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First Thoughts: Boomers, Millennials and the God of New Creation

 

I was in a meeting recently observing a group of Boomers who were planning a public policy push for a federal budget that retained monies for certain services for the poor and for disabled children. A communications consultant in her 20s jokingly told them there would be no guitars allowed at their rally, no singing of folk songs while holding hands in a circle.

"This is not the '60s," she said with a tinge of generational hubris.

It was a gentle, humorous, but pointed put-down of the older generation based on stereotypes that all Boomers were involved in social protests in the '60s, and all protests included people singing folk songs while holding hands and swaying to the music.

The stereotype has been promulgated by a media obsession with the flower children of that era. I can attest that the whole of the Boomer generation was not on the barricades in Chicago or smoking dope in Haight-Ashbury. Many were laboring at blue-collar jobs and others were fighting for their lives in Vietnam, among other things.

At another meeting, I heard a consultant of Boomer age discuss how the church is on the edge of a precipice and it won't be long before it teeters over the edge. The statistics point to a massive die-off of loyal Boomer church members over the next several years, leaving empty buildings, decimated membership rolls and depleted leadership.

I looked around and there were a fair number of Millennials in the room of 200 people, all of them committed to the church and desiring that it become more relevant to the needs of the world.

I wondered if the consultant wasn't affected a bit by an institutional mindset bolstered by statistics that project the future based on the status quo. More to the point, I also wondered if he wasn't saying, "Look folks, when we Boomers are gone, it's all over. We've been the generation that has been catered to and we have influenced the culture for a lifetime. When we're gone, we'll be missed."

A touch of Boomer arrogance.

In fact, Millennials are having vibrant conversations about how to live as followers of Jesus in the 21st century. They are not only important, but they also are helping to redefine what we call faith communities. We're living through a hinge point in history. What comes next is not yet clear. But, what is clear is that many institutional forms that exist now won't survive. They must adapt and rethink, or they'll go the way of ... hm-m-m, let me see ... newspaper publishers, telephone utilities, record companies, bookstores. You can name your own tradition-bound organization that failed to adapt to a new reality.

My hunch is that the Millennials will reshape the church and faithful living in ways that cannot be foretold at this time. But, if this is to happen, I also have a hunch that Boomers and Millennials will need to look beyond the stereotypes, the institutional blinkers and the misplaced self-importance that limit our vision and see the God of Creation who is already at work in the world, the One who says "Behold, I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?" (Isaiah 43:19)

The Rev. Larry Hollon is publisher of Interpreter and general secretary of United Methodist Communications. Read his FAITH MEDIA+CULTURE blog at www.larryhollon.com.