By Daniel F. Wells
“How can we reach young adults and non-Christians?” This question is being asked by pastors in churches all across America as statistics show that young adults today are more and more inclined to not attend church.
Below are nine qualities that Ed Stetzer and his Lifeway Research team concluded as essential components of churches reaching unchurched young adults. This material is summarized from Stetzer’s book Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches that Reach Them. I firmly believe that we need not compromise the core values of our confession or the means of grace in implementing these ideas.
1. Creating Deeper Community
It may be true that the younger genera- tion is individualistic and doesn’t want to commit to anything religious, but it is also true that young adults have a longing for deep community. Small groups that promote transparency, service, and relation- ships are attractive to young adults.
2. Making a Difference Through Service
While it is not impossible to have the “front door” of a church be the main way the younger unchurched come to faith and commitment to Christ, it is rarely the primary door through which they enter the church’s life. Of the many “side door” ministries a church has, service is one which speaks the dialect of young adults. In addition to service being an overlapping value that Christians share with some non-Christians, the Christian can do acts of service and be a witness to Christ and the gospel at the same time.
3. Experiencing Worship
oung adults have less concern for the horizontal but would rather focus on the vertical in worship. This is consistent with a Reformed view that sees worship as God-centered. What do culturally appropriate aesthetics, musical style, dress, and vernacular look like in a particular situation or demographic? The answer will vary from church to church
4. Conversing the Content
There are various views of preaching style (topic, doctrinal, expository, redemptive-historical), but no matter the style there should be an aim toward authenticity and conversation. This doesn’t mean the preacher has a ‘little chat’ with some folk on Sunday morning, but the preaching should reflect a type of dialogue with the congregation.
5. Leveraging Technology
In case you haven’t noticed, young people are wrapped up with the latest technological products. While the church shouldn’t uncritically accept every technology fad, the church should feel free to use technology that is a part of God’s good creation and use it to communicate to young people. Doing so shows an understanding and willingness to relate to young adults.
6. Building Cross-Generational Relationships
While this may sound surprising, young adults long for older, wiser adults to guide them and encourage them through momentous decisions in life. Churches that seek to connect the young with the old are viewed positively by the younger unchurched. As believers in covenant theology, we should be excited to do just this by passing the faith on from one generation to another.
7. Moving Toward Authenticity
While the seeker-sensitive church movement emphasized excellence in presentation, such a model now is viewed as cheesy and as manipulative spin in the eyes of the younger unchurched. Young adults seek churches with leaders that lead not only with excellence but also with honesty. Young adults view faith as a learning journey, and they want spiritual leaders who are also on this journey. This is close to Augustine’s famous dictum, “Faith seeking understanding.”
8. Leading by Transparency
Similar to the previous point, the no- tion of leadership transparency is that a leader will best gather and motivate young adults to become disciples through qualities such as self-awareness, vulnerability, careful honesty, time, and real excellence.
9. Leading by Team
While ministry is often seen as a solo project that might lead to celebrity fame, the reality is that a team mentality super- sedes any parachute ministry. And young adults prefer this since broader participation will increase the quantity and quality of ministry.
Unless we reach younger generations, there will be no ARP Church to pass on to our children and grandchildren. Let us pray for revival and put these principles into practice.
1. Ed Stetzer, Richie Stanley, and Jason Hayes, Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches that Reach Them (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2009).
2.Sermons that Connect with our Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2008).
Some might say that this violates the notion of preaching as proc- lamation. I would recommend R.J. Gore’s DMin dissertation, Covenantal Preaching: Toward a Theology of Word and World and his critique of C.H. Dodd’s sharp distinction between ‘preaching’ and ‘teaching’ in the New Testa- ment. See also Zack Eswine, Preaching to a Post-Everything World: Crafting Biblica