Already Gone by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer

Already Gone

A friend dropped this book off at my desk a while back and I finally had time to read it. This book is worth your time. Don’t stop, go get the book and read it this week. OK?

The subtitle of the book is this: Why your kids will quit church and what you can do to stop it. Is that provocative enough for you? The scary part is that they are correct! In my circles, kids are less likely to stop going to church; they are more likely to migrate from very conservative churches to more standard evangelical churches. So I’ve been asking the question: why is this generation leaving conservative churches. Ham and Beemer ask a more fundamental question: why is this generation leaving church?

The answer is the same: a lack of relevancy in modern churches. And by relevancy, I don’t mean “cool,” but rather “useful for life.” Ham and Beemer have done a series of studies on twenty-somethings who attended evangelical and conservative churches as children and now rarely if ever attend church. (Beemer is a professional pollster and has real-world experience creating legit polls and evaluating the data.)

The results might surprise you; they ought to shock you. Most of these young adults have a good view of the Bible and evangelical theology; they’ve left because the perceive the church to be less than useless to their lives. The book begins by attacking Sunday School as the main culprit. I disagree with that assessment (though I do think we screw up by teaching Bible “stories”). Sunday School may have implementation problems, but Sunday School is just a manifestation of a larger issue. Really the problem is twofold. First, there is a lack of spirituality amongst Christians. Second, there is a refusal to utilize logic and critical thinking skills.

To the first point, may Christians set their spiritual lives on autopilot and refuse to rock the boat. This shallow approach to Christian living teaches the young that the Bible is a great morality tale and is sorta useful as a guideline to life. Ham makes an interesting point at the end of the book. It is insufficient to read your Bible each day. You must study it and more importantly you must think about it. I’ve noticed that the times that I am called on to teach are the times that my walk is deepest. Before I teach a Sunday School class, I spend 10+ hours in preparation with most of that time thinking through the meaning and purpose of the text. So yeah, I think he’s right on that point and that this case can be made from the Psalmist as well. (By the way, in Psalm 15:2, we find that the righteous man “speaks the truth in his heart.” I recommend you spend time thinking about the ramifications of that point.)

How many Christians do you know that look down on those who smoke, drink, have sex outside of marriage and sniffle about that great sinner? How many of those Christians lie, cheat, play politics for position in the church or generally whine or snap at people? Which is worse: worrying or stealing? Matthew 6 implies that worrying is the defining characteristic of unbelievers…. Kids see this hypocrisy and recognize that while the people might be nice/good people, they aren’t trustworthy role models.

To the second point, failure to utilize logic and critical thinking skills leaves children with unresolved dichotomies. A friend once told me that though he grew up in a good home and in good churches, he assumed evolution was true. This was not because his parents or church taught him it was true, but because it was what he learned non-stop in school. It was not until college when someone detailed the scientific case for creation that he realized the fallacy of evolution. So here was a child who believed that God created in six days and that evolution was true. He kept that as an unresolved dichotomy for years.

The surveys taken by Beemer discovered that many kids (starting in upper elementary school) begin developing these dichotomies. Often authorities tell them: the Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it for me. That’s no answer! That’s blind faith and we have a reasonable faith. Give the kids a reason to believe. Unfortunately, we seldom do that. Kids want to know the pros/cons of smoking or drinking, they want to know why premarital sex is bad, they want to know why their parents believe the Bible is true, they want to know how they can trust the Bible to be error-free and what inspiration means. They want to know! They need to know why they should base their belief in this book that their friends tell them is useless for anything more than moral guidance. Tell them! and don’t tell them that this is what the church or pastor or someone else believes. Don’t tell them that you said they should believe it and never question it again. Have honest open and forthright discussions. Ensure that your answers are grounded in logical thinking.

I remember a fight (or four) I had with a friend growing up. I was taught not to do things like attend the theater or listen to “bad” music. I look back on these fights/debates today with chagrin. My reasons were simply parrotings of illogical statements. My friend was pointing out all the myriads of holes in the arguments I had used. So don’t tell me that kids won’t see through stupid arguments. They do. And when you tell them that they should believe something or not do something and back it up with illogical fluff, don’t be surprised when they ignore you. You let them down and you gave them no reason to believe you.

Pat answers won’t cut it.

I’ve been arguing for some years now that my generation is leaving our churches because they don’t get answers. (If you spend any time in very conservative churches, you’ll discover that they this makes me unpopular….) The truth is, this survey confirms that idea and reveals that the problem is much greater than I had imagined. What are you doing about it? I know where I need to work personally.


