Churches as generational mission labs
Erich Bridges, Baptist Press
August 08, 2011

Churches as generational mission labs

Churches as generational mission labs
Erich Bridges, Baptist Press
August 08, 2011

— You’re just entering your prime, baby.

You’re not older; you’re better. You hit the gym with a vengeance. Aches and
pains? If you’ve got ’em, you’re not admitting it to yourself or anyone else.
You’ve got big plans for the future. Sixty is the new 40. “Retirement” is not
part of your vocabulary (you probably won’t be able to afford it, anyway).

You’re a boomer, of course. You and your generational comrades have been
turning the world upside down since you were pimply teens. So you’re not going
to let little things like age, gravity or mortality slow you down.

Of five emerging trends in American churches cited by LifeWay Christian
President Thom Rainer in the Summer 2011 issue of Facts and Trends (http://bit.ly/pdXyim), this one struck me:

“Senior adult ministries in churches will experience steep declines.”

Wait a minute. The U.S. population is aging, right? Senior adult ministry ought
to be a growth industry. To the contrary: Boomers don’t do “senior.”

“As the large baby boomer generation moves into their older years, they will
resist any suggestion that they are senior adults, no matter how senior they
may be,” Rainer explains.

“Unfortunately, many churches are slow to adapt to
new realities. If they do senior adult ministry the way they’ve always done it,
it will be headed for failure.”

It makes perfect sense if you understand the boomer psyche. As a generation, we
are deep in denial about aging. In our minds, we’re still hip, young and
wrinkle-free. And to be fair, medical science has added quite a few years to
our potential life spans. In many cases, we really do have more energy and
vitality than our parents had when they hit 50 or 60. So we don’t need no
stinkin’ shuffleboard. We’re just getting started.

In a recent column I quoted New York Times writer David Brooks,
who lamented that so many young college grads are being “sent off into this
world with the whole baby-boomer theology ringing in their ears…. (They) are
told to: Follow your passion, chart your own course, march to the beat of your
own drummer, follow your dreams and find yourself. This is the litany of
expressive individualism, which is still the dominant note in American culture.”

It sounds good, but encourages boomeristic self-involvement at the expense of
service to others — and to God. Here’s a thought: Instead of passing on our
worst trait, what if we boomers reinvented “senior adult ministry” in the years
to come? Rather than waiting for churches to minister to us, what if we turned
them into laboratories where boomers mentor our successors, the Millennials, to
reach our communities and the nations with the love of Christ?

Another trend Rainer highlights: “Our nation will see the emergence of the
largest generational mission field in more than a century. According to our
current research, the Millennial generation, those born between 1980 and 2000,
will have a very low Christian representation. Our estimates now are that only
15 percent are Christian. With a huge population of nearly 80 million, that
means that nearly 70 million young people are not Christians…. They are not
angry at churches and Christians. They simply ignore us because they do not
deem us as meaningful or relevant.”

In this sea of spiritual lostness, churches are floundering to stay afloat.

“The facts are, evangelical Christianity, not to mention mainline Christianity,
is declining in America,”
Rainer commented in a Baptist Press story earlier this year. “Why? One of the
primary reasons is the church — many local churches, I should say — have become
more about what we can do for our members than what we can do to reach out

But Christian Millennials are asking, “What can we do to become incarnational
in our communities? What can we do to reach the nations?”

Christian boomers, who have actively participated in the historic expansion of
the gospel across the globe in the last generation, can help them answer those
questions. As a group, Millennials respect their parents and other elders and
value relationships with them. That goes double for Millennials in the church —
if churches make the effort to nurture that influence.

“They have learned from older people all their lives, and they don’t want to
stop now,” Rainer writes. “They want to be led and taught in their places of
work, in their churches and in their families. They particularly want to learn
from couples who have had long and successful marriages. Many Millennials see
such examples as heroes to emulate.”

That’s right, boomers. We can be mentors, even heroes, to Millennials who are
searching for godly models of missional servanthood. I can’t think of a better
way to defy aging.
It sure beats denial.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Bridges is IMB global correspondent. Visit “WorldView
.” Listen to an audio version.)