When I first began my call as a pastor in the Presbyterian Church USA in 2008, one of the things that stuck out to me like a sore thumb was that there was almost no one my age sitting in the pews. Just about all of the folks in the church were above 60 years of age; and that was just the way it was. It took me a while to seriously start asking why it was this way, even though it was an almost immediate concern. In discussions with other pastors about this, I soon found that I was not alone in my thinking. As it turned out, this situation and concern was and still is pretty standard.
I was born in 1969, right smack in the middle of what is known as Generation X (also known as Gen X – the generation born after that of the baby boomers – roughly from the early 1960s to late 1970s). I grew-up in the church, as did the majority of my generational co-hort. Regular church attendance, Sunday School and youth group were all a normal part of the picture. So, if so many of us were raised in the church, why and when did we stop attending? When I began my D.Min. program this became the focus for my studies. I think I’ve come up with some answers, and perhaps even part of the solution, but boy had we better get on the stick…
Of Generation X, a whopping 90% in the US say that they believe in God, yet out of that 90%, only between 20 – 25% are church active on most any level. The current statistics of church membership in the PCUSA puts Generation X at only 14%; 64% of PCUSA membership is above the age of 58 years; the remaining 22% are Millennials (the generation of people born between the early 1980s and 1990s). What happened? Clearly if 90% of us believe in God, the problem isn’t with God, but rather with the church.
In the 1980’s, when Generation X was at what many would consider its most impressionable age, the world was changing in ways we hadn’t seen before. Technology was growing in directions that became all-consuming. By the 1980’s if you weren’t getting connected to the world around you through a computer screen, you were considered behind the times. That was also the same period of time when globalization kicked into high gear; many people in the US could suddenly have almost anything they wanted, and it was even cheaper than before. On top of that, at least a certain segment of society began to develop around the closest mall. Cable television with its around the clock broadcasting became standard and made the world much smaller.
And within the US churches there was really something of a revolution taking place, with much of it was playing out on our televisions. The rise of the Pentecostal televangelists like Jim Bakker, Jerry Falwell, Oral Roberts, Pat Robertson and a handful of others, and the scandals that came along with them, gave rise to a very conservative and narrow viewpoint of faith. It also gave rise to a sense that the church was simply a corrupt institution that was after your money, especially after seeing some of those named above using the money that was coming in to build religious theme parks and to finance conservative organizations that were vying to control what was coming out of Washington, D.C. My generation growing-up within all of the opening-up of the world around us turned and said, “Who wants to be a part of that? (In referring to the church) Not me…..”
Granted, the topic is a very deep and wide one, but we need to start talking about all of this so that we can reach out to those Gen X’ers who may just be the solution to the future of the church. Without us, in another ten years, will there even be a church?
Generation X is looking for something and is in need of some answers. The church needs to pursue Generation X and the solutions to this problem, and now just may be the perfect time. As our kids are going to college, and we’re thinking about retirement, and perhaps even the meaning and purpose of our lives, many believe that we’re ‘ripe for the picking’.
Let’s pursue this together. You’ll be hearing more about this in the near future. Be in touch if you’re interested in being a part of the discussion at [email protected]
Rev. Christopher Doyle Oak Ridge & Berkshire Valley Presbyterian Churches