Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Reaching Baby Busters(Gen X) With The Gospel


America is feeling the effects of the baby buster or "X" generation The "X" was (popularized by author Douglas Coupland, who took it from Paul Fussell's 1983 book, Class), those born from 1964 or 1965 to 1980, though some sources give the cutoff date as 1975.
They're called "busters" due to a decline in the U.S. birth rate during this period. There were about 43-46 million people born in the U.S. during the "bust" years; adding immigrants and subtracting deaths, it's estimated that there are now 41 million still alive today.
These 41 million members are an important consumer-buying group, representing $125 billion in spending power.
They're 20% of the U.S. population and consist of the following ethnic makeup: 70% White, 13% Black, 12% Hispanic, 4% Asian, and 1% American Indian.
They are an important evangelistic focus for the church that hopes to have a bright tomorrow as the builder and boomer generations age and pass from the scene. It is also important to recognize that just as the Builders who were in excess of 60% churched themselves had the boomers who followed them be less than 45% churched. This ‘passing the faith’ issue has been exacerbated, as the Buster or Gen Xers are currently only 18% churched.
I had the privilege of meeting with a little over 100 Gen X students. With the generation following the Busters, the Millenniums’  (Born after 1982) only 10% or less are churched  at this time. We must  take seriously as Church leaders the responsibility of sharing the faith with our own generation and passing the faith along to the next generation. This task will put demands on the existing church like we have not seen in decades and how we meet the challenge may determine the future of the church in our country.



In order to assist the leaders of the South Carolina Baptist Churches in their ministry I was asked to conduct a series of focus groups which would interview groups of churched and unchurched Baby Busters. I visited 6 major university campuses on which Baptist Student Union ministers. There were 11 groups of people interviewed 6 of the groups were primarily churched and active in Baptist Student Union and 5 who were not active and primarily unchurched. This report is not prescriptive but descriptive of what we heard.



The majority of the unchurched (over 50%) came from divorced and broken families. Among the churched the percentage was nearer 40% but it was clear to us the broken family was a shaping force for this generation. The pain of this divorce and brokenness was seen in both the comments and the visible body language of the participants.


The busters as a group want life to be fun. This was a comment heard in reference to Baptist Student Union and why they attended as well as to why they did what they did with their free time.


Sports, ER, Party Of  Five, Seinfeld, Cops, Days of Our Lives, and Cartoons were the most often mentioned. Three things emerged in the TV viewing patterns: 1. They like programs that portray real life, 2. They like programs that talk about real relationships, 3. They like programs that help them "zone out" and escape.


While there is a broad spectrum of preference the musical preferences mentioned most often were classic rock and alternative music. Country music was liked intensely by about 50 % of the group but the other 50% seemed to hate it. The common denominators were that the music should be contemporary, have a beat, and be fun to listen to.

Fathers and Mothers

Mothers were praised and many students both male and female expressed how much help and how close they felt with their mothers. Fathers were described as distant or absent. It was clear that the absence of a father figure and example caused pain in these students. Students whose parents had remained married called themselves lucky.


The baby busters live for today. The future is most often described as “scary”. There was a great deal of difficulty getting them to think much beyond the next few days.

Attention Span

The busters admit to having a short attention span. They state that if it doesn’t grab them they tune out quickly. They describe that which doesn’t have good flow and pace as boring.


The busters feel they live in a broken world and the role of their generation will be to fix all the problems created by previous generations.


Busters have rejected the easy divorce pattern of their parents. They describe marriage as “forever,” “takes work,” “permanent,” “a commitment to make it work.” The tend to talk about their grandparents rather than their parents as the good example.


The most common descriptions were “corrupt”, “too big”, and “distant” “too intrusive”. They have a basic distrust of the political system.

Inner self

Busters have a desire to live with self-integrity.  They describe themselves as having a lot of internal pain. They are concerned that they do what is right in relationships, and that they are accepted by their peers. They struggle with knowing how to change to what they want to become.


Scary and disease were the first words expressed. From the discussion with the unchurched it seemed clear that the fear of disease is doing more to drive persons to morality than abstinence for moral or spiritual reasons.


There is not much support for welfare, as it presently exists. The busters describe it as “abused” “a mess,” “overburdened” “needing an overhaul”.


In the context of the questioning I asked an open ended question, “When I say Southern Baptist (any other label could probably have been inserted) what’s the first things that come to mind. The perception of the church by the unchurched was the biggest surprise and shock to me as the researcher.


The unchurched and churched both condemned and described the church as racist. Christian kids having brought colored friends to church were told never to bring them back. Unchurched kids also described experience with churches that reflected an anti black pro white mentality. The busters describe themselves as tolerant and color blind. If this attitude is seen in churches it will virtually assure that this generation will be noticeable by its absence. It also knocks a huge hole in the traditional understanding of the homogenous unit principle. It was often assumed by church leaders that people wanted to worship “with our kind of people. The reality is, churches like this are the biggest turnoff to this generation as it reinforces the stereotype commonly held.


Baptist churches were describes as “intolerant”, “ Bible thumpers” and as “having more rules than God does”. People perceived this legalism and felt to become a member of a church would mean all fun in life would cease and they would be excepted to follow a long list of do’s and don’ts. Baptists were better known for what they are against rather than what they are for.


A good percentage of the unchurched had church experience. Both they and the church busters described church as boring, slow paced, and not relevant to their lives.


There was a condemnation of what they described as “too political”. Even among the churched Busters they spoke with disdain about how the business of the church was conducted and how much conflict they observed with the pettiness and political infighting in what was done.

Traditional and not relevant

The church keeps on doing the same things and doesn’t change and adapt to where the world is.


The non-churched knew Christians fall. Their condemnation is the hypocrisy of pretending you’ve got your act together when it is obvious you haven’t yet you condemn others for the behavior you exhibit.

Dress code

Both in these focus groups and previous groups people express that they don’t feel comfortable in Baptist churches because they either don’t like to dress up or can’t afford to dress up. This unwritten dress code was a frequently mentioned item.

God at a distance

The personal nature of God was seen as missing. They were looking for a God who is “right here” and felt that the church’s God was “out there”. Busters are looking for an immanent God who can be experienced and felt in the now. This might explain why Busters are attracted to cell or house churches.

A Sense of Family

The one item mentioned more often than any other and the only consistent positive remark about the church concerned the sense of acceptance and family that those who were regular participants felt.


I interviewed Baptist Student Union participants to discover what worked in evangelism. Methods that violate these finding are seen as ineffective.


A strong unconditional love for the prospect is prerequisite to any outreach. Having the bridge of friendship was seen as indispensable for any witness.


The BSU students acknowledged that it takes time, multiple exposures, and a willingness to hang in for the long haul.


The life of the witness either validates or invalidates the message. We heard from the unchurched a clear rejection of the message based on the life of the witness.


The willingness to care for people with no conditions.


We asked both churched and unchurched to describe the kind of church they would attend if given the chance. This list may be a valuable starting point for any church desiring to reach busters.


Music, use of audiovisuals were some examples of what they meant by contemporary.

Fast Paced

Services that are poorly planned and slow paced are described as boring.


The church that reaches the buster will be color and class blind.


Sermons and programs must help people make sense of the world they live in today. Religion to be relevant must be useful.

Small Groups.

The busters expressed the desire and importance of a non-threatening, caring, nurturing small group.


Busters are attracted to churches that on the outside appear to be successful

Socially Active
Busters want to be part of a church that does mission and is serving people in practical ways. They want to feel the church is making a difference.

They want a place to be accepted unconditionally.

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