BOOK REVIEW: LOST AND FOUND ...
Riflebore Study; Shotgun Results
The Book: Lost and Found; The Younger Unchurched And The Churches That Reach Them.
Author: Ed Stetzer, with Richie Stanley and Jason Hayes.
Publisher: B&H Publishing Group.
What it's about: Lifeway did extensive research into those young people .. generally 18-29 years old .. who were unchurched. That includes both (A) those who'd never regularly been in church, referred to as unchurched and (B) those who'd previously had some church connection, at some time, referred to dechurched.
Occasionally, data from similar people over 30 are thrown into the mix, to draw contrasts and/or conclusions as respects the factors being analyzed.
The last half of the book is a narrative display, revealing what many churches around the country (churches which have found success in reaching those young people) are doing to reach the subjects of the Lifeway research. And I might add that the information, the churches, the problems and the solutions were unrelated to the Southern Baptist Church, other than the occasional reference to compare and/or contrast the needs of the research subjects, to common SBC practice.
The problems and the opportunities are universal, not denominational.
As to the book, as reading material, it is fascinating. I've met Ed Stetzer several times, and had the opportunity to sit in the lower level lounge of one of the Ridgecrest Dorm buildings a year or so ago, and chat for an hour or two, along with several other pastors. I respect Ed immensely (he remembers my name when we meet, among other things), and it helps to read the book "in his voice". Hey .. I like the way he speaks.
I do not know Richie Stanley, who is with NAMB in Alpharetta, GA, nor do I know Jason Hayes, who's with Lifeway. But the way the book comes together, the way the information has been melded together, it's an easy read, and hard to put down.
Let me be honest ... yes it was easy to put down, in one sense. There were so many "wow moments" in it that I had to stop every few pages and ponder what I'd read.
I will not be analyzing the data and showing you a roster of things the book concludes churches need to do, to reach the younger unchurched people. There's simply too much revealed in Lost And Found to do that, without writing another book. But I can reveal a few highlights:
The young people surveyed..
- desire to connect with others, be involved in community, and be involved in a cause greater than themselves.
- enjoy, and profit from, interacting with other generations.
- desire relationships with others, including those involving the spiritual aspect of life.
- see churches as being full of hypocrites.
- are willing to talk about Spiritual things, but not to "the church"
Since the book deals with a "rifle-bore" group, a very specific one, who do I think ought to read Lost And Found? That's easy.
Well, not quite. Here are the folks for whom I think this book would be a spiritually-profitable read:
- Pastors. You have you hand on the pulse, and the tiller, of your church.
- Those involved in outreach. If you're going to talk to them, you need to know what they're about.
- Teachers. Of all ages. I mean it. ALL ages.
- Church staff. If one of the subject group stumbles into your church, you need to know what not to say.
- Anyone else who is active and involved in the work of the church.
Let me cite two examples of conclusions I reached while reading the book .. you know, those "wow moments" .. that might demonstrate why I think Lost And Found has wide applicability in the church:
FIRST: One of the sets of data set forth is the subject group's beliefs about God. That He exists, that there's only one of Him, and that His existence does or would impact how we live our lives. The "wow moment" here came with the revelation that us white Americans were substantially less likely to believe those things than Hispanics, or Afro-Americans. The difference was startling!
Why is this significant to a teacher of 40-somethings, or of Middle Schoolers? Simple. We've all said for years that prosperity and materialism can come between us and God. But I've never seen anything to back that up. Never.
This does. Since I don't believe differences in faith, of that sort, are in any way racial, the only other factor to which I can attribute it is Socio-Economic. Particularly where the African-American group is concerned.
Like I said, a "wow moment". I'll have teeth in my teaching, when the subject of materialism next arises.
SECOND:The dechurched young people had a much stronger identity with a denomination than did the unchurched. It might only be the "church they weren't going to", but that denomination did represent something in their mind .. good or bad. And that got me to thinking:
When we have Vacation Bible School, we always announce, afterwards, how many "decisions" were made. I applaud decisions, but the part we may lose sight of is the effect of the exposure, of those children, to spiritual things in the church, during VBS. The higher level of identifying with a denomination, among those young people with prior church experience, tells me that something stuck with them. Something positive, or they wouldn't express that positive identification.
So .. the greater benefit to VBS may be the seeds which are planted, and the identification with that church, with that denomination, which sticks with those children, clear into their twenties.
One other thing of note is that, woven all through the book, is the "Lost and Found Story", a story about four young people, one a Christian; the Story presents the attitudes and the types represented in the study. It puts "mental flesh" to varying characteristics and positions of the Young people included in the study. "The Story" is immensely helpful in adding reality to what might have become tedious recitation of statistics (which, due in no small part to "The Story", this book never did).
There's more. There's a lot more. But I'll leave it at this: my wife said a long time ago, that we should read the Bible until God stops us. One verse, one page, one chapter; when we run into something God wants us to ponder, then stop and ponder. That happened to me literally hundreds of times in Lost And Found. I finished the book much the better for having read .. make that studied .. it.
You will, too.