talking with them, speak highly of women’s role in religion, and acknowledge the historical injustice done to women.  Highlight women in ministry.  Speak of how Jesus treated women.
      9. They often regard Christianity as a dry and dusty affair. Too often the Christianity they’ve known was really a dead religion, devoid of the power of God’s spirit.  Talk about your spiritual experiences.  They prize experience over theory.
  5. Rebels
    1. Their views
      1. Spiritual rebels see Christians as spiritual slaves and fancy themselves as truly free. Spiritual rebels refuse to bow before God only to end up serving lesser masters.
      2. There are two kinds of rebel leavers. The first are Moral Rebels.
        1. They forsake the faith to indulge in sinful behaviors. This happens more with young adults who wrestle free from their parents authority, who find a host of new freedoms and corresponding temptations.
        2. It is no coincidence that more people abandon Christianity between 18-22 years old than any other 4 year period of life.
        3. Scripture example: prodigal son
        4. They feel that Christianity limits their fun. It is too demanding.  They love the sin they are engaged in.
        5. They are engage in moral rebellion.
        6. Their falling out with God, doesn’t require denying Him with their words. They often never renounce their faith, yet their actions show an unmistakable departure from the faith.
      3. The second kind are Spiritual Rebels.
        1. They rebel against the very authority of God, and find submitting to an all-powerful deity is intolerable.
        2. They could say “If there is a God, that means He’s over met and I can’t handle that.” They would rather burn in hell than bend their knee.
        3. Deep down they may believe, but they are too proud to bow.
    2. How to reach them
      1. Often people say this popular saying “Sin will take you further than you want to go. It will keep you longer than you want to stay, and it will cost you more than you want to pay.”
      2. With moral rebels, controlling our initial impulses is crucial. When we see moral rebels engaging in sinful activities, our natural instinct is to intervene, and even command them to stop.  They may tune you out, depriving you of future opportunities to speak into their lives.
      3. A second knee-jerk reaction is to not respond at all, which is also harmful. Some Christians comfort themselves with the false belief that the spiritual plight of moral rebels is not really so serious.  You can hear people say “He’s just a good all-American kid.  He’s sowing his wild oats.  It’s not a big deal.”  Instead we should be asking “What do you see in their life that suggests they are a born again Christian?”
      4. Speak to them about the core issue; the state of their relationship with God. Unless there is a florescence in their spiritual life, any behavior you convince them to make will be minor and temporary.
      5. Underneath their rebellious behavior lies a deep thirst for adventure and purpose. Often they’re the kind of people with an irrepressible desire to live life to the fullest, even if that means taking risks.  Unfortunately when we present them with an eviscerated gospel, unworthy of their devotion, they seek to fulfill their desires in other ways.
      6. They don’t want a watered down boring gospel. They don’t want pizza and video games.  They want revolution and dynamism.  They want unvarnished truth.  They want a cause to live and die for.  In other words, they want the true gospel.
      7. Focus on your relationship with them, having fun, but continue to share the good news when you can.
      8. Look for the moments of heightened reception. They are times when circumstances in a person’s life increase their spiritual openness.  They are usually periods of turmoil and crisis.
      9. Prayer is paramount when it comes to reaching anyone who has left the faith, but when it comes to breaking through to those that shake their fist at God, it’s especially important. Ultimately only God can soften their hearts and lead them back to Him.
  6. Drifters
    1. Their views
      1. This is the largest group of “leavers”.
      2. It’s the age-old tendency to drift from God, to lose our first love. The biggest threat to Isreal wasn’t the Philistines or the Babylonians; it was their fatal propensity to abandon Yahweh.  We’re no different.
      3. These are the ones whose faith is rooted in shallow soil and is ultimately carried off in the wind.
      4. They don’t exist in sudden spasms of skepticism or rebellion. Instead they leave gradually, almost imperceptibly.  Since they leave gradually, many don’t think they ever even left.
      5. Whether they were ever really Christians is debatable, but clearly, the faith was never core-deep.
      6. They don’t seek out opportunities to argue against Christianity. In fact, they may not have arguments at all.
      7. They find conversations about God awkward, and seek to avoid spiritual topics altogether.
      8. They still identify themselves as Christians, despite the fact that their lives in no way reflect commitment to Christ.
    2. How to reach them
      1. People learn spiritual truth through atmosphere, not arguments. This is great insight especially for understanding drifters.  Drifters are easily influenced by environment.  They’re the kind who blend in, go with the flow.  They were likely to be swept up in the faith in the first place because it was what everyone else around them was doing.
      2. Play the role of inviter. Get them into an atmosphere where they can just be around Christians and hear the gospel again.
      3. The problem is that most drifters grew up in a Christian culture where the hard demands of the gospel weren’t properly communicated. Sacrifice and suffering were alien concepts.
      4. Emphasize the fact that the church isn’t merely a social club, and that following Christ is an all-or-nothing proposition.
      5. They need to be intergenerationally connected. Basically, young people need to have relationships with older Christians.  Those that do are far less likely to abandon their faith in their twenties.  So, connect them with older, more mature Christians.



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Ken Leaman

Ken Leaman has a passion for students, and for over 30 years has been volunteering within churches and other ministries, leading and mentoring students. These churches are:

Ken works for Amazon Web Services as a Support Operations Manager. Ken has also served on the boards of other non-profits like the DFW Technology Prayer Breakfast, and the DFW Help Desk Institute.

Ken, and his wife Karen, have been married for 31 years, and have a 30 year old son. They live in Allen, TX, just North of Dallas.

As Ken and Karen repeatedly witnessed many Christian students who were active within the Church walk away from their faith shortly after graduating high school, they grew frustrated.  Studies show that about 70% of young adults leave their faith after graduation, which is a huge issue since they are the future of the Church.  After much prayer and searching God's direction for many years, the Leaman's felt His calling to start a ministry to address this problem.  In 2014, they gathered like minded Christian professionals to help begin Young Adults of Worth Ministries.  We believe that this ministry is from God, and it will be blessed by Him for His glory alone.