Authors: Ken Ham and Britt Beemer
Publisher: Master Books
It is difficult to review a book that is rather well-known and, at least by most who wanted to read it, greatly appreciated. I was hesitant to read and review Already Gone for many reasons. For a long time, this was because I didn’t really think it applied to me. This assumption was probably incorrect, for I am not only still in the church as an adult millennial, but my husband works for the church, and specifically with the youth. For that reason, I am glad that I read the book. I also shied away from reading the book because it is already 11 years old. However, with some reflection, I see that reading the book through the eyes of the present brought some interesting insights. I can see how much the authors understood my generation and how much they did not. I can also see how some of their suggestions were perhaps misguided, and many of them were influenced by the previous generations. And yet, the message is still real: By the time we try to reach most of our fleeing young people, they are already gone. Overall, I thought this was an interesting book, if not everything I’d hoped it would be.
To start, the book could have been organized better. I felt like a lot of the text in the first half of the book was unnecessary, and some of it less than unhelpful. The introduction, which spoke about empty and repurposed churches, was mostly lost on me. I don’t mean that it wasn’t interesting, but I don’t think that should have been the opener for the book. I mean, I get it. It’s sad, even disturbing, to see churches turned to other uses. But my biggest concern is not the building but the people for whom that building was built. I don’t know why they didn’t just get right into the first chapter. While I think part of the material in the introduction should remain in the book, it should probably have been reserved for the conclusion. Along those same lines, I found their presentation of the data to be rather repetitive. It was invariably, “We were shocked to find this.” But then they wouldn’t dig into the details, causes, or solutions. I found most of the first half of the book like this. Perhaps part of my issue is that I’m not fond of Ken Ham’s writing style. Though I love AIG and their ministry, and I’ve followed it for years, something about the way that Ken Ham writes has always rubbed me the wrong way.
Most issues I take with the book have more to do with apologetics and the Church generally. Very often, Ham refers to the church in North America and Europe by calling it the Church. This is a little too broad. I think he should have referred to the church of North America (CNA) and Europe as such. The Church is much larger than that, and not every continent, country, or community has the same issues, challenges, and failings as those of us in the West. Some are doing better than we are in some areas of ministry; others are doing worse. But we should be clear in how we speak about specific and general groups of Christians.
Ham also holds odd views on orderly worship. For some reason, he seems to think that following a pattern of worship is somehow harmful to young people. I don’t know why Ham spends so much time on this point. It almost seems like he goes out of his way to point out issues or a supposed lack of historicity with liturgy and structured worship in buildings. And don’t get me wrong, I did home church with several families for over a decade. I loved that time. But it was not the same as gathering with my whole church family to partake of the Lord’s Supper together. Of all the things to point out as being possibly harmful to American churches and their young members, it seems odd to make such a stand on that point. I would actually make the opposite claim. He also makes it seem as though what most churches in America have been doing for the previous five or so decades is somehow traditional worship. But most protestant churches, and even unfortunately many Lutheran churches, have abandoned a traditional form of worship and liturgy for what’s edgy and cultural. Tradition is not the problem. A lack of consistent truth teaching is the problem. I would have rather he spent more time focusing on families and solutions than on church worship structure.
Another issue I frequently saw in the book was a narrow focus on Genesis. On the one hand, I agree with them. Undermining the truth in Genesis is a huge problem concerning why young people, and especially my generation, leave the church. It has been a problem for decades, and I foresee it continuing. But this is only part of the problem. Focusing on an incomplete cause leads to an incomplete solution. I understand AIG’s mission is about finding answers in the book of Genesis. But perhaps this is where my expectations of this book were too high. I expected more information about the family’s (and especially the Father’s) role in making faithful church attendance part of life. I expected more about personal devotion and training up parents so that they could train their children in all areas of faith at home. This idea was occasionally mentioned in passing, but not with great detail. Perhaps I expected too much as a Family Minister’s wife, but I don’t think so. Without focusing on the whole, the individual issue (undermining Genesis) will only do so much. Children need to see faith modeled by parents. While at fault in this area of science and apologetics, churches can only do so much when parents do nothing.
One important factor to keep in mind is that the kids they are talking about trying to catch are my generation, the Millennials. But I think even when they were writing this, the information was dated. They were pulling data from the previous generation and making many assumptions about the one before that and the Millennials. And yet, reading the book is almost more concerning knowing where we are at present. Perhaps if we had taken books like this more seriously ten or fifteen years ago, we wouldn’t be in the situation we are in now.
At the beginning of the first chapter, the author tells me to look at the kids in the service and know that 2/3rds probably won’t be here when they are my current age. I know now that more than 2/3rds of my peers are gone. Worse yet, I barely see any kids now. I am one of possibly ten millennials at my congregation that could maybe be considered a regular attendee. I’m not sure how many millennials we even have as members. Worse yet, most of my generation are unmarried or have no children (either by choice or otherwise), or have few children. We keep dealing with all of these side issues when the central issue of our churches and society is with the family itself. Obviously, undermining the authority of Scripture is a huge portion of our problems, but how will they hear unless someone is teaching them? Most of the people they were pulling examples from were the Gen-Xers, a dispassionate generation largely overshadowed by the Baby Boomers, whom the Millennials reflect in many ways. My generation is just gone. Now I’m watching the few Gen-Z kids we have rapidly disappear, and I see almost no one of my daughter’s generation. The church is dying not only because we didn’t feed our children but also because we didn’t have any. We destroyed the family.
