Q&A with Gabe Lyons

Q&A with Gabe Lyons


Gabe Lyons is the coauthor of Good Faith and unChristian, with Barna president David Kinnaman, and author of The Next Christians. He is the founder of Q, a learning community that helps Christian leaders engage our cultural moment. The Q Conference annually convenes thousands of leaders from all industries and the global Q Commons event unites 140 cities and over 10,000 people each fall. Lyons speaks to over 100,000 people each year on topics such as equipping the next generation, cultural issues and research related to the intersection of faith and public life. He lives in Nashville with his wife, Rebekah, and their four children.

Q: We’re living in a time when people mistrust institutions and the Church has a mixed reputation. How could Christians engaging their neighborhoods address some of that? 01

There’s a great opportunity for individuals who belong to churches to be more tangibly present in their communities. Because people do distrust institutions, the best opportunity to change those perceptions is through one-on-one interactions.

We’ve perhaps gotten comfortable in our institutions and just believed that the Church would always be respected in American culture. Now, we realize that’s not holding, especially in the younger generations.
Not only does the Church lack respect, but in many ways, it is receiving antagonism from those who disagree with Christian beliefs and don’t see the Church as helpful in society.

As Christians move out into the community, through tangible interactions with their neighbors, with their colleagues at work, their shop owners and people engaged in all walks of life, they’re able to bring a taste of God’s love and the Church’s mission into those spaces.

Q: This research and report is launching in 2020, an election year. How are some political shifts, such as rising interest in socialism, affecting the way that people, especially Christians, engage with their community? How does the national discourse influence the way we meet needs on a local level? 02

This is a double-edged sword, as this conversation on socialism has an opportunity embedded in it. The opportunity is that, at a higher level than ever before, people are recognizing the needs of the community, such as addressing mental health, helping the homeless or helping people recover from addictions and find long-term healing. They’re realizing how much our children need support in their studies, tutoring and opportunities after school. So, many are turning to the government to provide solutions in the absence of the Church’s presence. This invites the Church to take note and to show up in their communities in even more tangible ways.

One of the Church’s great opportunities is to partner more with existing social sector organizations who are meeting needs in the community so that the Church can be a presence in the midst of what’s already taking place.

When we do that, people start to realize and recognize what has always been true: that faith and religion tend to motivate philanthropy and volunteerism at a higher level than lack of faith or religion.

Q: How would you advise Christians to find the balance between seeing themselves as empowered to be the Church, but also committing themselves to be involved with the Church, instead of just doing good works independently? How can pastors encourage congregants to take the initiative to do something outside ministry programs, while also drawing them deeper into the faith community? 03

I think that pastors must teach, train, equip and disciple their people to understand that being the Church is not about attending the Sunday morning experience or showing up in the church building. It’s largely about what’s happening every day of the week, wherever they’ve already been called. There’s theological training or theological education that has to happen at a higher degree within the Church to empower this kind of thinking so that churches aren’t competing with outside volunteer activities, but instead embracing and celebrating all of the ways their people are involved in the community.

I think the more this is modeled from church programming platforms—celebrating volunteerism, elevating people who are leading different activities in the community or solving problems and doing good—it starts to build within the church culture a sense that “This is where we come to be sent out”—not “This is where we come just to be filled up.”

A good follow-up to the first area of teaching is asking, How do we actually create true community? We have this misconception that community is found by creating a small group that sits in a circle and has conversation. Actually, community is only formed at the deepest levels when we work and do things together. The people you find yourself actually in community with are the ones with whom you’re sharing common goals, doing things together or sacrificing for one another. Therefore, this very act of serving in the community becomes what builds internal strength within the Church. Serving doesn’t actually take you away from the Church; it draws you into closer relationship with the people you’re serving alongside.

Back to the Study

What Community Groups Achieve

Read Section