Several weeks ago, the publishers sent me a review copy of Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches that Reach Them (Nashville: B&H, 2009) by Ed Stetzer, Richie Stanley, and Jason Hayes. While this post will not be a review, I would like to interact with some of the content in this book.
Lost and Found is the result of several polls of 20-29 year olds offered and compiled by the authors. The results are compared to data for 30-39 year olds as well, but the primary target group was 20-somethings. The book is divided into 3 parts: “Polling”, “Listening”, and “Reaching”.
In the first part, “Polling”, the authors describe the research methodology and report the raw research data. In the second part, “Listening”, the authors suggest four “markers” that indicate what 20-somethings value: community, depth, responsibility, and cross-generational connection. In the last part, “Reaching”, the authors give examples of churches that are “reaching” 20-somethings.
For me, the most beneficial part of this book is the second part: “Listening”. As the authors point out community, depth, responsibility, and cross-generational connection are very important to 20-somethings. Also, the authors point out that these four “markers” are biblical concepts that should be important to the church as well (more on this later).
When the authors talk about “community” they mean “life is meant to be experienced together. Community is about intimately journeying through life with those who surround you.” (76) But, they also recognize that, “The church has, for generations, spoken of community. However, most of us would agree that community has been more of an aspiration than a reality”. (69)
The authors share an interesting anecdote about Starbucks to demonstrate the importance of community to 20-somethings:
Maybe the only thing that young adults desire as much as community is coffee. They are the men and women who not only like coffee, but they know everything about it… Perhaps that’s why Starbucks has the appeal it does. Most young adults have Starbucks as part of their experience… But interestingly enough, many young adults will say that Starbucks isn’t the best coffee they’ve ever had… Starbucks is successful because it sells more than coffee. It sells community. In their stores they intentionally create environments by design and acoustics that encourage conversations, comfort, and accessibility. (77)
Twenty-somethings are willing to pay $4 for coffee that’s not their favorite because they go to Starbucks to foster community. (An interesting question would be, does the church foster community? But, more on that later.)
According to the authors, 20-somethings also value “depth”. What do they mean? They mean that young adults do not want to wade in the shallow end. They want to deal with the tough issues of life. And, they want to be part of that process. As one person said, “It’s not one person with all the answers. Rather, it’s about all the people with their combined knowledge and experience.” And, this is the other part of depth: for young adults, depth is about real life, not theories or -ologies. If it doesn’t affect their life, then its a waste of time. The young people indicated that they learn through discussion and hands-on experience.
The third marker of 20-somethings is “responsibility”. By responsibility, the authors mean service and social responsibility. The authors point out that for these young adults, service was not something that was just talked about, or something that was left for others (professionals) to do. For example, they write:
Young adults believe in global responsibility; they know their choices make a difference. And they are living their lives in a manner that reflects this belief. (111)
The final marker for this group of young adults was a desire for “cross-generational connection”. One of the authors shared part of a conversation that drives this point home:
She said, “I’m twenty-four years old. I’d like to know how to cook, but I’ve never met my mother. Who can teach me?” (124)
The authors say that 20-somethings are looking for people who will “walk alongside them and give advice here and there. They’re looking for mentors who are willing to invest in their lives and teach them some things along the way.” (129)
The authors present a fictional narrative which runs throughout the book. The story follows the lives of a group of 20-somethings that they live out these four values. This narrative may be the most important part of the book, because it demonstrates how community, depth, responsibility, and cross-generational connection can play a part in the lives of 20-somethings.
However, I’m afraid this book will be used to create another church program designed to attract 20-somethings to a certain church organization. Consider this statement by the authors concerning community:
You can’t buy community, program community, or fake community. It’s the reality of the relationships that makes Christ believable to an unbelieving society. The person far from God will not come to Christ until the love of Christ annihilates the opposing worldview upon which they depend. Community is the love of God manifesting itself in and through the people of God. (76)
This statement could be repeated for the values of depth, responsibility, and cross-generational connection. In fact, concerning cross-generational connections, the authors say:
When people from an older generation invite young adults into their lives, they have that chance. Whether eating a meal, going to the movies, or having a conversation, the natural circumstances emerge to see and seize teaching opportunities through sharing life together. Though some specific direction can be emphasized in those relationships, the greatest learning moments will surface during everyday occurrences as they live life together – funerals, weddings, meals, baseball games, and family events. (134)
Yes! I agree completely! But, this is so foreign to the majority of churches, who rely on staff and programs, measurements and control. “Sharing life together” (I term that I like to use as well) cannot be programmed, measured, or controlled. However, several statements in the book even indicate that programs are in the mind of the authors:
Knowing this [that young adults are interested in social action], we must focus our efforts toward establishing social action as a major element in the strategies and programs of our churches. (117)
While the unchurched have a reduced interest in traditional “front door” approaches, we should now consider using service as a primary entry point into the lives of nonbelievers. Rather than initially inviting the unchurched to a traditional church program, perhaps we should invite them to help serve at a rescue mission or to attend a benefit dinner for a local charity. (119)
Note that I’m not opposed to inviting unbelievers to help us serve. The question is: Why are we serving? Are we serving because we desire to serve people out of the love of God, or are we serving people in order to attract young adults? If we are serving to attract young adults, they will eventually recognize our hypocrisy and steer clear – as they have been doing.
Unfortunately, just as surveys from a previous generation led to a plethora of “youth programs”, I think many will use this book to create additional “young adult programs”. These programs will serve the right music, offer the right buzz words, have plenty of coffee, and do service projects, but soon, the majority of 20-somethings – those who even try the program – will see the efforts as just another form of commercialization – a way to gain their trust in order to sell them a product or service. Those who are successful creating a “young adult community” will then wonder why those same 20-somethings are not participating in the other programs of the church.
Why? Like the authors said, “You can’t buy community, program community, or fake community” (76). And, those who appreciate community the most, can more easily sense a fake or inauthentic “community”.
I do not think we should be asking, “What can the church do to attract or reach 20-somethings?” Instead, we should use this very important research to ask two different questions: 1) Why are 20-somethings not finding community, depth, responsibility, or cross-generational connection among the church? (according to the authors, most of the people surveyed had been part of churches) and 2) Why are 30+ year olds not as interested in community, depth, responsibility, or cross-generational connection as they should be, at least, as Scripture indicates God’s people will be interested?
If we start addressing these questions, and seeking real community, depth, responsibility, and cross-generational connection, others will notice.