The generation formerly known as X
The Generation X label applies to the post baby-boom generation, a small
generation between Baby Boomers and their kids. Gen Xers came of age in the
early 90s and were known to be cynical of the baby boom culture. The X took the
place of a nameless generation that had been largely ignored by media,
marketers and many institutions. Most scholars on the subject reject the X
label and refer to this generation and following generations as postmodern or
emerging generations. Most Gen Xers prefer not to be labeled at all.
ll tell you what I dont understand, my retired neighbor said, his voice low
and barely audible. Young people. Their value system is...well, I dont know
what it is. Going to church certainly doesnt seem to be a priority.
I was standing on the edge of my driveway, having just arrived home from
Sunday morning service. My after-church visit with him had been a tradition
since Id moved to Ottawa 10 years ago, but Id never seen Ben so discouraged,
even after a low turnout like the one wed had this morning at church.
I just dont know, Steve. Maybe its our fault. Maybe my generation let you
The comment surprised me so much that I didnt know what to say. I began to
stammer a reply, but he put his hand up.
Im sorry, Steve, but I think Ill pass on our coffee. I dont know why Im so
discouraged today, but Im feeling a burden to pray about it. Next week,
I sighed with frustration. It wasnt that simple. For the 55 million North
Americans born between 1965 and 1978 (ages 26-39), only 15 percent of this
generation formerly known as X (see sidebar) consider themselves Christians.
But beyond the stereotypes lay some obscure truths. If Christians
could just tap into the nerve center of my generation,
they would see a group of spiritual seekers tired of moral relativism and
hungry for a personal relationship with God.
When Douglas Couplands book Generation X came out in 1991, he
provided more than a label for the emerging group. Businesses and market
groups, led by the Baby Boomers, responded with snobbish indignation. A
Washington Post headline was indicative of this attitude: THE BORING
TWENTIES: GROW UP, CRYBABIES.
By the mid-nineties, the pendulum had swung. A 1997 Time magazine article
labeled us this way: Slackers? Hardly. The so-called Generation X turns out to
be full of go-getters who are doing itbut their way.
Both sides missed the point, however, and traditional organizations suffered
a drastic decline in attendance. Churches. Political parties. Community groups.
If this generation was the first pluggedin generation to the world of
technology, it was also the first to unplug itself from the institutions that
defined our culture throughout most of the 20th century.
The important question for on mission Christians then becomes obvious. How
can we reach such a cynical generation?
The answer is surprisingly simple. Most of what youve heard about my
generation is wrong. Heres a list of misperceptions about us, the truth behind
the stereotype and the proper response for on mission Christians.
Southern Baptist churches that are reaching Generation X
All churches that have some success reaching out to Generation X share
similar characteristics. They all have functional websites. All of them
emphasize small groups. And most are very effective using the media and arts to
spread the gospel.
The Fellowship Church, Grapevine, Texas (mega-church)
We must grow larger and smaller at the same time. Connecting people in a small
group is not an optional sub-ministry.
Gen X assets: Active childrens ministry, user friendly website, good use of
Gen X comforts (coffee & bagels), emphasizes small groups (www.fellowshipchurch.com)
The Journey, Upper West Side/East Village, New York City (new church,
The Journey believes in being as relevant as todays newspaper while holding
to the timeless teachings of Jesus Christ.
Gen X assets: Purposedriven church (focused), great website, small growth
groups, excellent arts and music ministry (www.nyjourney.com)
Mosaic, Los Angeles, California (large church)
Relevance to culture is not optional... Creativity is the natural result of
Gen X assets: Great womens program (includes mentoring, outreach, small
groups), well-designed interactive web site, creative use of arts and drama in
Here are some other churches reaching Generation X:
The Crossroads ChurchNew Port Richey, FloridaSteve Harness
SequoiaOttawa, Ontario, Canada Ashley Kelley
Myth 1. We are not interested in religion.
Truth: We arent interested in religion, but we are interested in spiritual
things. Most Gen Xers are seekers, but the majority grew up without ever
attending a church service. I cant tell you how many times Ive heard a fellow
Gen Xer say, Well, I believe in God, but I dont believe in organized
Response: Talk with Xers about your relationship with Jesus, and emphasize
that Christianity is not about rules but a loving relationship with Him.
Myth 2. We are too me oriented.
Truth: We hate labels. The last thing I want is to be part of your target
market. Xers recognize people for their uniqueness, but were slower to trust
than previous generations. When I was in elementary school, most of my friends
lived in a typical nuclear family. By the time I went to college the divorce
rate had exploded, and many of us were forced to rely on ourselves.
Response: God is the first one to recognize our uniqueness (Psalm 139).
Emphasize that He has a special plan for each of our lives, and never
underestimate the need for a Fathers love, an aspect of our relationship with
God that is especially poignant to those of my generation.
Myth 3. We are too cynical.
Truth: We are, but with good reason. I still remember hearing about
Iran-Contra, Jimmy Swaggart and other scandals surrounding my youth. The media
began to change in the early 80s with the addition of cable and the increasing
tendency toward sensationalism in the news. Without the protection of a nuclear
family, and with the push for both parents to be working, we were often left
alone. Its sad, but the true nurturer of my generation was too often the
popular media, and the one thing we learned from them was dont trust
Response: An on mission Christian who lives out his or her faith,
who truly walks the walk, will make a huge impact on any Xer. Integrity is
vital to us, since most Xers believe that the church is full of hypocrites.
Show us that youre real, even with your flaws, and you will find us not only
receptive but eager to learn about Christ.
Here are a few more tips for on mission Christians to keep in mind
when ministering to Generation X.
Gen Xers are relational. Invite them out with a few of your Christian
friends or to a small Bible study first. I belong to a church plant that
ministers almost exclusively to my generation. Being a relatively small group
(70) helps, but there is a consistent effort to integrate our lives with each
other outside the building. If Xers feel like youre trying to win them for the
Lord, theyll walk away.
Xers are practical. A fix-it generation, were like a middle child. Dont tell
me about your faith, show me how it affects your life. For churches, Xers who
have toddlers expect there to be a nursery and resources for their
Xers are interested in living now. More than 60 percent of my generation
carry personal debt. We arent interested in heaven if we have to experience
hell now. Focus on the day-to-day joys of living for Christ, and you will pique
Xers love music. Exciting, upbeat worship is a natural draw for us. A great
draw to any Xer is a Christian concert. If the music program in your church is
lacking, dont be afraid to update the music. If necessary, offer another,
Above all, be real. Xers dont have a problem with flawed individuals, but
they cant stomach self-righteousness. There is a deep- seated guilt in my
generation. We are deathly afraid that once people find out what were really
like, theyll reject us. Make every effort to reassure Xers that they are loved,
faults and all.
For the majority of Generation X, the thought of attending church remains an
impractical waste of time, and evangelizing such a group may at first seem a
little like climbing Mount Everest. Truly though, its not. My generation is
spiritually starving, and the rise of interest in the New Age and the Occult is
indicative of that. On mission Christians who understand this have a
wonderful opportunity. Dont give up on us, and trust that God will give you
wisdom as you reach out. Jesus has already done the hard part. All Christians
have to do is follow through.
Steve Burns is a writer living in Ottawa, Ontario.
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