When I was in college, I had a friend who would tell me not to engage in “Preliminary Freak Out,” or “PFO” for short. It’s natural for me as a born worry wart to fret over perceived disasters.
I often hear many people go on and on about how there are no young people at church. So I couldn’t help but think the church might be experiencing its own PFO today regarding younger people of faith.
A recent study by the Barna Group about church behaviors among different generations offers some surprisingly upbeat information about “Baby Busters,” the folks born after the Baby Boomer generation, and their behaviors around faith and church. “Baby Busters” in this study represent Generation X and part of the millennial generation, people born after 1965 and through 1983.
This study examined religious behaviors from these two generations over the last 20 years. For instance, it revealed a 9 percent increase (to 41 percent) in Busters who were reading the Bible on their own, not at a church event. And it also showed that Busters increased their volunteerism at church by 9 percent, up to 19 percent. However, there was also an 8 percent increase (up to 39 percent) since 1991 of the number of Busters who had not attended church in the last six months.
So, is this study telling us that younger people are becoming more active in their faith community, but not showing up at services on Sunday?
“Gen Xers are far more interested in experiencing God at all levels of their lives than experiencing church or organized religion,” Peter Menconi writes in his book, The Intergenerational Church. As for Millennials (1982-2000), he wrote: “They expect their worship experiences within and without the church to be authentic, real, and sincere. That is they readily identify and reject religious activities and programs that do not genuinely bring them closer to God.”
As an aside, the study also identifies some rather disconcerting information about the Baby Boomer Generation (1946 to 1964). Since 1991, church attendance among this group fell 9 percent to 38 percent in 2011, and volunteerism during the week dropped 10 percent over the last 20 years, from 28 to 18 percent.
But back to the Buster group, are we as a church PFO-ing about the right generation? What ways can we make church more relevant to all generations? Does church as we know it need to change to increase the participation of Boomers, Gen Xers and Millenials? Is your unit or congregation doing anything to engage different generations outside the church building and Sunday worship?
Elizabeth McBride is the director of intergenerational programs and editor of Café.