Do you like sitcoms? Do you know every episode of “Seinfeld”? Do you know the last name of all the characters from “Friends”? Can you still sing the theme song from “Cheers”? Have you identified people from your workplace with characters from “The Office”? If so, not only do you like sitcoms, but you also know them. You know how they work. There is a pattern. There’s some humor, a good story here and there, a minor conflict, and some kind of happy conclusion that wraps it all up. Sitcoms are not meant to be introspective or introduce new concepts that improve the world. They are 30 minutes of fun.
That model is what many emerging generations perceive they experience every Sunday morning in church. A sermon or lesson is presented with a clever story or two, a problem is introduced and then neatly resolved in a 30 minute time span. The result is that 20- and 30-somethings are leaving churches by the droves because they know that life is simply not that easy. They want more.
The first step to bringing in a new kind of content is the realization that sitcom-style church simply does not connect with an emerging generation. Sitcom content makes the assumption that things can be resolved at the end of church. It seeks to leave an audience with some key, practical steps to having their best life now.
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. Therefore, content like this isn’t an expression of what true faith in the real world looks like. Life isn’t that clean and all of its challenges certainly can’t be resolved in 30 minutes or less.
Sitcom content often has a good intent. But most content like that is based on the idea that good teaching can’t simply introduce a problem without providing sound solutions for life application. Whether right or wrong, most young adults see this type of content as lacking depth.
But depth of content is not just about what you say; it’s about you as a teacher. One of the reasons why young adults think of church in a sitcom-like way is because they see very little authentic struggle from their leadership.
Think about it—a pastor stands and presents biblical truth in a way that implies that the pastor already has it all figured out. He relates no doubt, no struggle, and no experiential element. Depth is not just about the level of intellectual content though; it’s also about the level at which the teacher has encountered that content. Depth requires that teachers demonstrate some genuine vulnerability, which requires some genuine “wrestling with” God’s content connected to real life.
In your hours of study, do you wrestle with how that particular passage applies to you? Do you wonder at and wander through your own failings and insecurities? Do you really figure it out? Are you willing to share your struggles in such a public setting?
A big part of transparency is not just the struggle during preparation of content, but the presentation of that struggle itself. A pastor or teacher can go a long way in cultivating an atmosphere of depth, as well as authenticity and community, by simply acknowledging that he or she doesn’t have it all figured out. By including not only the informative content but also the personal content, including 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’s what connects.
Even for Christians, depth isn’t limited exclusively to pure Bible knowledge. It’s about truly grappling with and striving to process information, decisions, and choices in a way that honors God. Depth means learning about God as you simultaneously learn more about yourself and this world. John Calvin once said, “Nearly all the wisdom we process, that is to say, true and sound wisdom consists in two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But, while joined together by many bonds, which one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern.”
Excerpted from Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and The Churches That Reach Them by Jason Hayes, Ed Stetzer, and Richie Stanley. To learn more about “Lost and Found” and purchase your copy, click HERE.