George Barna recently did what George Barna does, and conducted a study of religious change across the generations in America. Analyzing the Busters (1965-1983), the Boomers (1946-1964) and the Elders (1927-1945). There was of course a lot of data in the study, much (though not all) of which indicated a decline in general religious fervor among Americans.* The piece that struck me the hardest was the following little observation:
“While the Boomers have never been the generation most likely to attend church, during the past 20 years the percentage of unchurched Boomers has risen dramatically, jumping up 18 points! At 41%, they are now the generation most likely to be unchurched, surpassing the 39% level among Busters.”
The boomers are now the generation most likely to be unchurched. And yet this concern may be overshadowed by the conception that it is the young adults that are giving the church the proverbial “peace out.” Admittedly, the study does not account for those in their early and mid twenties (my own generation). But perhaps this knowledge should help realign church leader’s concern back toward generations that they thought were “in the bag.”
What does this come down to? Maybe we need to consider a few things.
1. Let’s train up multi generational church planters. I’m talking about seeing a new movement of baby boomers planting churches. Perhaps the years of organizational leadership, business smarts, and life experience would make them good at it. And hopefully it would fill in a gap that appears to have been created when the church turned it’s gaze almost exclusively toward planting churches geared for the emerging generations (which, by the way, I don’t think should cease). And we might as well not leave it with the Boomers. 3 in 7 “Elders” are unchurched too. Let’s cast our nets wide.
2. At the same time, let’s revisit the tendency to segregate our churches. I’m not saying that different generations don’t have unique developmental issues that should be addressed in discipleship. But our emphasis should be more on what our church does together, not on what it does apart.** I understand the values of different cultures worshiping in their mother tongue (and yes, I feel different generations could be considered different cultures), and in some sense this should be retained. But we should ask how we can live in the tension between what makes more practical sense (i.e., having young people and old people have their own separate times of worship) and what appears to be the Kingdom reality (I don’t think the new heaven and new earth will be segregated).
But that’s a whole other conversation.
*Some stats that would depress most church leaders might be something of a blessing in disguise. For instance, a decline in involvement in a local church might also be accompanied by an increase in finding out who Jesus was, and might be expressed through the advent of house churches or alternative gatherings. Sure, I am a proponent of the local church, but any time people are interested in Jesus, that’s a good thing.
**I’m happy to report that this is a value among us at The Ransom that we’re continuing to flesh out within our young church.