Saturday, April 24, 2010

After the Baby Boomers

I've always been interested in generational politics. I was born in 1965, the first year of a declining birth rate. I've always been aware of the Baby Boomers who always seemed to be there, clogging up the works, hogging the good jobs, making ludicrous claims of one sort or another. Do I sound resentful? You should have heard me twenty years ago. Now, I'm more or less resigned.

I am still intrigued, however, by how the different generations affect each other and social institutions. For several years now, I've had Robert Wuthnow's After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion (Princeton: Princeton UP: 2007) on my reading list.

The man does some impressive research, but his findings about the post-Boomer generation didn't seem new to me. What was new was his analysis of how church participation differentiates members within the population group and within larger society. Again, his analysis didn't startle me or shock me; it made sense to me, in fact. But he's got the numbers to back up claims that if I made them, would be simply anecdotal.

He concludes by saying that if he was a pastor of a Mainline church, even an Evangelical church, he'd be very worried by the findings in his book. The future does not bode well for the institutional Church, although individual churches may thrive. Boomers and the generations following them do not have the institutional loyalty that earlier generations have.

What can be done? Wuthnow points out that many churches have social ministries and outreach programs for children and teenagers, and by extension, their families, but nothing for young, unmarried adults. Many churches have social ministries and outreach programs for the elderly, but nothing for young adults just starting out on their life journeys.

Wuthnow says that if he was remaking the institution of the Church, he'd have much more focus on twenty-somethings, who don't have much in the way of societal support: “To repeat my central argument: We provide day care centers, schools, welfare programs, family counseling, colleges, job training programs, and even detention centers as a kind of institutional surround-sound until young adults reach age 21, and then we provide nothing. Schooling stops for the vast majority, parents provide some financial assistance and babysitting but largely keep their distance, and even the best congregation-based youth groups or campus ministries no longer apply. Yet nearly all the major decisions a person has to make about marriage, child rearing, and work happen after these support systems have ceased to function. This is not a good way to run a society” (page 216).

Tomorrow, more choice quotes from this important book.

1 comment:

Mrs. M said...

Would you think me a total lunatic if I jumped up and down yelling "AMEN!" here?

I'm thirty now, and it's (kind of, sort of) starting to get better, but for YEARS after I graduated college, people would tell me that my peers weren't going to be in church until they had kids. They were totally fine with young adults not being part of the church. (And I'll admit, even though I'm a little older, the fact that I'm 30-- but don't have kids-- makes me an anomaly.)

The part that makes me crazy is, "the young people will come back, that's just the way it is." I don't believe they WILL always come back-- why should they? If institutionalized religion hasn't ever been a part of their lives, what kind of epiphany are the boomers (and older) expecting our peers to have?!

Drives me completely nuts. I could go on and on (but it's your blog, so I won't).