Evangelism is not easy. The targets are always moving. We must think. We must analyze. We must be more diligent in our efforts to spread the good news of Jesus.
The Societal Context. Five to ten years ago, the "buzz word" in the church was Boomer! The church was talking, eating, sleeping, and dreaming "baby boomer." Outreach, evangelism, programming, worship, education--in fact, much of what the church did--was oriented to individuals born between the mid-1940s and the mid-1960s (approximatley ages 35-50 in 1998).
A new generation has now appeared on the scene, variously labeled "baby busters," "13ers," (the thirteenth generation), or Generation X. The young adults in this group--college students, newly married, parents of pre-schoolers and elementary children, rising stars in a tight job market--are already making their mark on society. Although specific generational lines are difficult to define, the adults in this "buster" generation are frequently identified as ages 18-30 (some studies expand the age bracket to 15-35). Cutting-edge religious groups are learning and implementing new methods to attract and keep these young people and young adults involved in church.
Introspection. I intend this article to challenge us to introspection. What are we in this church doing for "busters" or "Generation X"? What activities do we have to attract them? Where are they on Sunday? On Sunday night? On Wednesday night? Many in this "in-between generation" have already left the confines of religious youth education and are "at sea" in our churches. Even when they attend worship, many high school students and young adults simply do not attend Bible classes. Nor have these young adults generally found a meaningful place in churches that emphasize family ministries. The handwriting is on the wall for those who can read the code: both youth and family ministry have been tried and found wanting.
Historically many churches have been resigned to losing some young people as they reach their 20s, writing them off as part of a youthful search for independence. Churches believed that these would return to church after marriage when they sought religious roots for their children. However, this generation is waiting longer to marry and postponing child-bearing, thus delaying the natural port of entry back into the church.
New research shows that the increasingly secular society around us, the demise of two-parent families, the unwillingness of the church to compete with the world for the minds and lives of these formerly churched persons, and declining social pressures for religious affiliation are combining to suggest that many of these may never return--unless the church acts NOW!
Conclusions. Several things must be considered.
1. Churches can forget about this group sticking around if there are no programs for their age group. Even in small-town USA with a limited number of college students and young adults, we better have a class for them to attend, activities for them to share, and programs to answer their needs.
2. Shorter class terms, lots of options, and no obligation to make long-term commitments are most likely to appeal to this age group (and to the Boomers). The same focus on participation, relationship, and meaningful applications to life that appealed to the boomer continues to appeal to the Busters and Generation X . Bible class methods can (and must) be custom-tailored to meet the needs and desires of this age group without changing the message of the gospel.
3. This generation finds meaning in their spiritual environment or atmosphere, seeks meaningful music, and appreciates relationships with fellow-worshipers. This generation is more visual than auditory, more auditory than literary, and seeks to find God through all of the physical senses. They want to see, hear, feel, and experience God's presence and joy. They are spontaneous, excited, talkative, active.
4. This generation is impatient. If the first two or three visits are not inviting, they will likely look elsewhere. Involvement and participation are keys. Video, audio, drama, illustrations, and meaningful participation appeal to this group. A demanding generation, these individuals are rewarding to work with because of their genuine, heartfelt search for involvement with the God who is present in our lives always.
Which Way The Church? The church has at least two options. One, we can admit that the methods that will help claim these 18-35 year olds will make the older among us uncomfortable and so we can refuse to change, effectively limiting the outreach and the future of the church for several decades to come. The lack of 40-55 year olds so common in our churches can be repeated in 20 more years if we write this generation off! Two, we can put up with a little discomfort for the gospel's sake, becoming all things to all peoples, to preach the precious message of Jesus Christ and him crucified in ways that connect with every generation.
The kind of church that effectively reaches the Busters will be both old and young, both thinking and feeling, both loving and fearful, knowing both God's love and God's terror. This church will use a variety of methods--modern and traditional--to connect the community with the Christ. This church will sing both traditional songs and new songs, may use contemporary drama (new entertainment) or joke-telling preachers (old entertainment). This church will be both emotional and cognitive.
The church has a great task before it. No other organization in our world has the task of connecting with so many generations at one time. The Lions Club doesn't, the social service club doesn't, the school doesn't, the university doesn't. Even the business world targets its audience to specific segments. But the church's task is to all the world--all nations and all ages. The question that haunts me and echoes in my mind is this: Are we up to the task?
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