I think a couple of portions of the book do hit some critical issues, however. For one, Ham notes that we in the church separated ourselves from what was really going on in the world. I don’t like how Ham phrases it, and I think he could have presented his point better in the book, but his general idea is correct. We separated faith from life (which he often refers to as fact). (Ham also repeatedly separates moral/spiritual matters from the real world. I get what he’s saying, we need to talk about the real history and science, but he’s still coming at it with the wrong perspective. We need a holistic approach because the Bible is holistic. All of these things are related, and we should be teaching them together.)
Back to faith and life. The two are connected. We should be focusing on Jesus and the Gospel without neglecting the beginnings of Scripture. We shouldn’t be undermining Genesis if we want to teach people to believe in the Words of Jesus. The point is not that faith, Jesus, and the Gospel are unimportant in light of Genesis, but instead that Genesis is crucial in light of the Gospel. The door to questioning Scripture’s authority does open the door to rejection, and I think we can distinctly observe these steps over the past 100 years. The two walk hand in hand.
The CNA thought that teaching “relatable” things did not include the actual facts of life. “Relatable” to many church leaders didn’t mean talking about the truths of Scripture but instead topical studies, videos, big screens, lights, and pop music. They thought we could make the church more like the world, and that would make it relatable. But that’s not what we meant or needed. We needed to talk about actual truths. The Bible doesn’t need to be made relatable. It is relatable. It is life! It talks about the challenging issues: marriage, children, sex, homosexuality, money, greed, generosity, depression, guilt, work, death, meaning, history, and so much more. But we avoided all of those to make the truth flashy.
Already Gone makes one crucial point: The CNA did basically nothing while the truth was undermined in culture and then didn’t even defend or address the truth in the church. The CNA accepted the world’s premises and forgot our own. During the past 100+ years, and most critically in the past 60, we let one central truth escape us: the purpose and need for the family. So no one got fed at church or home. In addition, many young people saw only hypocrisy and inconsistency in their churches. If that was one of a few issues with the previous generation, it was central to mine. With the number of big icons of the church that have fallen in recent months, we can see how much damage hypocrisy can do to a young person’s faith.
Another subtle but critical point the authors made was the damage of delaying talking about tough issues and building a worldview in young people. I have witnessed this firsthand: Christian parents coddle their children. We don’t want to talk about the tough issues with our kids when they come up in Bible study. “They’ll talk about that in youth group,” I hear parents say. But kids don’t, or won’t, for a variety of reasons. Among them are 1) they’ve never talked about them at church and 2) their worldview has already been in place for a couple of years by that point. We can’t hold off to talk about deep subjects until our children get to high school and college. We need to address these subjects in elementary school. But we don’t. Thus, there is little wonder why those sitting next to us in the pews were already gone.
Finally, in the last quarter of the book, Ham gets to some solutions. This is part of why I say that this book could have been structured better. Instead of beating us over the head with the same set of facts for half the book, he could have made his data points concise and hard-hitting and then gotten to some actual, fleshed-out solutions. There were different sections for pastors, volunteers, and other church ministers at the back with criticism and teaching suggestions. I found the section on parents to be the most helpful. Granted, it was only about three pages of help, but it was probably the most valuable part of the whole book besides just knowing the general data. The parts for Christian educators and other ministers and volunteers in churches were helpful as well. But, I wish this would have been the central part of the book, not a brief afterthought.
Part of my lack of enthusiasm for this book may be because I’ve been neck-deep in these issues for years. My interest in apologetics began when I was in early middle school. Now I’m married to a church worker, and I see the fall of the current generation and the apathy of the parents of the next generation. I am the generation this book is talking about. And I still think they missed the actual (or most significant) solution. I don’t think their research is wrong or that the issue of undermined authority is wrong. I don’t think it’s wrong to start with Genesis and teach the truths of Scripture from beginning to end. As an apologist, that is what I teach and do! But it’s not just that. We need a holistic approach to teaching truths. It’s not just about science. We need to take a hard look at ourselves, church in America. I’m looking at you, pastors and church workers. Most especially, I’m looking at you, parents. We need to look at and talk about abortion, divorce, tithing, parenting, personal devotions, children, gossip, education, Sunday school, art, VBS, politics, and science in Sunday School and especially in the home. We need to take a hard look at sound doctrine. We need to take a hard look at how church leaders may be undermining parents and/or not helping them to raise up their own children.
I agree with and see the importance of the general premise of the book. I see this as a Millennial, a mother, and the wife of a church worker. I appreciate that this book was put together, and I think it can still have some impact if read today (despite my many criticisms of it). But I also see the need for another, similar book that takes data, maybe as extensive from the Silent Generation to Gen Z, dissect it, and provide some fleshed-out solutions for people now and for those to come. We can and should start making changes to our ministries and parental education to reach our young people at younger ages. Otherwise, we are going to keep killing the church in North America faster and faster every year.
Blessings to you and yours,
~Madelyn Rose Craig