The transition that is surely coming to America (and the Church as well), as the baby boom generation reaches retirement age, is hard to predict. The impact will be great, if for no other reason than this—this generation is so large in number and influence.
One of the major problems, as I see it, is that people grow up very slowly in our culture. I know this is true for most of us in the baby boom generation and some of those who are so slow to grow up are the leaders of this generation. People are perpetually working out their identity problems on television, on the Internet, in various groups, etc. And the Church becomes a place where a lot of this is being done, or at least we are attempting to do it. This is one reason why we promoted "small groups" for the past twenty years or so. Robert Wuthnow has some important social research on small groups but I am pretty convinced that the way they are conceived and directed within most local churches is a failure. (The exceptions are generally groups that form without a top-down planning process!)
I say this because I think we became, after World War II, a culture that was enamored with perpetual youth. Maybe this came because of the Great Depression, the War and what followed in the baby-boom growth spurt. Whatever the reasons we did become a youth culture and everything from beauty products to certain medical procedures are aimed at helping us look and feel young. We do not like getting older and we really want to look and feel young as long as possible. As a result these social trends created churches, who followed them almost uncritically, that were meant to help people work out their identity issues.
I do not go to church to work out who I am. My expectations and goals for a church are to hear the gospel and receive the sacraments. I think I reached this place for two reasons: (1) I slowly understood what the Church was really all about. (2) I realized that I did not need to remain perpetually young. I get a lot of socialization from things that are not Church at all. I enjoy a wide range of people and enjoy a great deal of the wider culture. I do not expect, therefore, that the Church meet all my needs as a person. And I have given up on being young. I hope that means I’ve matured but time will tell. One thing I know—a perpetual youth culture does not work in the Church. It was never meant to work.
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