The subtitle of Already Gone is enough to inspire a healthy knee-jerk reaction in any Christian parent. The ominous and decisive phrase Why Your Kids Will Quit Church and What You Can Do To Stop It both evokes dread in the hearts of those whose greatest desire is to see their children walking in truth (this should be all of us) while offering a thread of hope to cling to.
Anyone with an ear to the ground has heard the rumblings in the church about losing the next generation. The statistics aren’t new, and they’re bad. Christian leaders have started to sound the alarm, reacting with new ‘relevant’ ministries, family-integrated churches, homeschoooling, and a bevy of attacks to ward off the influence of post-modernism on the children of Christian families.
Are these strategies working? Will they? Well-known author and apologist Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis commissioned an extensive survey of a balanced sample of 1,000 twenty-somethings from across America who once attended church and now do not, to determine what we can do to stem the tide of young believers leaving the church. Already Gone presents his conclusions as to the causes of this epidemic (there are several) and recommendations to correct the problems.
Britt Beemer of America’s Research Group whom Ham commissioned to conduct the survey provides his own thoughts on the statistics at the end of each chapter, and Todd Hillard provides a much appreciated finessing of the text. Having read Ham’s writing without the aid of a co-author, I found Hillard’s contribution to improved flow and reading ease is a real treat.
There’s no doubt about it, Already Gone is written in a red alert, explosive burst of reactionary fervor, and there’s no doubt that the statistics warrant such fervor – these are (in some cases – more on this later) the souls of our children, our children’s friends, and for those of us in leadership, the children we’ve shepherded through Sunday School, the lambs of our flock, it’s no wonder we are (or should be) passionate about this subject.
What I found somewhat unfocused however, was the book's attempt to tackle both those who have left the institutional church yet still believe, and those who aren’t in the church at all – both universal and institutional. The vast majority of the analysis and suggestions provided are for strengthening the faith and convictions of those who have failed to latch onto the faith due to doubts and confusion. I agree completely with Ham’s suggestions, and am already implementing most of them in our own family. Where the book falls short, however, is in thoroughly exploring the concerns of those who have left the institutional church yet retain their faith.
Perhaps this strikes more closely to home for me, because our family is currently ‘unchurched’ though we are devoted to Jesus and are actively living out our faith as part of the body of Christ. In all fairness, Ham does touch upon the subject of what church is and isn’t, but this area is largely unexplored, leaving the emphasis upon people leaving church buildings, and church institutions. For some of us, this isn’t a major concern – we too have already left. Indeed, I believe that some of this movement away from buildings represents an increased desire amongst God’s people to seek out authentic fellowship with those willing to be transparent and real in their walk of faith, to depend more fully upon the actual person of Jesus and increasingly less upon extra biblical church traditions and doctrines. Of course, it’s quite likely that our family is in the minority here.
In any case, it’s quite clear that it wasn’t within the scope of Already Gone to explore the positions, concerns, and beliefs of the group of believers who’ve left the church. A more focused offering, and perhaps more relevant – would have been to limit the scope of this title to those who have been exposed to Christianity as children and teens, yet have failed to believe, because going to church is not an indicator of salvation, it’s only ‘going to church’. Ham certainly does an adequate job of exploring the non-believing segment of the surveyed population.
Those who operate in the realms of traditional church ministries will find Already Gone to be an accessible read that will quickly equip them with valuable tools for bolstering the faith of their flocks. By providing detailed recommendations and plans of attack for parents, Christian educators, youth pastors, and pastors, Ham equips believers to reach into the lives of the young ones they influence regularly. His passion for God’s children is admirable, and his emphasis upon apologetics to teach all budding Christians to uphold the Word of God and defend it in an increasingly secular, post-modern society is inarguable; it ought to be heeded by us all.