This isn’t the type of book I usually read. Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches that Reach Them
is a church growthy, charts-and-surveys kind of book. A little bit of this reading goes a long way for me, but I actually liked this book.
Granted, I didn’t like everything. Like a lot of books that survey people and then interpret the results, there is too much over-interpretation for my liking. I would have preferred a shorter book with the bare-bones summary of the data, fewer stories, and fewer faux post-it notes in the text. I wasn’t crazy about all of the advice, and the recurring story at the end of each chapter was for some reason put into an annoying italics font.
But these points notwithstanding, Ed Stetzer, Richie Stanley, and Jason Hayes have written a book that will be helpful to many churches as they try to reach young people with the gospel.
Good News, Bad News
I appreciated that Stetzer (he’s the main author) refused to hype the current church situation in America as the most dire of all time. Instead, he convincingly argues what many of us already intuitively understand: reaching the younger unchurched (roughly those in their twenties) is filled with unique challenges and opportunities. On the bad side, “the younger unchurched believe the church is too critical about lifestyle issues, full of hypocrites, and not necessary for spiritual development.” On the good side, “the younger unchurched clearly indicate they are willing to dialogue about Christianity and Jesus” (65). Basically, younger folks are turned off by religion, but they are very interested in talking about it and checking it out.
But while the younger unchurched would rather be spiritual than religious, this does not mean they hopelessly anti-churhc. In fact, Stetzer claims they are generally less fed-up with religion than older unchurched people (49). He argues that “as best we can tell, the younger unchurched are not more upset at the church than the older unchurched” (54). They may harbor a lot of negative stereotypes about the church and Christianity, but they probably don’t dislike the church more than others, and are actually more open to hearing about Christ than older generations.
Against the Grain
In Part Two of the book, Stetzer and his team identify four markers or values in ministering to young adults. From my experience as a young adult and in ministering to a church with lots of young adults, Stetzer’s conclusions ring true.
First, community is vital. We all know that. Young people want genuine relationships with others. They want a place to be real and they want people to be real with them.
Second, depth is important. Young people don’t want pat answers. They don’t want the church to stay away from the hard questions. They want content. They want Bible studies that actually teach the Bible. They want sermons that are meaty and challenging. “They told us,” writes Stetzer, “that they’d rather be ‘in over their heads’ in life as opposed to kicking around in the shallow end” (68). You don't have to water down to reach out. In fact, you reach out by not watering down.
Third, responsibility is strongly valued. Young adults want opportunities to use their talents and abilities. They want to serve. They want to put their faith into action. Stetzer reminds us that service projects are a great way to make connections with the unchurched. They might not come to church with us right away, but they will probably be willing to build a house with us. That’s a good place to start.
Fourth, connections matter. This is, of course, true for everyone. We all want to know others and be known. What’s interesting is Stetzer’s assertion that young people want more connection what is old. This means many young people actually prefer cross-generational ministry to simply being placed in mono-generational or affinity groups. It also means that there is a growing desire for hymns, liturgy, creeds, and traditional architecture. Does this mean we just reinvent church to suit the whims of the 24 year old? No, but it means we cannot ignore the church’s musical and liturgical traditions any longer because they “just don’t resonate with young people.”
Keep On Keepin' On
Much of the book’s content will not be a surprise to those who have read about younger generations before or belong to the younger generation. And many of the “characteristics” of churches that reach young adults are simply characteristics of good churches. But still, this book can give the pastor, college minister, or interested lay-person some good ideas on how to reach out to young people. (For example, if your church does not have a half-decent website you are missing one of the easiest and most likely ways that young people will find out about your church.)
The book contains many helpful summaries along the way, so even if you don’t read the whole thing you can benefit from the underlying points. As far as church growthy books go, this was a breath of fresh air. It emphasized the basics, like being humble and honest, giving people deep truth, fostering community, serving others, and utilizing the gifts and traditions of the ages (not to mention the aged). Reaching younger generations doesn’t take gimmicks, just a little bit of thought and a lot of faithfulness.