I just finished Drew Dyck’s book “Generation Ex-Christian: Why Young Adults Are Leaving the Faith…and How to Bring Them Back.” I’ve been involved in college ministry for eight years, and I recognize that young adults are continually leaving their faith, but this book explored why they do. In fact, “Generation Ex-Christian” is the first research-based book that thoroughly explains the whys of leavers. I had a hard time putting it down, because as I read, names of friends who have walked away from church or their faith on some level or another kept entering my mind. This book broke my heart for college students who once knew and loved Jesus, but for one reason or another, left him in the dust as they transitioned from youth to adulthood.
The book is well-organized and easy to read. The contents page easily shows how the book is broken down into six main sections; each section highlights a type of leaver and explores the thought, pain, childhood experiences, sin, or confusion that lead them to decide to dismiss Jesus. Dyck identifies six main categories of leavers—postmodern leavers, recoilers, modern leavers, neo-pagans, rebels, and drifters. Each section ends with practical steps that we can take to speak to, reach, and engage with leavers. Armed with an understanding of why they left better equips us to address their specific concerns.
For example, I now realize that I should avoid arguing the legitimacy of the gospel based on reason with a postmodern leaver, because they don’t believe reason is the way to truth. Instead, I can build trust with them by inviting them to serve with me, because many of them are socially conscious and very concerned for the marginalized and poor.
I now understand that recoilers have often tragically suffered abuse in the name of God, and when they felt wounded by God, decided he didn’t exist. They also were hurt mostly in the context of relationships, so healing must also come in that context. My best approach in caring for them is to empathize, not argue, and to point them to the cross, a symbol and promise to all who suffer that even the worst injustice can lead to redemption.
I see that modern leavers abandon their faith for intellectual reasons. They love to debate, they love objective truth, and they love rational reasoning. To reach modern leavers, I must do my homework and be prepared to give good answers to questions about my faith, listening to them and asking questions about their worldview in the process.
I understand that Wiccans (or neo-pagans), have been heavily influenced by feminism, the environmental movement, secularism, and consumerism. They are also enraged that Christians spread false rumors about them—that they worship Satan and sacrifice animals. So I should communicate a familiarity with their beliefs, demonstrate a care for creation and the environment, and highlight women in ministry as we share spiritual experiences.
I know that moral rebels just want to party and have a good time, and spiritual rebels don’t want anything to do with submitting to an all-powerful deity. Rebels value their autonomy. I see that underneath their rebellious behavior is a thirst for adventure and purpose, and I can show them the adventure, sacrifice, and risk of the gospel while demonstrating the freedom that comes from serving God.
I now recognize that some young people just drift from their faith gradually, almost imperceptibly. Drifters learn spiritual truth through atmosphere, so I know to invite them to places where they’ll hear the gospel and be around other Christians.
Figuring out why young people walk away from Jesus is key to learning how to effectively adapt our approach to connecting with them. After all, Jesus never approached two people the same way. The gospel doesn’t change, but the way we share it should. This book has given me a ton of insight into understanding why so many young people are walking away from a God they once knew, loved, and worshiped. It’s also helped me feel equipped as someone involved in college ministry to engage and care for those who have stepped away from their faith more effectively.
I also appreciated that Dyck pointed out the importance of prayer in this book. “I’m convinced we can give our loved ones who have strayed no greater gift than time spent in the presence of God on their behalf. Please, ramble, cry, rage—but don’t stop.” When we pray for prodigals, we are praying according to God’s will.
Dyck’s introduction of the book includes speaking about the parable of the sheep, and that the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine to search for the one that wandered away. It’s a great illustration of God’s heart for the lost…for those who have wandered from him. This book will help us in our pursuit of those lost sheep. More than sheep, the book is about the Good Shepherd, and that ultimately it is HE who deeply cares for them and longs for their return. May we search for those wandering sheep who are dotting our communities, and take heart knowing that the Good Shepherd is already searching for them…