Not Done Yet: Reaching and Keeping Unchurched Emerging Adults

Reviewed by:

G. Connor Salter, Professional Writing alumnus from Taylor University, Upland, IN.


Not Done Yet: Reaching and Keeping Unchurched Emerging Adults


Beth Severson


InterVarsity Press

Publication Date:

July 28, 2020




250 pages


It’s become commonplace to say that millennials and other emerging adults are skeptical of Christianity and have little interest in church. However, some churches (“bright-spot churches,” as Beth Severson calls them), are doing a surprisingly effective job at attracting young people and retaining them. Beth Severson studied a group of these churches for her PhD thesis, interviewing the emerging adult attendees and the church’s leaders to see what attracted young people to these churches. She found that while the churches had varying kinds of programs and approaches, they were all doing the following practices:

  • Initiating relationships with unchurched people
  • Inviting people to church activities and events that made them feel welcomed
  • Including unchurched people in small groups and other Christian community programs
  • Involving young people in church activities even before they fully develop their faith commitments
  • Investing in young people through mentoring, care and leadership development

After explaining what it looked like when these churches lived out these practices, Severson considers why they seem to work and how they mesh with Scriptural ideas about what churches are supposed to do.

Severson’s writing style comes across as a bit dense and repetitive, but that’s hard to avoid in a book built on research studies where the author has to keep referring back to those studies. Beyond that, Not Done Yet is quite compelling. Severson is careful not to speculate too much, building any conclusions she makes precisely on the research she’s accumulated and its obvious takeaways.

Essentially, her research shows that churches attract and retain young people when they are honest, genuine, make a point to cultivate relationships with people and to get people involved in church activities from the start. The points about vulnerability and relationship-building should be obvious to Christians with solid New Testament knowledge; Paul, Peter and the other writers routinely urge churches to function like close-knit families, and family members have to be vulnerable and honest with each other in order to be close.

The latter point, about getting people to serve in churches even before they’ve made clear faith commitments, is a bit harder to swallow. However, Severson notes that all the churches she studied created safeguards and didn’t put newcomers into teaching or leadership positions from the get-go until they had proven themselves. One can assume these churches were also careful about putting newcomers into positions where they might harm people (such as childcare). So, she’s not implying that churches should allow people who haven’t committed to Christianity yet be allowed to preach or teach Sunday school classes. She’s showing that churches can have those people volunteering and leading in other capacities (with proper supervision), and use that to give people a chance to see if they want to go spiritually deeper. As Severson puts it in one chapter, evangelizing to people and retaining them can occur at the same time.

Choosing to have spiritual searchers serve in limited capacities also highlights the fact that spiritual growth is a journey. Christians must make overt commitments to faith (see Romans 10:9-10), but most Christians would admit they had a series of moments where they learned about God, came to hunger for God, which led up to the point where they made an overt commitment. Some pastors have suggested this is the primary problem with the way American churches encourage people to give testimonies: testimonies often make it sound like people had one distinct moment where God called to them and they responded, when in fact many people realize in hindsight God had been calling to them for some time. As Henri Nouwen put it, “The question is not ‘How am I to find God?’ but ‘How am I to let myself be found by him?’”

Severson challenges readers to consider what it means to be inviting and communal, something which should be important not just when talking about attracting young people but in every area of church life.


Rating (1 to 5 stars)

4 stars

Suggested Audience

Researchers interested in evangelism techniques for millennials that are effective and result in healthier church cultures.

Christian Impact

Severson’s research leads readers back the idea that churches are supposed to be communities more than clubs, and that being genuinely interested in people is key to bringing those people into Christian communities.

Note: Severson references some research she did with Rick Richardson, including an article she co-wrote with Richardson titled “Emerging Adults and the Future of Evangelism,” as well as research that Richardson published in his book You Found Me (InterVarsity Press, 2019). Readers may find it helpful to compare and contrast the two books’ findings and takeaways. To read ECLA’s review of You Found Me, go to:

Not Done Yet: Reaching and Keeping Unchurched Emerging Adults

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