t was all so clear to Tom, so straightforward. In
college, he heard the gospel presented in exact terms. "We all are sinners,
Christ died to save sinners, we can't come to God apart from the saving work of
Jesus Christ. Will you accept Christ as your personal Savior?" "Yes!" Tom said,
and this baby boomer came to faith in Christ. He has been growing as a believer
But now his son, Craig, is in college. Craig isn't receptive to the
Christian message at all. Tom thought he knew what to do. He took the
same materials that had been used in bringing him to
saving faith, referred to the same passages of scripture, gave the same
step-by-step presentation that had been so clear to him 25 years before and
presented it to his son. What was Craig's response to this spiritual formula?
"So, that's your opinion," Craig replied.
"No, this is what the scripture says," Tom argued. "Look at the Bible
verses." Craig had an answer: "That's what the writers of the Bible said
because that was their information, their interpretation, their spin. Dad, you have your religious
beliefs. I have mine. Yours, mine, whatever." And Tom, like many of us, is a
frustrated ambassador for Christ.
Worse, poor Tom isn't getting any help from his friends either. Some of them
tell him, "Religion is important to you-that's fine. But you can't make it your
whole life. We enjoy golf and fishing, but we don't build our lives on those
hobbies." And his parents are telling him, "We have always been a religious
family, Tom. That's part of being a good citizen. We are strong supporters of
our denomination. Why do you keep talking about belonging to Jesus?" What's
going on here? Aren't we all the same? God's redemptive message is the same,
isn't it? It's absolutely true that Jesus died, rose and lives to save all who
will come to Him by faith. But all people don't grasp this message the same
way. The gospel is for everyone. But no one-size-fits-all
presentation of the gospel communicates to people of different generations.
Most of us tend to forget that we too are products of a particular time.
Because of when I was born and raised, I learned a certain way and followed the
cultural input of my day. You did too. We may think that everyone responds as
we do. But our way of hearing the message of Christ isn't necessarily the way
another person hears it. We need to know that.
Let's examine what our culture looks like, recognizing that it is not fixed,
there are crosscurrents, and no generation is a duplicate of another. Even when
we attempt to date the generations, we have to admit that no two sociologists
agree on where one generation cuts off and another begins. That's because it's
a continuum. Yet there are some cultural distinctives that help us as we think
through the gospel presentation in our society.
Born since 1981; 64 million At an all-night graduation party, high school
seniors are listening to music. Soon the music stops. The students want to
talk, to be together, to have community. In the morning after breakfast the host says, "I'm going to
church." The rest of the party goes home. For most of these kids, community
ends when church is introduced.
Born after 1981, coming of age in the new millennium, bridgers are also
called the echo boom or generation Y. There are some 64 million in this age
group. They long for stability and have a desire for what worked in the past.
They don't necessarily want to face the world as they know it. They don't trust
For many in this generation the Bible is new. Concepts of sin and redemption
are a curiosity. They are absolutely certain of only one thing- that there are
no absolutes. They are into "faiths," and any faith will do. There is little residual Christianity in the
culture, so they are a brand new mission field if we can demonstrate to them
Who Jesus Christ is.
This is the 'net generation, having grown up with the Internet. They have a lot of information bits (and
bytes!) at their disposal, but that doesn't mean they can link those pieces of
information together or find cause and effect.
Information isn't knowledge, and knowledge isn't wisdom. They need what
mature believers have to offer; we can explore the gospel of Christ with them.
Jesus is attractive to them. Point to Jesus.
Older generations, grandparents, have an opportunity here. Bridgers want
values, stability, but wonder if such things are possible. Christians who are
living out what the gospel is, who haven't themselves just accommodated to the
culture, will have a voice. And the church that is not simply an institution but is truly
a community of believers will be attractive.
Love them, be honest with them, recognize that the longing in their hearts
is the very longing for God that is built into all of us. Most haven't had the
chance to find out that God made them, cares for them and offers wholeness and
peace to them. They haven't rejected the gospel; they simply haven't heard it
in a way that's meaningful for them.
Born between 1965 and 1981; 44 million When I was a child I played with a
kaleidoscope. Whichever way I turned the glass there was a new configuration.
Which one was right? Which one was better? That's the wrong question to ask
about a kaleidoscope, and the people known as Gen Xers
say the same thing about religion.
Born between 1965 and 1981, there are 44 million in this age group who have
been called all kinds of names. And they hate every one of those labels.
Because X is an algebraic term that can stand for anything, they are called the
X generation. But they have also been called the whine generation, the boomer
shadow, the nowhere generation, the "Why me?" generation. They are a generation with low
So many grew up with divorced parents, blended families. They were latchkey
kids watching MTV with its images changing every second, receiving feeling more
than content. They have seen fallen heroes (preachers, politicians). Why trust
any group or institution or authority figure? Yet they are a fixer generation,
trying to repair what they feel the boomers broke. They want marriages that last. Children are
important. They want to get along.
Biblical truth is seen as "your truth," or "my truth." They argue: "That's
the way the Bible writers saw things. That doesn't mean I have to accept what
they saw and wrote. Objective historical fact? Who says? That's their fact, not
mine." Christians who walk the talk, who will listen, who are flexible, will
appeal to them. "How did you stay married?" they want to know. "How did you
find God?" "What's it like to have inner peace?" We need to acknowledge their pain because they feel
it-because of their broken families, their mixed-up world. They are desperately
looking for something that will give them meaning and hope. The Bible can't be
taught just as information. They want to know what works in life. "Does it
apply to me? Can I use this now?" People who just like to quote the Bible at
them without application are going to miss out. But patient witnesses who
understand that God is bigger than our grasp of Him and who know that God wants
us to have redemption and love and eternal life will be heard. Be there for
them. They feel so alone.
