Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Reflections on Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches That Reach Them by Ed Stetzer, Richie Stanley, and Jason Hayes

I am late to the game on reviewing Lost and Found, as this roundup of remarks at Ed Stetzer's blog can attest. So rather than craft a full-on review and thereby risk redundancy, I will simply say the book is good, insightful, and -- one of the rarest of rarities in the "what's going on in the Church" sort of genre -- actually helpful.

That's my recommendation.

Here are some reflections:

1. Reaching the younger unchurched is kind of like the holy grail of modern church growth. Everybody knows somebody who's doing it -- I'm borrowing this illustration from Stetzer, btw -- but very few appear to have experienced it firsthand. That's one reason the book is extremely helpful. The writers find folks enjoying success in this ministry and tell us what they're doing.

2. The book classifies types of the younger unchurched as Always Unchurched, De-Churched, Friendly Unchurched, and Hostile Unchurched. I'm an idiot, so this classification got confusing to me, because there is overlap between categories.

2. This book says the thing the Church needs to hear: Young adults will not be won to Christ inside the church. The Church must go to them. The stats and stories bear this out.

3. Despite the above conclusion, I am predicting lots of ministers and leaders who love Stetzer and the missional concept and who are interested in reaching young adults will read this book, praise it, and then proceed to not take any of it to heart. I've seen it time and again. We are too in love with our buildings and programs to do what it takes to reach those who will never enter them.

4. What I love about Lost and Found is that is frank about the problems facing us but not alarmist. I really cherish optimism these days, especially as it is couched in Christ's promise to build his Church. And this book isn't content to just tell us what's wrong, it finds people who are reaching young adults and shares with us what they're doing.

5. That said, Stetzer, Stanley, and Hayes don't just take these examples and say "Do this stuff"; they pull off the remarkable feat of demonstrating the nuances of these approaches in very little space. I count three pages covering one church's excellent leveraging of technology (text, blogging, Facebook-like social networking designed for the ministry) that pulls back a bit to discuss "postmodern hangover" and how many young adults who love technology prefer not to be overwhelmed by it in a worship environment. So churches that are technologically savvy in their communication and organization may actually have a more ancient feel in their worship service. This is a balance sorely lacking in the evangelical landscape.

6. I am somewhat ambivalent about the narratives at the end of each chapter. I get the idea behind them, and it's a good one: flesh out the data/research into a through-running story that makes the findings seem less cold and more real. The concept is good. The storytelling is sort of . . . not. But then, none of these guys are fiction writers, I don't think, so it's hard to hold the narrative up to standards irrelevant to a book like this.

7. Most of the findings will not be surprising to many. "They like Jesus, they don't like Christians." That's not new news.
But quite a bit of it is new news. Did you know that most unchurched young adults would study the Bible if a Christian friend asked them to? That they would attend a small group if a Christian friend invited them?

8. One of things I most admire about Lost and Found is that it never lets the reader believe "reaching young adults" means "accumulating attenders." Dan Kimball asked the elephant-in-the-room question a while back at CT's "Out of Ur" blog, wondering about all these missional communities and their apparent lack of fruit. I was somewhat critical of Kimball's assumptions, and I maintain that criticism, but his concern is valid -- important, even -- and this book allows zero wiggle room. From the third page:
We are unapologetic about this. A movement may be emerging, contemporary, reformed, or whatever, but if it fails to produce new followers of Jesus Christ, it is only a fascinating and engaging dead end.


The constant message of Lost and Found throughout the book is that the days of big box programming are over. Whether you're a big church or a small church, the "come and see" approach isn't going to help you in reaching the younger unchurched. (This is related, I think, to the element of Scalability in Stetzer's Movemental Christianity research.) I hope we will heed this message.

But first we've got to receive it. Lost and Found is a great place to start listening.

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