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Baby boomers are returning to church

| by Thom Rainer

Baby boomers—those born between the years of 1946 and 1964—are becoming more involved in church.

One of the most significant longitudinal studies (a study over many years) ever done provides a treasure trove of information for church leaders.

And one of the most significant findings is the increasing number of baby boomers becoming more involved in religious activity like churches.

This discovery is the major finding from the latest wave of data collected from the Longitudinal Study of Generations, which was originally developed in 1970 by professor Vern Bengston, then an assistant professor at the University of Southern California.

Bengston is now a research professor of social work at USC’s Edward R. Roybal Institute on Aging and the USC Suzanne Dwork-Peck School of Social Work. He has collected a ninth round of data in this 45-year study, with the research funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

It is amazing. Absolutely amazing.

The findings 

Here is the gem in the study: One in five boomers have increased their religious and church activity in the past few years.

Don’t take that statement lightly. Among the boomer generation—which didn’t necessarily follow “The Greatest Generation” in loyalty to leaders and institutions—20 percent are becoming more receptive to faith and church. That’s approximately 19 million boomers when the percentage is applied to the entire generation.

The study cited three major reasons for this shift:

1. Boomers have more time in their retirement years. No longer preoccupied with full-time jobs, they want to use that extra time pursuing a more meaningful life, including church.

2. Boomers are becoming more aware of the brevity of life. As Bengtson puts it: “Many of them want to set their house in order, so to speak, at the end of life.” This includes seeking answers to questions they had not previously asked.

3. Boomers are more aware of the fragility of life.They don’t have the young and healthy bodies they once had. Many have experienced a health crisis that has caused them to reassess what matters in life. Such an awareness is driving them to find more meaning in the lives they do have.

An opportunity unfolding 

Please, church leaders, don’t take this information lightly. I can’t recall a generation in my lifetime potentially returning to church in such numbers. The opportunities are incredible (and in the vernacular of the 1960s and ‘70s, maybe they are “groovy”).

Leaders will seize this opportunity by posing this question to their churches: How can we respond to this opportunity before us? More specifically, what can your church do to reach these more receptive boomers?

These are questions worth pondering in your quiet time, deacons meetings, leadership team meetings, even business meetings. Collectively, your congregation may come up with far more answers than you could on your own. 

Photo source: istock 

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. He is also a former pastor, seminary dean, and leader of a consulting firm. Rainer is the author or co-author of 25 books, including his latest release from B&H Publishing Group: Who Moved My Pulpit? Leading Change in the Church. His 2013 book, I Am a Church Member, has sold more than one million copies.

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This is what the Lord says—your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is good for you and leads you along the paths you should follow.
Isaiah 48:17 (NLT)
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