by Rick Chromey
Generation X is the “Jan Brady” of American generations. And we’re getting old and grumpy.
Maybe it’s because Gen X (b. 1961-1981) has rarely felt the love.
We’re generational middle siblings stuck between the beautiful, venerated boomers (b. 1943-1960) and the precocious, blessed millennials (b. 1982-2004). As kids we were “goonies” and “bad news bears” who grew up to be “breakfast club” slackers. We were the “dumb” generation who launched grunge/hip-hop fashions, tattoos, earrings and shaved heads into a “reality bites” world.
Spiritually, we live a U2 soundtrack. Often stuck in a moment we can’t get out, we ride our wild horses in search of a beautiful day, elevation and streets with no name.
It’s no wonder we still haven’t found what we’re looking for.
The exodus of the “nones” (millennials) has been well documented. Despite enjoying fantastic resources, events, curricula, facilities and staff, the “baby on board” generation never truly boarded the “church” bus. Consequently, they graduated high school and church together.
In recent years sociologist Josh Packard has identified a new cohort (dubbed the “Dones” because they’re “done” with church) and it’s no surprise it’s mostly Gen Xers in their late 30s to mid-50s. The Dones (30.5 million) are very “Christian” but have grown weary of “churchianity.” Packard outlined in Church Refugees that these dissatisfied Gen Xers essentially hunger for four things:
- Nonjudgmental community
- Opportunity to serve without bureaucracy
- Conversation not lectures
- A focus on mission and ministry rather than Sunday morning “events”
Recently I spoke with a 40-something Gen Xer. He grew up in church (a pastor’s kid), went to Bible college and studied pastoral ministries. After a brief ministry career marked by overbearing senior pastors, restrictive policies and unfair demands, he left for secular pastures. But he didn’t stop going to church. Rather, he faithfully served a variety of high-level lay positions. Unfortunately, recent troubles at his church finally forced his family to leave.
“I can’t deal with the hypocrisy,” he shared with sadness. “I love Jesus but I can’t play the church game anymore.”
He’s “almost” done. He’s still church shopping but struggles to find community.
He’s not alone. Some futurists predict, with the church’s inability to attract wayward millennials and now losing the “faithful” Gen X remnant, that the end of modern “churchianity” is looming. For decades, the boomer-driven megachurch business model—with emphases upon organization, mission statements, purpose-driven objectives and seeker-sensitive attractional models—has ruled.
But in a 24/7/365 cyber culture, those anchored to “space and time” old business frames will continue to experience degradation, decline and obsolescence. It’s not a sustainable model in a postmodern world.
What can the church do? I believe the answers lie in Packard’s four needs:
- We need to refocus our gatherings upon community and reimagine how we worship, participate in sacraments, fellowship and preach.
- We need to be more “open source” and creative in how we release people to serve. Do we need the same volunteers every Sunday? Can someone serve for 10 minutes instead of an hour? Do you need to be a “member” to serve?
- Preaching needs to be interactive, experiential and image-soaked. In my book Sermons Reimagined I give you the template.
- Mission and ministry are the numbers to count. Attendance, conversions and offering totals are good but what if we also counted “spiritual conversations,” informal prayer and Bible studies, and other times of Christian service (outside of Sunday morning)?
One last thought: don’t overlook Gen X. Our generation isn’t “done” with church yet, but we could be if things don’t change (soon). A recent boom-led trend is to hire “young” and millennial. Consequently, many experienced Gen X pastors (especially post-50) are now getting passed over in ministry jobs.
It’s a breakfast club déjà vu.
Don’t you forget about (us).