March 7, 2007

The Church in 2011

Copyright ©2006 by Outreach magazine. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

2007 1504 page32 caphen I see the number 2011, I think of some distant future. But 2011 is less than five years away, and significant demographic trends are taking place. These trends are profound, but I fear that the American Church is not even aware of the changing landscape.

Nearly one-third of all Americans living today were born between 1946 and 1964. This baby boomer generation has repeatedly shaped much of American life, including church life.
Concurrent with the aging of the baby boomers is a longevity boom. In 1900, life expectancy was 47 years. By 2011, the life expectancy of adults will approach 80 years. A huge and long-living older generation will be residing in our communities. How will the Church respond?
In just five short years, the oldest boomer will be 65 years old, and the midpoint boomer will be 56. These are not your typical mature adults, and churches that respond as they always have will miss a great evangelistic opportunity.
What are some emerging thoughts and facts about this generation?

Boomer Facts
  • Presently, about two-thirds of the 76 million boomers are unchurched, which means they attend church no more than twice a year.

  • Our early research indicates that many of these boomers are becoming profoundly nostalgic. Among the unchurched boomers, we found that a significant number would return to church if it resembled the church of their childhood.
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  • Typically, receptivity to the Gospel wanes as people age. But the boomers may defy this trend. Indeed, early indicators tell us that this group’s receptivity may actually be on the rise.

  • In five years, senior boomers will have the largest accumulated wealth of any group in America’s history.

  • This age wave will include tens of millions of people who want to make a difference in their older years. They have pursued many paths to happiness, and the unchurched boomers tell us that none have proved satisfactory.

  • These older adults will walk away from churches that focus on travel and entertainment as the primary “ministries” to senior adults.

  • These adults will desire more than an occasional mission trip as a means to make a difference. They will want to invest themselves in something that is meaningful and longer-term.

  • These new senior adults will not perceive themselves to be old, and any organization that communicates to them that they are will quickly lose the allegiance of this generation.

  • The age wave generation, including unchurched boomers, will be increasingly interested in studying deep biblical truths.

Ready for the Age Wave?

In my discussions with church leaders, I often ask what churches are doing to prepare for this age wave, especially since the impact will be felt in as few as five years. Most leaders admit that they have not even thought about the issue, much less strategically planned to reach this older generation.
We estimate that this generation could shape organizations around the nation and the world for the next 25 to 30 years. Most secular groups are giving serious thought and expending millions of dollars to reach this new type of senior adult. But it seems that of all the organizations today, the American Church is one of the least prepared for this age wave.
Most cutting-edge ministries in the church for the past 40 years have been aimed at reaching the younger generations. Indeed, churches should continue to reach young people with the Gospel. But few churches have given much thought or resources to reaching older generations. And if something does not change in our churches, this age wave will pass by with millions never responding to the Gospel.    
What is your church doing to prepare to catch the age wave? The answer to that question may very well impact the eternity of millions of aging boomer Americans.