More than half the churches effectively reaching young adults use a more expository teaching style, according to a study by LifeWay Research that formed the basis of the newly released book “Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches That Reach Them.”
Written by missiologist Ed Stetzer with co-authors Jason Hayes and Richie Stanley, the book addresses why most young adults?those in the 20- to 29-year-old age range?are avoiding church and what churches are doing (or could do) to reach them. Surveys of 149 churches provide a platform for many of the recommendations of the authors.
San Antonio’s Community Bible Church?while not Southern Baptist?is among the churches examined for their success in reaching young adults and defines itself as a conservative, evangelical congregation that holds to the inerrancy of Scripture. Pastor Scott Austin described for the authors a gradual shift in focus by churches back to expository preaching.
“Even the younger groups of Christians are falling back to a more exegetical preaching and wanting more [of a] straight up, just open up the Bible and go through John or go through Ephesians,” approach. Another pastor in Colorado said the craving for deeper teaching isn’t limited to the 50-plus crowd, and more recently is echoed by those in their 20s and 30s.
The authors are quick to point out that churches known for an expositional style are not necessarily those that “systematically walk through the Scriptures cover to cover, but they do identify more with an expository approach than anything else.” They point to Mat Fry, pastor of C3Church in a suburb of Raleigh, N.C., who graduated from Liberty University and took graduate level studies there and at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Fry develops a series through a certain book, taking a passage of Scripture and developing his outline from it. He calls that “letting the Scripture kind of drive the outline.”
That approach doesn’t have to be lifeless and distanced from real life, Fry said. If done right, an expository message can indeed connect with the world of the unbelieving or unchurched, he told researchers.
The authors draw the conclusion “that survey results indicate people are not so much interested in the method of delivery as they are in the delivery of truth that is relevant to their lives.” They explain, “Authentic preaching that presents God’s Word as the answer will draw many people.”
Other examples are offered of pastors who vary their style, moving between expository and topical sermons while some blend the two, preaching through a book of the Bible, chapter by chapter, preaching on major themes within the text.
Some defenders of topical preaching questioned an often-cited argument that maturing or mature Christians need expository teaching. A Missouri pastor called that “a perceived need and not a real need,” finding no evidence that Jesus preached expositionally. Instead, he said, Jesus preferred a topical pattern exclusively while also using illustrations and stories.
The authors follow-up on that comment by stating, “This chapter isn’t designed to argue for or against any one type of preaching. We are simply giving you input into what churches are doing when they are effective at reaching young adults.”
They did, however, take note of the self-assessment by leaders of Willow Creek in Illinois that they had not seen the returns they had expected at a church known for topical, seeker-sensitive preaching.
“All in all, the new understanding from Willow Creek’s own self-assessment is that the leaders of the church need to regularly communicate to the people the personal responsibility each person has to get in God’s Word for deeper study,” the authors of Lost and Found shared.