I read an advanced copy of Baby Boomers and Beyond: Tapping the Ministry Talents and Passions of Adults over 50 by Amy Hanson (soon to be released by Leadership Network and Jossey-Bass). Baby Boomers are the generation born between 1946 and 1964, and the balloon demographic that has pretty much determined the shape-of-things-past over nearly sixty years of culture. Actually, Baby Boomers are now adults between 46 and 64. I was curious to compare this book with two other books on a similar theme from around 1990 (when boomers were between 26 and 44). These were How to Reach Baby Boomers by Bill Easum and Baby Boomer Spirituality by Craig Kennet Miller.
Miller emphasized the spiritual roots of Boomers (brokenness, loneliness, rootlessness, and self-seeking) which has pretty much shaped highly relational, feel good, praise worship; and their search for God (godliness, supernaturalism, and adventurousness) which has shaped affinities for small groups; and their expectation of the future (millennialism, globalism, and wholeness) what has shaped outreach ministries. Easum defined the “future-active” leadership style they appreciate, the streamlined results oriented boards they prefer, and their consumption of relevant programming for marriage and family and balanced lifestyles. He was among the first to point out their need to control and their penchant to shape the world (and the faith) around themselves.
It makes sense that the current Baby Boomer book focuses on church priorities for health, aging, and retirement. The boomers are mainly empty-nesters enjoying the legacy of good pensions. They want to stay young and active, and 20 years later many are still searching for that elusive purpose in life. They want to age well, but also learn how to be great grandparents and competent caregivers to their own aging parents. Many have been married at least twice, and would like this one to last. They want to put retirement to good use and bless somebody else for a change.
I think the best contribution of this book to the Baby Boomer literature is Part 3 that spells out implications for the church. This is one of those good news and bad news stories. The good news is that Boomers want to serve, they are looking for challenges, they don’t expect to be paid, and they are ready to think outside the box. The bad news is that Boomers are less spiritually mature than they think they are. They are still much as they were 20 years ago when Easum and Miller described them. They still tend to be self-centered, materialistic to the point of idolatrous, convinced they just need more continuing education rather than divine grace, and chronically neurotic.
I think Amy Hanson is very perceptive to suggest that as Boomers have aged they have also become much more diverse as a group. It is harder to generalize about “seniors” than ever before. The Men’s Breakfast and the Women’s Knitting Group just won’t do it. Yet I would like to go one step further. Today’s aging boomers have discovered that the church they shaped around themselves twenty years ago isn’t meeting their needs today. Their own creations have let them down. The praise worship, affinity groups, high tech, pop style, highly relational, balanced lifestyle, program church isn’t enough … and boomers are dropping out of their own church creations at an alarming rate.
Amy Hanson tells a poignant story (p.187) about one boomer’s “coming of age”. This grandparent suddenly realizes he wants to leave a different legacy for his grandchildren. It’s good to see the Me Generation stop thinking about itself, releases control, surrender to God’s mission. But isn’t it ironic that the catalyst is a concern about legacy … same priority that boomers rejected so long ago.