Today, I am excited to post an interview with Ed Stetzer, head of LifeWay Research and the author of numerous books. Ed maintains a very insightful blog and continues to be an inspiration and source of encouragement to a younger generation of pastors and teachers. Today, we’re talking about his newest book, Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches that Reach Them, which I reviewed yesterday.
Trevin Wax: Did you encounter any surprises as you sifted through the data as you were researching this book?
Ed Stetzer: Yes. Not only did we see some surprises, but also we actually were really encouraged by these findings. It would have been unfortunate had the younger unchurched expressed interest in things that we simply couldn’t offer.
But much of what the younger unchurched are looking for is found in the character of God and what our churches are called to be. Note that I said what our churches are called to be, not necessarily what they are.
Our churches have an opportunity to connect, however that doesn’t necessarily mean they are doing it. One of the great aspects of this book is that we share the approaches of many of the churches that are finding success.
As for what is most surprising in our research, that’s tough. I think what seems to be surprising most of our readers so far is the overall receptivity of the younger unchurched to Christianity, not just general spirituality.
Consider a stat like, “89% of non-church-going young adults said they would be willing to listen if someone wanted to tell them about Christianity.” Our research really accentuates this interest, even to the point of their willingness to participate in Bible study if asked. This is some surprising to some and should be exciting for us all.
Trevin Wax: You write that a sense of community and belonging is important to the younger unchurched. What are some ways that evangelicals have dropped the ball when it comes to fostering genuine community in the past? And where do you recommend we go from here?
Ed Stetzer: The church has, for generations, spoken of community. However, most of us would agree that community has been an aspiration rather than an expressed value. We have “aspired” to build community, but it has scarcely been realized. And that has not gone unnoticed by young adults, both inside and outside the church.
I believe we are often guilty of focusing more on the programs that we’ve established to foster community rather than the people within them. It’s not that our churches and their leaders set out to miss the mark on community. In fact, it is usually good people with positive intentions who have simply lost focus on what’s most important.
In the book, we lay out some key elements to what community needs to look like for this generation. These things include authenticity, transparency, a connection to personal conviction, an openness to ask questions, and much, much more.
Trevin Wax: You write that the younger unchurched are attracted to depth of content. They don’t want to wade around in the shallow end of the pool. What are some ways that churches can provide this kind of depth?
Ed Stetzer: Very simply, we heard the younger churched tell us that if they were going to stand for Truth in a world that isn’t, then they need to be equipped. For those that were unchurched, they told us that if they were to ever make a commitment for Christ, it would be an informed, educated decision.
When we consider both of these perspectives, it’s absolutely essential that our churches are providing in-depth Bible teaching as well as an emphasis on apologetics, worldview, and even other religions. But it’s not just about giving more information either. Instead, young adults told us that he opportunity to wrestle with this information was extremely important.
For some, the process was even more important than the answers. These insights help us establish what our teaching should look like in small group Bible study and in our preaching.
Trevin Wax: You write that serious conversations with the younger unchurched must address issues of gender and sexuality. Yet polls also show that the overwhelming majority reacts negatively to the church’s stance on homosexuality. How can churches remain faithful to the Scriptural teaching on homosexuality and yet still reach the younger unchurched?
Ed Stetzer: It is essential that we as Christ followers teach Truth in a loving, gracious manner manner. With that said, we’ll never reach this generation for Christ with the true gospel if, in the process of “reaching them,” we move away from biblical truth.
This isn’t an either/or situation. We can and should do both. We’re not suggesting that churches compromise on scriptural teachings. We do, however, need to have an accurate understanding of exactly who were are hoping to reach. Churches wanting to connect with this generation need to be informed and prepared.
Trevin Wax: How should churches respond to the recent development of missions/ministry becoming an entry for the younger generation?
Ed Stetzer: This generation is continuing to show their desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves, a cause. It is our responsibility to affirm the church as an outlet where they cannot only find opportunities to serve the world, but even find a greater reason behind doing it.
The social action movement shouldn’t intimidate the church. We don’t need to be looking for ways to retrofit our message into it. Instead, we simply need to help others see that it is our message.
Jesus shows us in Luke 19 that he came to seek and to save the lost. But, we also see that very same Jesus in Luke 4 who is serving the hurting and the oppressed. If we are going to join Jesus on his mission, he modeled both “serve” and “save,” and we would do well to follow his example.
It’s important that we, as believers, are choosing to do both also. We also speak of how many churches are not only serving the lost and hurting, but also serving alongside them in an effort to build relationships. These are interesting findings that we discuss at length in the book.