the weblog of Alan Knox

Interaction with Lost and Found

Posted by on Feb 24, 2009 in books, community, service | 4 comments

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.


4 Comments

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  1. 2-24-2009

    I have been to so many seminars each having the ‘key’ to church growth. We have a generation that has rarely felt community. If our churches were loving communities we would all need to expand.

  2. 2-24-2009

    These are helpful reflections, Alan. Thanks.

    You ask:

    1) Why are 20-somethings not finding community, depth, responsibility, or cross-generational connection among the church?

    Perhaps it is actually because we have a programatic approach. I have not known programs to be a good conduit for the cultivation of relationships. Relationships = community. Relationships occur, as you said, around a meal, watching a ballgame, over coffee, etc. I think we really need to free people up and encourage them to cultivate these kinds of relationships instead of being committed to our programs. Actually I think you kind of answered this question within your own post and I’m just poorly summarizing the reasons.

    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?

    Two reasons. First, most of the 30+ year olds that I know are very consumed with their own very hectic lives. Most 20-somethings do not have children or at least their children are very young and not into soccer, Boy Scouts, band, etc. These things require alot of time from the whole family. They simply have more responsibility and less time.

    Secondly, 30+ year olds feel the void that the lack of community creates, but they have been taught to think that it is the programs of the church that are to fill these voids. I think many older 30+ year olds still have a sense of responsibility to the “business as usual” approach to church. They just don’t know any better.

    These are just a couple of thoughts. I’m actually really interested to hear what others think because this is an important issue.

  3. 2-24-2009

    Based on the 20-somethings we know, they are looking for community, depth, responsibility and cross-generational connection in not only the church, but in society at large. So are we. These things are often difficult to find, especially in institutional churches.

    Our culture and our churches have focused on many other things. When we spend most of our time making money to pay for huge, expensive homes, church buildings, cars and all that goes with the package, and the rest of our time taking care of this stuff, there is almost nothing left for community-building and the rest of the list.

    Our priorities have been "out of whack". It reminds me of the parable of the fisherman who was sitting at the docks midday enjoying the day and the ocean. A rich man asked him why he wasn't out fishing. The fisherman said he had caught enough fish for the day. The conversation went back and forth. The rich man thought the fisherman should work longer, buy more boats, hire employees and make more money. The fisherman kept asking why. The rich man kept saying so you can make more money. Finally, the fisherman asked what the point would be to make all that money. The rich man said “so you can enjoy life”. The fisherman replied "What do you think I'm doing now?"

    We have forfeited what is most important and what we most want, to gain that which gives no lasting satisfaction, but which becomes our master. After awhile we realize that we don't really need the stuff. We been sold a false bill of goods by those who have told & sold us this stuff, and that includes expensive church buildings, church programs, the "big show" on Sunday mornings and all that goes with it.

    It is confusing for older people to try to understand why the younger generations are less than impressed by all the "stuff", is it not?

    When someone observes us personally it doesn't take long to figure out what is really important to us. When I observe a "church", and see an expensive building on a nice piece of property, with expensive cars in the parking lot, people walking in the door in expensive clothes, and then go in and look at the bulletin, which lists extensive staff and programs and look at the building and see expensive furnishings, what do I think?

    Do I think these people have time for building real community, time to deal with the tough issues of life, time for service and social responsibility and time to build cross-generation connections? Do I think these people have the time or interest for any of these things? – I think they have already answered that question. Their interests and time commitments are obvious. If any of these things are going to happen, in even the smallest way, it will be because they hired someone to do it (hence the large church staff).

    Again, their interests and time commitments are obvious. And so is the solution. Should we wonder that so many of the younger generation are rejecting the values of their parents and older generations?

  4. 2-24-2009

    Willis (willohroots),

    It seems the “key” is to let Jesus build his church using his people and don’t get in his way. Of course, Jesus builds and gifts his people to love (active, serving love). So, I agree that loving communities will tend to grow, both in maturity and numbers.

    Scott,

    I really appreciate your answers. I think you may be onto something. I know that when I was growing up, people tending to keep quiet about “the church” because it was… well… “the church”. Many either learned to live with, or they moved on. Today’s younger generation are nearly as interested in learning to live with something, when they recognize something essential (i.e. community, service, mentorship, depth) is missing.

    Sam,

    Yes, our actions and our decisions certainly demonstrate what is important to us. I try to act and make decisions in ways that demonstrate that people are important. It is so easy to begin to act and make decisions in ways that build up the organization but tear down the people.

    -Alan