Last year I started to receive AARP promotions in the mail. Yeah, we are that old now, yet, I don’t feel as old as my grandfather looked at age 50. I feel like I’m still a 90s GenXer. That’s my mentality. It shapes the way I think and feel about church structures, values, and traditions. I am open to learn how church has been operated over the centuries, but I also believe we could design a congregation according to our cultures. “Busters value their ability to make their own way. There’s a little entrepreneur in just about every GenXer. When they were younger, there was a church planting boom led largely because GenX pastors wanted to do ministry differently. So if you are thinking of starting something new, your GenX pastor might enjoy hashing over a few ideas with you” [Forbes].
For decades, as I sat in many churches run and administered by Baby Boomers (1946 – 1964), and mostly established by the Builders (1926-1945), I thought a lot about how church services might be conduced differently by us GenXers (1965 – 1980), aka, Baby Busters, “the smallest generational cohort in the United States” [Forbes]. I grew up in the America church experience, and have seen many things that I embraced as wonderful, as well as, reject some of the strange practices. Since then, traveling around the world, I’ve also seen other world religions, as well as Christianity, conducted in several countries. Again, some things were weird, while some things felt wonderful to experience. Primarily, I got to see Buddhism and Islam up close, as they are practiced in Asia, outside western influence. Even living in Southern California, I experienced new age, humanistic and philosophical approaches. So, my perspective is not narrow, and is not seen through the lenses of Judeo-Christian thought. I explored my spiritual side, seeking truth as an agnostic. Drugs were my vice, with LCD being my primary tool to explore on inner self. Now, I do not recommend these activities, but, this was my journey for truth.
With expenses increasing in the 1970s and 1980s, “kids got used to coming home from school to an empty house, with nothing but cable TV and an Atari to keep them company” [Thompson]. One of my cousins fit that description. They are referred as “latchkey kids” or kids with a key to the front door of their house and “who learned to become self-reliant, taking care of themselves after school until their parents (often a single parent) came home from work.” [Forbes]. Fortunately, my mother was primarily a homemaker and I got to experience life with both parents living together. I’m not saying it was an easy situation (my father and mother had many heated arguments), but comparatively to others I knew, it seemed fairly reasonable. We had many good times as a family as well. We didn’t have wealth, but my dad took care of the financial stability we needed. Some may have referred to as the average suburban family, while others may have thought of us as “white trash.” Either way, we got through the tough times the 1980s brought to our region in the US around Lake Erie, known as the “Rust Belt.”
Now, not everyone falls under the generational descriptions but, for the most part, many traits, lifestyles, worldviews and attitudes are similar. These have been shaped by art, entertainment, socioeconomics, and technology. Newer subcultures were created. Descriptive terms changed: Squeaks and Rocks became Jocks and Freaks. We also added Punks, Skaters, Metal Heads, and Hip Hoppers to the mix. GenX grew up with MTV and the DOT COM Bubble. “TVs, telephones, personal computers, music and video electronics, news media, and video gaming” [Thompson]. We were the first “totally awesome” electronic generation.
As the 1990s approached, our generation shifted dramatically in technology and culture. We completely moved away from the 1950s and 1960s artistic expressions and made our own. We were bolder in our approach to politics and religion. We also embraced a more laxed approach to living. “Generation X’s most universally-recognized traits: a strong sense of irony and an unwillingness to be overly idealistic” [Thompson]. The Grunge music scene from Seattle was one of the biggest movements of cultural shifting, as the rock music sounds and styles from the 70s and 80s waned and a post-punk era entered.
I have written a lot in this article about GenX, but there is more to this post than a perspective on this age group. Today, churches are losing memberships in the traditional congregations, while some newer fellowships have become mega churches. Is the message changing? In some cases, yes. The standard priest or preacher of yesterday has been replaced by motivational speakers and life coaches. Why is that? Sometimes, I may hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the prosperity or feel good messages, but nine times out of ten it feels like a pep rally to donated to non-profit organizations that are entertaining us. Most of the Contemporary Christian Music since the late 1980s were influenced by the band U2, who billed themselves as socially and politically charged, with some faith elements mixed in to their themes. The first century church Apostles would most likely be preaching inside and outside today’s churches of how weird we’ve become, and maybe call us heretics.
At any rate, we are not like any other generation before us, especially in church. We get bored easily. We are disinterested in sitting in the pews when we feel there could be more done outside the walls of the churches. Outreach and evangelism is much more exciting then to listen to a monotone speech from someone that may not even know your first name. We might as well just go to funeral parlors, where the real excitement is presented. Church leaders of the previous generations that want to stay the same as it always has been are near sighted and (in my opinion) selfish. True visionaries will understand that, just as it is in another country, you have to speak the language of the next generation to reach them. Then, you may be able to disciple them. If you can’t make way for GenX, you are going to have a harder time with the following generations. Millennials, Zoomers, and the latest Alphas, are technologically so far ahead of the Boomers and GenXers that it can be difficult to communicate to them. If you’re not in chat rooms, livestreams, or gamer spaces, you have no idea what they have come up with THIS week.
So how does a Boomer support a Zoomer spiritually?
Stay tuned for more commentary…..
Forbes, C. (2021, January 28). Coffee with your generation-X pastor. Baptist Messenger of Oklahoma. Retrieved July 12, 2022, from https://www.baptistmessenger.com/coffee-with-your-generation-x-pastor/
Thompson, A. C. (2011, April 21). X marks the church: How gen X leaders are shaping the Church. X Marks the Church: How Gen X Leaders Are Shaping the Church. Retrieved July 12, 2022, from https://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/996/x-marks-the-church-how-gen-x-leaders-are-shaping-the-church
Zander, D. (2007, August 8). The Gospel for Generation X. CT Pastors. Retrieved July 12, 2022, from https://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2007/august-online-only/070117a.html