Ed Stetzer is President of LifeWay Research and a popular author and speaker dealing with issues relating to the church today. In a recent interview with Preaching Editor Michael Duduit, Ed talked about his latest book, Lost and Found (B&H), as well as about the research he conducted for an article that appeared in the November-December issue of Preaching.
Preaching: Your book Lost and Found is about reaching the younger un-churched. That's a challenge with which many churches are struggling as more and more young folks are walking out the doors instead of coming in the doors. In your research, what did you find as reasons why young adults are un-churched?
Stetzer: A lot of it has to do with their perception of the church. One of the things we found frequently was that they actually had agreements with beliefs that we would think would matter. For example, the younger un-churched—those who are 20-29 years old who haven't gone to church, synagogue or a mosque for anything other than a holiday or a funeral in six months—81 percent of them say they believe in God, a higher or that a supreme being actually exists. That's actually higher than the older un-churched, the 30-plus. So they believe in God at a higher level than the older un-churched—81 percent, I mean, that's overwhelming.
Among the younger un-churched, 57 percent agreed somewhat or strongly with the statement: "There exists only one God, the God described in the Bible." So, there's a high level of spiritual openness, interest, even beliefs; but they tend to see the church as, well, full of hypocrites. They tend to see the church as not helpful to their own spiritual growth and development. So, I think they're open [but] it's the church they're not as open to.
Preaching: As you explore all of this, what are some of the things that you've counseled church leaders to do to try to reach out to that group of younger un-churched?
Stetzer: One thing is they don't necessarily need to get a goatee or a soul patch, sort of get themselves some thick-rimmed glasses and start using hip terms that are probably 10 years behind the culture.
Preaching: One of those T-shirts with lots of curly-cues.
Stetzer: Exactly. Everyone's got the T-shirts now. You know, I've just kind of given up on being cool. I gave up on being cool in high school, though; so that probably would be a long time.
Some automatically assume the way to do this is to adopt the newest trends. I'm not sure trends are what we need. I think ultimately what we need to do as we show the love of Christ is to understand and engage culture, not necessarily ape everything in that culture.
We actually looked at churches with vibrant ministries to young adults, and one of the things they had was cross-generational connection. I was talking to a pastor recently—Troy Gramling from Flamingo Road Church in Florida—and he asked me, "What are you doing to invest in the next generation?" This was last year, and I was 42 at the time. I thought, "What do you mean? I AM the next generation."