Last Chances for Churches to Reach 50 Million Americans

My generation was the largest generation. It was the generation businesses and churches wanted to reach. We were the sixties generation. The self-indulgent generation. The "me" generation. The Vietnam generation. The Watergate generation. The Civil Rights generation.

And now we are the dying generation.

I'm not trying to be morbid or sensational. I'm simply reporting census realities. We were born between 1946 and 1964. The oldest among us is 67 years old. Mortality is inevitable. We are shrinking in numbers.

During the baby boom that followed World War II, more than 76 million live births were recorded in the United States. At the time we were the largest generation in history. We have since been supplanted by the nearly 80 million Millennials born between 1980 and 2000.

But here is the harshest reality about my generation. We estimate that only about one-third of Baby Boomers are Christians. That means that 50 million adult Americans in this generation are unchurched and have yet to be reached with the gospel of Christ.

And time is running out.

Here are a few (hopefully) helpful facts about the Baby Boomers and churches. Of course, our findings depict the majority of Boomers, not all of them at any one time.

Most churches, if they have an intentional outreach ministry, gear it toward the younger generations. That is understandable. But relatively few church leaders are asking the question, "What can we do prayerfully and strategically to reach the Baby Boomers?"

Most of the unchurched Boomers do not have an anti-church mentality. They are more receptive than most imagine.

Most of the unchurched Boomers would not be caught up in worship wars. They have a wide tolerance and even fondness for many musical and stylistic approaches. A church's worship style would most likely not be a hindrance to reaching a Boomer.

Though Boomers are fast becoming senior adults, they will not appreciate many churches' approaches to senior adult ministry today. They want to make a difference, not simply be entertained and take trips. You may very well reach many Boomers by demonstrating how the Christian life is the only true life of meaning, and how they can make a difference as a believer.

Boomers are becoming increasingly introspective. They are asking life questions that really matter. Their receptivity to matters of eternal import could be great right now.

This generation largely doesn't want to talk about retirement. They speak more in terms of career shift or new vocational opportunities. They are not ready, and probably never will be, for traditional approaches to retirement.

The Boomers are thinking about relationships now more than any point in their lives. A simple but powerful way to reach the unchurched in this generation is to get Christian Boomers to connect with them. Many Boomer Christians haven't invited someone to church in years. Now is the opportune time.

As you celebrate this new year, allow one sobering reality to be before you: more than one million Baby Boomers will die before the year concludes. If it took you five minutes to read this article, ten Boomers died while you were reading. By 2015 the death rate will increase significantly.

We have but a few chances left to reach the lost and unchurched among the Baby Boomers. Time is growing short.

"Then He said to His disciples, 'The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest'" (Matthew 9:37-38, HCSB).

Dr. Thom Rainer is president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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