How to Reach a Lost Generation 1: Parable of the 60 Lost Sheep

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Everyone is asking about what we can do to reach the 20s & 30s somethings who are leaving Christianity. I want to share my thoughts on this in a series of posts. I don’t claim to have all the answers but I think there are some concrete things we can do that I would like to share.

First, a parable…Jesus taught us that when 1% of the sheep leave the shepherd that the need to reclaim that sheep is URGENT. Here is what Jesus said.

3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” – Luke 15:3-7

The most optimistic estimate out there is that 60% of our young people will leave “the church” during their late teens-early twenties. How urgent is it when 60 of the 100 sheep leave? At least that is how we have traditionally seen the problem. Traditionally we have read this parable like this,

There is a shepherd (Jesus) who has 100 sheep in his pen (the church). When one leaves the pen, the church sheep stay in the pen while the shepherd goes out and retrieves that lost sheep, brings it back and then the rest of the sheep rejoice that the shepherd returned the erring sheep to the pen.

Understanding the problem:
That is not what Jesus said. The sheep that wondered away didn’t leave the pen. There wasn’t even a pen in the story! The problem is not that sheep are leaving the pen (that is how the church research people and even ourselves have framed the problem). The problem is when they leave the shepherd. Some sheep who leave the pen of the institutional church don’t believe they ever left the shepherd. While others believe if young people aren’t showing up on Sunday that we have lost them. It is important to remember that we aren’t winning them to a pen. We are winning them to the shepherd. People miss this. They don’t believe someone is reached until they attend the institutional church on Sunday. It is important that we frame the issue correctly and ask, “What are we really trying to win them to?” The other sheep? A pen? or the Shepherd? How we answer that question makes all the difference in the world. The next post will address that. Of course, I am not downplaying the importance or role of the church in all of this. However, it is important that we are asking the right questions and keeping first things first so that we don’t win them to the wrong thing.

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