While surveys continue to paint a hopeless picture of young adults and the future of the Christian faith, Christianity will not die out in this generation or any other, insists one researcher and author.
"We have heard them and guess you have too: 'This will be the last Christian generation,' 'Only 4 percent of this generation are Christians,' and 'The sky is falling,'" writes Ed Stetzer in Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches that Reach Them. "Well, there are some concerns (and big ones at that), but hype does not help."
The latest research to sound the alarm on this generation is last month's Barna Group survey which showed that less than one percent of those between the ages of 18 and 23 hold a biblical worldview (which includes believing that absolute moral truth exists, that the Bible is completely accurate in all of the principles it teaches, and that a person cannot earn their way into Heaven through good works).
Over the past three years, Stetzer – who serves as the director of LifeWay Research – has been studying and interviewing "unchurched" young adults in their twenties. The unchurched includes those who have never attended church and those who only attended as a child.
Ultimately, he found a generation that "is still excited about being spiritual but has lost its appreciation of the value of the church," he told The Christian Post. Some see the church as more of the problem than the solution to spiritual growth, he noted.
According to surveys conducted by the Center for Missional Research at the North American Misison Board and LifeWay Research, 80 percent of 20- to 29-year-olds believe God exists and 73 percent consider themselves to be spiritual and are interested in knowing more about God. At the same time, 67 percent believe the church is full of hypocrites, 77 percent think Christianity today is more about organized religion than about loving God and loving people, and 90 percent say they can have a good relationship with God without being involved in a church.
Open to Jesus and God yet wary of the church, these twenty-somethings are seeking genuine relationships and a faith that challenges and transforms.
"They want a faith that changes them and changes the world," Stetzer commented. "That's what the Gospel truly is."
"Sadly many people have identified this generation as disinterested in a deeper approach to life," Stetzer writes in the book he co-authored with Richie Stanley and Jason Hayes.
The inaccurate stereotypes have led many churches to take the wrong approach when reaching the younger generation, such as offering little biblical depth in teachings.
In Lost and Found, Stetzer notes that more twenty- and thirty-somethings are leaving churches that model after sitcoms in which a sermon is presented with a clever story, a problem is introduced and then "neatly" resolved in a 30-minute time span.
"Sitcom content makes the assumption that things can be resolved at the end of church," Stetzer writes. "Unfortunately content of that nature does nothing to embrace the mysterious nature of either God or life. Life is not a sitcom, and the real problems people experience involve deep struggle and introspection.
"Life isn't that clean and all of its challenges certainly can't be resolve in thirty minutes or less."
Turned off by neat and pat answers and hungry for depth, young adults are flocking more toward churches that are offering deeper and more meaty messages (particularly through expository teaching) and tackling tough questions even though they might not be able to give all the answers.
"We need to teach people that the Christian life is not always explainable but it is always livable," Stetzer commented.
After years of research, Stetzer still does predict that the percentage of Americans who identify as evangelical Christians will decrease but he believes that smaller group will be more sincere and serious in their faith than ever.
"As culture increasingly turns against values of the Gospel, it may be harder to be Christian and in turn, being a Christian will be a more serious commitment."
Lost and Found was published earlier this year and was written to examine who the lost are while also looking at specific churches that are effectively reaching them.
And as Stetzer assured, there are lots of churches reaching the younger unchurched.
"We're calling it Lost and Found because we want you to know that lost young adults are being found," he says.