16 thoughts on “Already Gone by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer

  1. Interesting and thought provoking…

    The dichotomies must be corrected, otherwise the children stand to much to lose in the end. However, I wonder how many of those dichotomies are in the adult parents and are being ignored? Maybe we, as parents, have our own dichotomies therefore we cannot give our children the answers?

  2. Nice, someone still reads the site…. :p

    I’m sure that their are dichotomies in the parents. But I suspect that the issue is less pronounced in parents then the kids. Mostly, because I suspect the dichotomies to be a result of how we live/teach our kids.

    By living on spiritual auto-pilot, our kids learn that church and godliness is optional. By giving lazy sloppy brain dead answers to legitimate questions we teach them that we don’t know or don’t care.

    The end result is that kids either reject it all as foolishness or try to reconcile the senseless nonsense with the “Facts” and “Logic” presented by the world. They get answers (often wrong answers) from the world so they go to where the answers appear to be strongest. Often this situation creates compartments: the Bible and church affect relationships with people and being a “good person.” Everything else is covered by scientists and academics.

  3. Just curious….do you know Nate Bate? He and I had an interesting conversation along these lines over lunch yesterday….he’s headed out to CA in a couple months to plant a church.

  4. Thanks for spreading the word about this book. I wish we could get everybody “in our circles” to read it.

  5. Sounds like an interesting book! I will have to read it! I think that is definitely part of the problem. I think that some of this stems from a lack of education on the part of the parents. If parents aren’t educated on these issues they aren’t able to give answers to their children. I think that churches don’t dig deep enough into the scripture. Alot of times it seems that churches lack in the discipleship department. They focus on evangelism and fail to continue disciple the person after. In my personal experience there were somethings that I was told growing up that I didn’t understand until I went to college. I never realized how lacking our church was until I was exposed to those down at school. It was very eye opening to be able to ask questions and get answers that we from the Bible and not just to be told that it was “wrong and sinful”. I am so thankful that I was given that oportunity. I feel that most of my standards are even higher than those that I was raised with.

    Another problem, I think, has to do with inconsistencies in the home…. children see one thing at church and another at home. I am going to get this book an read it! I sounds really good!

  6. Sarah,

    Sorry that your comment was caught in the spam bucket. At least I got it fixed!

    Yeah, at the end of the day, I think that the lack of information and substantive logical reasons is a major cause of issues in the church. Please, read the book and let me know what you think. (hint: you can write a second review from your perspective.)

    We lacked a lot growing up. Not more than most churches though. Its not until you actually get a shot of quality teaching do you realize what you didn’t have.

  7. I have this book! We went to this Ken Ham’s conference and my
    Aba bought a bunch of his books.
    He has alot of really good material.

  8. I left church because it was irrelevant. Not that Christianity is irrelevant, just the “christian” churches are. (I’m speaking primarily of the protestant variety here. The various denominations and their differences frankly don’t interest me. I’ve tried several and they all, with varying degrees of corniness, seem very similar.) I find churches to be chock full of fake christians and others who prefer to “ride the fence” as it were. Also I find these same christians revel in poor behavior. An example: the last church I attended had a late 20’s group. They all showed up with hangovers to a morning service! Now that in and of itself is bad, but you’d think they’d be somewhat embarrassed. Not so, they were basically proud they killed all those poor brain cells. THAT is the hypocrisy I think people my age see. They are no different from the world but try and fail to adhere to a moral code. We see that failure constantly and are turned off. These christians really have no heart change and that is extremely evident. Without that, modern christian churches either become no better than a community center (albeit a weird one), or a place where you must follow certain rules to be accepted. Curiously saving us from rules was what the New Testament was all about. That wasn’t however a lease to run about sinning with wild abandon when we’re “saved”.

    At any rate, that’s why I left in the end. I do seem to keep running into people with similar thoughts on the subject so perhaps it is more prevalent. That also, may in fact be a positive sign. In my life I’ve really met only 2 people I’d consider as “real” christians. Both very normal, not at all wonky like church christians, and both no longer involved in church. The answer to stopping the exodus may be less about what should we change and more about getting right with God individually. Those two real Christians I’ve had the pleasure of meeting were compelling just by their presence in a room. They didn’t even talk religion and I knew something was different about them. In contrast I feel the modern christian beats you over the head with a new revised standard while simultaneously reviling the more lyrical Old King James. (I’m a bit of linguist so archaic texts and languages always interest me. I can understand needing a new translation but why bash the old one?) Anyway, I certainly can’t say I’ve encountered a preacher as compelling in -any- church I’ve ever been in.

