Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Lost...and Found?

Why do so many young adults leave the church, and what will it take to bring them back? Who are the young unchurched, and how can they be reached with the good news of Jesus Christ? Thom Rainer and his son Sam tackle the first two in their new book, Essential Church. The last two questions are being addressed by Ed Stetzer in a book that will be released early next year. Ed recently gave a preview of his findings in a brief presentation at Catalyst, and in his blog. I wanted to explore them a little and get your thoughts and comments.

It's a very personal subject for me, as I have 3 young adult children (two of them with families of their own) and a fourth not far behind. They have grown up in the church, all being very active through their high school years. Then, it's off to college, then family and career, and ...what next?

Stetzer introduces us to four general types of younger unchurched:
  1. Always unchurched (never been involved)
  2. De-churched (having attended as a child)
  3. Friendly unchurched (not particularly angry at the church)
  4. Hostile unchurched (angry at the church or have had some negative experiences with the church)

As might be expected, there is no "one size fits all" approach to these four groups. While there has always been a major effort on "bringing friends to church", Stetzer's research indicates a strong and growing focus on being incarnational - going and living among people who are far from God.

Beyond identifying who these young adults are, we must also know what they believe. Here are a few snippets of Stetzer's research on a sample of over 1,000 unchurched young adults:

  1. They are spiritual, but not religious. 43% indicated this answer, and another 31% claimed to be both spiritual and religious.
  2. Even though church attendance is not important (the whole survey was to this group), 40% identify with a denomination or faith group.
  3. More than 60% reported attending church weekly when growing up.
  4. 81% believe in God; 74% claim that the existence of God does or would impact their lives.
  5. But, there is an abundance of spiritual confusion in the belief systems of young adults. 57% believe that only the God described in the Bible exists; 58% believe that the biblical God is no different from gods or spiritual beings worshipped by other world religions.
  6. The younger unchurched are not staying away from church because they have a problem with Jesus: 66% believe Jesus died and came back to life; 77% said that believing in Jesus makes a positive difference in a person's life.

Statistics are tools - but that's all they are. This brief look at our young adult generation gives us a vivid picture of adults who are spiritual but wary, open to Jesus but not the church. (Dan Kimball has a great book on this as well.)

I'm really looking to exploring these faith issues with my young adult children and their friends, learning how the church can impact their lives with the power of Jesus Christ, and sharing this information with other leaders.

What about you?

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