The Rev. Peter A. Luckey, senior pastor, Plymouth Congregational Church, 925 Vt.:
Yes, indeed, our current generations look differently at faith.
Case in point: according to the Pew Research Center, of the generation born between 1981 and 1988, (what Pew calls Generation Next) one in five in that group say they have no religious affiliation. The proportion of young people who feel this way has doubled from the late 1980s.
The Barna Group has discovered a significant difference in how people born before 1946 view their faith versus succeeding generations. Faith for the Boomers is, according to the research group, “the foundation of their lives.”
Throughout my ministry I have witnessed this group’s deep sense of loyalty and commitment — not only to their beliefs but also to the institutions that help perpetuate those beliefs.
Baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) and even more so, the generations following the “boomers” like Generation Next, tend to see their faith less tied to one group or tradition and instead view their faith as a work-in-progress, something cobbled together among their own life experiences, the tradition in which they were born into and exposure to other traditions.
What I admire about young people today is how they are able to balance a commitment to their own roots while at the same time able to draw insights from other places. Many in this generation would nod their heads in agreement when the Christian mystic Matthew Fox says, “there are many wells, but one river.”
Take all these generalizations with a grain of salt. What I find more and more compelling in my ministry is how much we all have in common, no matter if we are 9 or 90. We are all on a search.
We all live our lives with fundamental questions like the following: why am I here? Is there a God and if so, does God care about me? What happens to me after I die? And what am I supposed to make of my life?
— Send e-mail to Peter Luckey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Doug Heacock, contemporary worship leader and director of media and communications, Lawrence Free Methodist Church, 3001 Lawrence Ave.:
When I was growing up in the 1960s, I scarcely met anyone who was not at least peripherally involved in a church, but as the ’60s gave way to the ’70s, more people rejected the church, along with many other elements of “the Establishment.” This seemed to me to result in a growing group of people who, in the ’80s and ’90s, did not raise their children in the religious traditions in which they were raised.
To some extent, I believe the church has also failed to help young believers develop a durable faith. A recent survey (http://bit.ly/aOK4yy) indicates young people are leaving the church at a higher rate than ever before. More and more people are identifying themselves as having “no religion” or even as “ex-Christians.”
While this is cause for justifiable alarm among church leaders, and should be treated as a wake-up call, I believe there are some encouraging signs, as well. More people in my church (and many other churches), for example, are beginning to wake up to the needs of a suffering world, and are taking seriously the Bible’s mandate to care for the poor. This is appealing to (and could be an avenue for communicating the gospel to) Generation Y — the “millennial” generation, the children of the baby-boomers — because they desire to be engaged in doing something positive for the world.
The rise of the Passion movement (268generation.com) among college students suggests that there are significant numbers of young people who are interested in seeing God be glorified and giving their lives to serve Christ and others. That movement has also helped drive the creation of a great deal of new worship music.
The church’s slow-but-steady adoption (and adaptation) of new communications and technology tools and strategies is also helping the church seem less “weird” to the Internet generation.
It should be noted that in other parts of the world, the church is growing dramatically — even explosively. The rise of the “leavers” may be a uniquely American thing at this point in history. And we shouldn’t forget that Jesus said he would build his church, and the gates of hell would not prevail against it. There is definitely hope for the church.
— Send e-mail to Doug Heacock at email@example.com.