A little over a decade ago, I researched and wrote a number of articles about the Baby Boomers and their impact on culture and religion. I attempted to understand what motivated Baby Boomers and how they could be reached with the gospel. While the Baby Boomers
still represent a significant factor in our culture, time does not stand still. New generations are born. The Baby Boomers (b. 1946-64) have been followed by the Busters (b. 1965-83) and the new "Millennial Generation" (b. 1984-2002). The Busters are today's 20s and 30s, largely children of Baby Boomers. Today's teens are the first part of the Millenial Generation which reaches downward to today's preschoolers.
[Note: The names and dates used are mine. A variety of names and dates have been used in generational studies. Generational lines are not easy to define because of the number of factors that may influence the common experiences of a generation. For the purposes of this article, I am defining a generation as approximately 18-20 years.]
What do today's new youth and young adult generations want from the church?
The modern church has largely guessed at the answer, and often responded by attempting to compete with contemporary society and provide experiences virtually parallel to the world, only with a "spiritual" twist or environment. Certainly such activities have the ability to draw crowds--festivals, pizza parties, recreational facilities and activities. The newer 24/7 virtual malls appeal to many of today's teens. Many observers realize that something is still missing.
My conversations with teens and with young families indicate that they for the most part want what everyone else wants--understanding, power for living and family life, progress on an enjoyable spiritual journey, meaningful relationships and connections in an accepting environment, and connection with the deeper spiritual realities of life. Perhaps the church, increasingly burdened by a number of demands and expectations, would do well to simplify its offerings and reconnect with those realities that give meaning and signficance to our lives. The modern church has responded to the youth culture with celebration, praise, and a wide variety of entertainment media including drama, videos, and presentation music. Still many know something is missing.
Robert Webber, professor emeritus at Wheaton, wrote about the missing dynamic in his book, The Younger Evangelicals. Webber claims that in the midst of orthodox teaching and standardized and simplified presentations of the shape of faith, many in today's world, especially those of the younger generations, find that what is missing is the mystery of God. The rediscovery of the mysterious dimension of Christianity is reflected in James White's recent Embracing the Mysterious God and Karen Mains' The God Hunt. Both affirm the mystery of God in our world. Webber, along with Jennifer McKinney, professor of the sociology of religion at Seattle Pacific University, characterizes this as a search for meaning, relevance, and reality.
For over a decade it has been obvious to careful observers that the new youth generations for the most part are not drawn to the "seeker" services that continue to draw baby boomers.
The things that reached Baby Boomers--today's 40s and 50s--through the last part of the 20th century are having little effect on the 20s and 30s in today's society and hardly touching the teen culture. One must ask "why?" What is the difference? One difference is that the boomers grew up knowing the general shape of religion and chose to follow others paths. Many of the Baby Boomer generation are simply "coming home" to that which they knew before. Simplified messages and "easy listening" sermons with simplified applications appeal to those with former ties to Christianity. On the other hand, the new youth generations (today's teens and young adults) have grown up in a pluralistic world with increasing exposure to other religions.
The fact of this new "emergent church," as it is often described, is clear. A spring 2003 "emergent convention" in San Diego drew 1200. Dan Kimball, a Santa Cruz (CA) minister, has identified a dislike for scripted services and musical shows--at least among the youth generations in our society. People want to know and experience the presence of God.
"People want to know and experience the presence of God."
In the church's continuing search for connections with the unchurched in our society, and especially with the younger generations (those under 30), perhaps we should add this dynamic to our list: a sense of the supernatural. Where is the mystery? Where is the sense of the transcendent? Where is the sense of something bigger than we are, something we cannot finally see and touch and feel? Where is a genuine call to faith?
Such will require that we teach again the basic biblical story that undergirds Christianity, that we sensitively call people to personal faith in a transcendent God, and that the relationship between Christian faith and daily living be defined. The new character of the developing Christianity--greater biblical orientation, conservative theology, and high moral standards--is alive and well in the younger generations of our culture. [See my article, "The New Face of Missions".]
Some aspects of the "emergent church" are still being defined.
What is clear is that we must rethink church as we understand that the presence of God in the life of the first-century church wasn't centered in a weekly service. They were a daily community of believers, continually aware of God's transcendent presence, thereby challenged to live life by transcendent principles.
In conclusion, I suggest that the church that is serious about reaching out to the post-Baby Boomer generations consider five dynamics which can contribute to meaning, relevance, and reality.
* Scripture. Solid, fresh biblical teaching that avoids simplistic and worn definitions of faith with a clear call to the objective truth claims of the Bible.
* Spirituality. Help in making the spiritual faith journey personal with a clear focus on God's presence in our lives.
* Standards. Demand for high moral standards based on a the transcendent principles which undergird a genuinely Christian world view.
* Support. Meaningful, authentic relationships which provide meaning and resources for the realities of life in today's world.
* Sacrifice. The opportunity to be involved in something bigger than any individual which has the potential to make a real difference in this world.
© Robert J. Young. Used by permission. All rights reserved. For more information, please visit www.bobyoungresources.com