Ed did some research on churches engaging people in emerging culture and found that one trait was consistent in “successful” churches: they were spending more time and going deeper into the content of Scripture and theology than was common in more established churches. Content and depth were a passion. He finds that the “churched” young adults, who are willing to stand for truth in today’s culture, desire to be equipped. On the other hand, unchurched young adults also established that if they were ever to make a decision for Christ, then it would be an informed, educated one. They are proving the importance of depth and content by avoiding the churches that lack it.
Ed looks at several “key images” to help us grasp a more accurate understanding of the qualitative aspect of their research. These key images represent the “voice of the people” that they interviewed.
Key Image – Let me safely join the conversation. This implies:
A desire to process and personalize content; a recognition that everyone has something to contribute; an interest in learning that provides entry points for people at all levels of spiritual maturity; a genuine interest in God and the Bible; an affinity toward discussion, struggle and story.
Key Image – Help me find my way. What stands out:
A strong desire to connect Scripture, faith, and real world issues; an ongoing evaluation of one’s personal beliefs, values and lifestyle; a strong desire for stability in a world that seems to be counteracting it; a search for truth that impacts everyday living.
Key Image – Young adults want the real truth. What this says:
Young adults want to deal with the tough questions and pat answers won’t work; there is a desire to address controversial topics in community; a need to focus on truth and not what has been added to it; an interest in exploring the Bible, including the challenging parts; an examination of worldview and other forms of truth.
Some other thoughts on content – These young adults desire depth, that is the level of content. It is about engaging people at every level – emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, and even physically. Our teaching must be emotionally and intellectually challenging. It takes good preparation and it involves asking the difficult questions of a text. It is also about struggle. One of the reasons why young adults think of church as emotionally and intellectually dishonest is because they see very little authentic struggle from their leadership. Often, a pastor stands and presents biblical truth in a way that implies that the pastor already has it all figured out. Young adults desire transparency, seeing the presentation of the struggle of the one who is presenting the truth after he/she has struggled with it. A pastor can go a long way in cultivating an atmosphere of depth, as well as authenticity and community, by simply figuring that he or she doesn’t have it all figured out. When teachers present information along with the questions and struggles, people have the sense that they are truly encountering something of quality – a moment of true, deep and honest content. And that is what connects.
Ed gives us some advice on cultivating depth in the Church.
- Teach the entire Bible, even the difficult sections.
- Foster discussion in Bible study and teaching.
- Address tough topics and answer difficult questions.
- Make apologetics a priority
- Provide exegetical Bible teaching
- Sing theologically sound music.
Today’s young adults may be the most intelligent, yet cynical and overly marketed generation in history. As a by product of this situation, they accept little at face value. They ask tough questions and expect challenging answers. Thus, a superficial exploration of God, truth, and life will not be successful.