    Apparently this turned into a pseudo anti-christian rant. Oops. 😉

    • Aearlath,

      Couple of thoughts for you. First, please remember that Scripture instructs us not to forsake the assembly of believers. Consequently, a failure to attend church at all would be wrong.

      Second, I understand your frustration. I often feel frustrated at the way church operates. I think that you hit part of the issue though: failure of believers to walk closely with God.

      Since reading this book, I’ve been trying to determine what exactly I should do about my frustrations. I think that my conclusion may help you:

      The best solution is to participate in church. If I don’t participate, they have no reason to listen to me. While I participate, I should continue to delve into a deeper walk with God and be careful to discuss change slowly and as God opens doors. Standing on the outside and yelling isn’t useful. Being amongst the believers and working to help by being different will be more effective (or so I’d assume).


  9. In regards to the assembly of believers… I believe that is that point. 😀 Modern churches aren’t filled with believers. In fact, they are the worst kind: the halfhearted, the lukewarm. (Something the Lord isn’t too fond of putting it mildly.) It is likely detrimental to be in their presence in the first place. Taking a page from Washington, better to be alone than in poor company. That isn’t to say a church would ever be free from such individuals, but when the vast majority of a church is of that persuasion I find that inherently dangerous. Particularly if the church leaders are modern fake christians.

    Really, I think the issue is of what modern Christianity has lost and doesn’t seem to be getting back. Christians talk about what can they do to be more relevant, or how can they reach more people, or how can the change their presentation. In other words, let’s water down what’s left of the gospel even more to make it more “modern”. You aren’t really going to hell without God, he just loves you. Curiously they immediately show their lack of understanding of love. When you really love someone, sometimes you have to tell them a truth that isn’t pretty. That is the issue. That’s why people leave the modern church. The whole thing is a farce and they know it. Until christians get back to the original teachings I don’t see things getting better at all. How can you stand as a beacon when you are no different from the world?

    To put it another way, I think any truthful individual would see how degenerate society is. (I’m speaking of American society here to be clear.) We’re bombarded with with the glorification of wrong constantly in entertainment. Broken homes are the norm, you’re weird if you wait till marriage, and Jesus is a curse word. (On that last bit, isn’t it interested how only Christians terms are curse words? They don’t say Buddhadammit, or say “Muhammad!” as an expletive. But I digress.) Now let’s look at the modern christian church. I say: “What’s the difference?” You get the same glorification of wrong, you still get broken homes as the norm, and they use expletives probably worse than their unchristian counterparts. The only primary difference seems to be we have to hold hands and sing kumbayah to corny music. Erm, I mean “God Loves You”. (Sorry, easy to get confused with the incessant IQ sapping repetitiveness of choruses. ;)) Why would I subject myself to that exactly? Honestly, I think I’d get more spiritual fulfillment from a local bar. 🙂

    Note I’m not saying your position is necessarily wrong. Nor am I claiming that every single church in America is fake. It’s just… every single one I’ve been in… has been. After awhile, I finally started to get a clue. 🙂

    • Aerlath, I’ve heard that argument, but I’ve never attended one of those churches. I’ve spent my life in independent fundamental churches where I think the representative is different. In my case, independent churches have other issues…. They tend toward more of the: my way or your not a Christian attitudes.

      Still, I agree that both groups (the ultra conservative and the ultra allow anything) are in need of change and you hit is correctly: the issue is the personal walk with God. Laziness is a big factor in that point.

  10. Your review convinced me that I need to read this book. To add to the discussion on why our children our leaving the church, maybe part of the reason is very simply that they can. They can leave without outward consequences to their lives, as opposed to groups such as the Amish or the European Gypsies who find it very difficult to bridge the gap between their cultures and the rest of the world. Our children can look elsewhere on the religious spectrum and still find jobs and social networks without much problem. I would like to see a study on children who have stayed “in the church.” Why did they choose to stay?

    • Mary,

      I stayed because it was right/biblical to do so. That’s the primary reason, not because of some inherent benefit of the church. I suspect that people stay for a variety of reasons including: momentum, tradition, because their parents/friends/pastor expect them to stay, and because their conscience has been trained to bug them if they leave. That’s speculation of course, but I’m sure they would rank if someone did a survey on the point.

      I’m not sure that many stay because they’ve worked through the biblical foundation for staying.

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