One of the advantages of flying, as we did this weekend (to Seattle), is some extra time for reading and on the flight out and back I read a book I consider a must-read for all church leaders: Robert Wuthnow, After the Baby Boomers. I won’t do a series on this book but I hope to hear of some church leaders who have read it and responded.
P. 213: “If I were a religious leader, I would be troubled by the facts and figures currently describing the lives of young Americans, their involvement in congregations, and their spiritual practices” (214). “It is unfortunate, in my view, that religious congregations have not done a better job of figuring out what young adults want and need” (216). “My view is that congregations can survive, but only if religious leaders roll up their sleeves and pay considerably more attention to young adults than they have been” (230).
Here are some highlights of this social-scientific studies by a premier scholar of the American religious scene. Wuthnow begins by discussing the characteristics of the post baby boomers (roughly those 21-45 years old):
1. Delayed age in marriage
2. Fewer children and having children later
3. Uncertainties in work and money
4. Higher education for some (only 52% have attended a college)
5. Loosening relationships
7. Culture of information explosion
Now here’s something profound: since the best predictor of church attendance and participation is marriage and marriage with children, and since the post baby boomers are delaying marriage and having children later and fewer of them, the absence of post baby boomers in church is predictable.
Wuthnow’s big conclusion is that churches have failed to minister significantly to those who have graduated from college and are not yet married — the 20somethings. And this age group is in need of ministry.
The 20somethings, when it comes to Christian faith and spirituality, are “tinkerers” (in the old-fashioned sense of this term): they dabble, they experiment, and they put together in their own way a theology and belief system on the basis of a variety of sources. Theologically, the post baby boomers are both orthodox and heterodox — that is, they believe in both orthodox answers and yet at the same time adhere to heterodox ideas.