Born between 1946 and 1964; 76 million Watch the television ads. "People are
getting older and need glasses," we hear. Never mind that people have always
gotten older and needed glasses. Nothing really happens until it happens to the boomers. This
"we-are-the-center-of-the-world" view has been taught to them since they first
burst on the scene, and at 76 million strong they have influenced everything
around them. There are even a few boomer pastors and evangelists who are so
caught up in their own experiences that it's difficult for them to recognize
any other age group than their own. And there are enough other boomers who
authenticate their ministries that they sometimes overlook those who came
before or are following after.
Born between 1946 and 1964, boomers went through Vietnam, campus unrest, the
hippie movement, free speech, free love and the Jesus movement. But
they also got caught up in the greedy '80s and are known as much for being the
"me" generation as the change-the-world-with-a-cause generation.
We can reach them with dialogue. They want to know how Christianity works,
primarily how it works "for me in my life." They want to know: will it help me
with my finances, my divorce and my children? Many are self-navigators, self-
directed. "If anything is going to happen for me, I have to make it happen."
They are not alone. This self-navigation has passed down to Gen Xers and even
Many boomers are coming to the point in life where they wonder, "Is this all
there is? What comes after getting the lake cottage and the BMW(tm)?
Show them the power and love and life offering
of Christ. They are at a good age for hearing the message that they pushed away
when they were first rebelling against their parents' generation. Unlike Gen
Xers who are hearing the gospel in a context of little cultural Christianity,
the boomers did have some Christian context in their earlier years. Now as they
get older, even though they fight aging with cosmetic surgery and creams and
dyes, they sense that life is moving on. They are more open to examining that which they once
Life can feel empty when it begins to show where all the dead-ends are. The
gospel can be brought anew to a people who know that life as they tried it
really doesn't work without God. Many are exploring church and old truths
again. It's a good time to welcome them and give them solid biblical principles
that they can discuss with their peers and apply to their lives.
Born between 1930 and 1945; 39 million Victory! The War is ended, the future
looks bright. The builders are the post-war generation ready to take hold of
the American dream. A house, a car, a good job with a growing corporation. Don't rock the boat, just get
on it and become a success.
Born between 1930 and 1945, these 39 million are known as the silent
generation, even the "non-generation." They weren't of age in the depression or
World War II, but they weren't part of the Vietnam, campus unrest era
They are in-between. Trusting and trustworthy, they want certainty; they
will join, support and get behind groups and the church. They have a more regulated life, a sense of
responsibility and duty. They want to be taught and will accept what is taught
But they also want to discuss what the authorities say. They will discuss
the Bible with boomers. And like the seniors before them, they want their
lives to count for something.
They are more fixed than the generations that followed them. They formed
their philosophies and convictions during their student years and didn't change
too much afterward. But even though they may say they have life figured out,
their hearts still have the inner restlessness that God put there. They know
now that there is more to life than a good job, a nice home, a secure
Opening the Bible to builders will not be seen as irrelevant. But, many may
feel they have heard it all before, even tried Christianity once. What they may
have tried was church and rules and doctrines without ever really encountering the living Christ as Savior
Doing the right thing or joining the right church isn't the same as being
the "right" person. Show them what it means to be right with God by God's
definition. We need to be aware that if they have been good people-and many
have-they may not quite see the "all have sinned" side of redemption because
"there really isn't that much wrong with me." But talk about what blocks
eternal life and the meaning of belonging to God, and you will begin to
connect. Help them move past faith in faith to faith in Christ.
Born before 1930; 35 million Every day in every way things were going to get
better. The great war to end all wars was behind them,
the times were roaring, the stock market booming. Then came the depression.
"Brother, can you spare a dime?" Then World War II came with no guarantee of
victory at first. People pulled together. They had a cause that was bigger than
themselves. They were survivors.
Born prior to 1930, 35 million strong, they came of age during the great
depression and fought in World War II. Loyal, conservative, hard-working,
patriotic. Yet if they know about Christianity, it may be more denominational
than biblical, more of a club that they joined-just as they joined other
respectable civic or community organizations-than a relationship.
We can work with scripture and personal testimony.
They will accept a lecture presentation sometimes even more than a discussion.
They want to learn but may feel that they have lived long enough that they
pretty well know all there is to learn. They watched kids rebel (the boomers)
and wonder why everything has to be so chaotic today. "Why can't things be as
they were before when everybody was patriotic and moral like me?" they
With seniors we may be working with people struggling with illness, with
financial limitations, with worries about children and grandchildren, and with
loneliness because they have fewer friends around them. We may be dealing with
people who wonder if their children care, and why God is not taking away their
pain or letting them die. We are also dealing with fear-fear of the streets,
fear about the future. Go to them with the good news of the One Who takes away
fear. Show them how they can know God's peace and security and the certainty of
heaven. You are not asking them to join something; they've done that all their
lives. You are asking them to open their hearts to God Who loves them. Doing
that will make you a bringer of good news.
Roger C. Palms is on staff with the Billy Graham Evangelistic
Association. He is the former editor of Decision magazine. The author
of 14 books, he also serves as the speaker on "Something for You," a nationally
syndicated radio program.
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