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The baby boomer, Sunday school and God
By Steve R. Mills
On January 1, 1946, one second after midnight, Kathleen Casey Wilkins, the first baby boomer, was born in Haddon Heights, New Jersey. Between that moment and midnight December 31, 1964, 76 million more babies were born. The explosive number of births gave this generation the name "baby boomers" ("Nationline," USA Today, January 1, 1988).
The grandparents of the boomers are called the "survivor generation." They lived through World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II. Their mentality is that of survival.
The parents of the baby boomers are called the "consumer generation." This generation of Americans experienced the greatest economic and industrial expansion in the history of civilization. Prosperity and materialism led them away from the church.
The baby boomers have many subgroups, but they are united in attitude and perspective by common cultural experiences. They remember campus riots, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream, the Beatles, and Vietnam.
Their uniqueness results from several factors. They are:
The church and Sunday school must understand baby boomers before it can effectively reach and minister to them. In his book, The Baby Boomerang, Doug Murren says there are at least nine aspects of the boomer's belief system that must be understood if the church and Sunday school's ministry approaches and methods are to have any impact on them.
Boomers are not belongers. They are not as interested in membership as they are in participation. They are more interested in the individual than the institution.
Boomers detest formality. They are looking for a church that provides warm, friendly environment for developing relationships, yet is casual and practical in its approach to life. They have a low sense of denominational loyalty and won't tolerate anyone putting guilt trips on them because they are not committed to the institutional church.
Boomers have grown up wanting experience rather than theory. They want to experience life personally rather than be told about it. Their approach to spiritual life is no different. John Naisbitt, in Megatrends 2000, says that the decade of the 90s will be a time in which people will seek a "spiritual experience."
Boomers come to church to get something applicable to their lives. They are interested in how-to sermons and teaching. They look for relevancy, not simple, pat answers.
Boomers expect women to be treated as equals and to be given leadership roles. Husband and wife teams in ministry are a great way to help meet this expectation.
Boomers want the contribution of singles to be celebrated and expected. By the year 2000, singles will comprise more than 50 percent of the adult population over 18 years old. Churches must accept, understand, and minister to the diversity and needs of singles. The church must be willing also to encourage the contribution of singles to the life and ministry of the church.
Boomers believe that the high level of dysfunctionality within their group needs to be addressed. They have grown up with major life problems: alcohol and drug abuse, broken homes, and sexual promiscuity. One in four women has been sexually abused. Deliverance, recovery, and support groups are part of the healing process. Sunday school classes that function as recovery and support groups should be very effective.
Boomers applaud innovation. They like to try new, adventurous things. They enjoy variety and spontaneity, expect challenge, and despise mediocrity.
Boomers have a sense of destiny. They want to make a difference. They support what they feel will make the greatest impact. They are looking for a cause that is challenging and worthy of commitment. They are active rather than passive in their general approach to life. They are busy and want to stay that way. Time is more important than money to them. Therefore, they will get involved in what they feel is the best use of their time.
The baby boomer is returning to church. In the 1970s only 33 percent of the people in this age group attended church or synagogue. Today nearly 43 percent of persons born between 1946 and 1958 attend religious services. But they are not returning to just any church. Jack Simms, a nationally known authority on the baby boom, lists 10 characteristics common in churches that are effective in reaching the baby boom generation:
Simms suggests that the church that wants to reach baby boomers should evaluate itself on a scale of 1-10 in each category listed above.
If the score is:
Robert Bast adds the following as characteristic of a church that attracts the baby boomers:
reach baby boomers?
Let me suggest at least six ways:
The church cannot cater to every whim of the baby boom generation. Yet to ignore or refuse to be attentive to their needs and desires will render the church ineffective. To understand, adapt, and change will help us reach this generation.
If you want to do more study about baby boomers and how to reach them, see the following: