In their new book, Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and The Churches That Reach Them, Ed Stetzer, Richie Stanley, and Jason Hayes provide a comprehensive analysis of who the eighteen-to-twenty-somethings are and what churches are doing to reach them.
Ed outlines the purpose of the book by saying -
"This is a book about who the younger unchurched are and how to reach them. Yes, that may be a little old school. Many authors and speakers want to focus on fascinating and important questions like what is wrong with our belief system, how can we do this differently, and what will the future look like for churches? I have asked questions like that myself, and I will do more of that in my next book. But, in this book, Richie, Jason, and I are asking one simple question: Who are the young unchurched and how can they be reached with the good news of Jesus Christ? (OK, that's two questions.) " Lost and Found, p. 3.
And, if you think you know everything about this group, think again. They are amazingly spiritual, open to talking about spiritual matters, bugged by Christians, think about eternity, believe in God, sort of believe Jesus is special, and want to make a difference.
And, just to get you going here, a majority of younger adults wouldn't like it if your church doesn't ordain women, or doesn't welcome homosexuals. And you thought this was going to be easy, didn't you? But the authors give you some ways to address the gender and sexuality issues with this generation.
Based on three large surveys of 1,000 18-29 year olds selected intentionally to reflect the diversity of their generation, the authors are quick to state that there is no one profile that embodies all 18-29 year olds. Respondents included whites, African-Americans, and Hispanics in proportions consistent with the greater U. S. population.
The book divides into three main sections:
1. Polling. This is the data and rationale of the survey including who they are, what they believe, and how they feel about God, church, religion, and Christians.
2. Listening. Four characteristics of this group emerged as the authors surveyed and talked with them. Young unchurched adults want community, depth, responsibility, and connection. More on these later.
3. Reaching. This is the longest section of the book, and spotlights real churches who are effectively reaching significant numbers of young unchurched adults. Surprisingly, the authors discovered that the young unchurched attended both alternative churches with really cool names, and more traditional First Church-types that blended generations in nurturing, mentoring, and serving connections.
The book is crammed with statistics, examples, characteristics, and stories about the young unchurched. Several times I found my stereotyped assumptions of this group exploded by solid research. For instance, a higher percentage of adults under-30 believe there is a God, than adults over-30. And, those under-30 exceed their older counterparts in spirituality and openness to spiritual things.
Not surprisingly, the young unchurched are not all unchurched for the same reason. The book helpfully categorizes the younger unchurched into four groups:
1. Always unchurched. (Never involved)
2. De-churched. (Attended as a child)
3. Friendly unchurched. (Not hostile or angry at the church)
4. Hostile unchurched. (What it sounds like)
Those categories create a starting point in building relationships with younger adults who are unchurched. They are not all alike and a cookie-cutter approach will not be effective. Actually, programs are less effective because this group, regardless of their unchurched orientation, is seeking relationships.
And it is the relational aspect of the book that is most encouraging to me as a small church pastor. Reaching young adults is not about having a rock band (although some churches do); or about alternative worship (although some churches do that, too). Instead this generational group seeks relationship, community, and even cross-generational connections. As a matter of fact, the authors discovered that the majority of churches effectively reaching younger unchurched adults were doing so in a cross-generational context.
Lost and Found is not a how-to book for reaching young adults. It is rather a here's-what book -- here's what this generation is, here's what they want, and here's what churches are doing to reach them. Stetzer says they intentionally titled the book, Lost and Found in order to showcase churches that are finding these lost-to-the-church young adults, and finding them effectively.
If you want to gain some eye-opening insight into the world of 18-29 year olds, get some handles on who they are, and read stories of churches reaching them, Lost and Found is the book you need. Buy it, read it, talk about it; but better still, talk to some young unchurched adults yourself. Learn some basics from the book, then have coffee with a college student home on break, or a young married couple just starting out, or young adult in their first post-college job. Lost and Found can give you the background you need to start those conversations with young adults in your community. I imagine that's what Ed, and Richie, and Jason would really like to have happen.