What was the church like when Boomers were teens? Here’s the story of a friend of mine when she was a teen in Southern California:
You couldn’t even see the church from the road. It was set in a ravine. A solitary rectangular building surrounded by the barren brush of a Southern California arroyo, it housed the sanctuary (we didn’t call it a worship center back then), four classrooms (one doubled as the kitchen), the nursery, and restrooms. Brush-covered patios served as additional Sunday School space. This was the church of my baby boomer youth—an unlikely training camp for church leaders of the future.
Even in the Baptist pioneer territory of Southern California, teenaged Baby Boomers were making their mark and putting pressure on the ministries of developing churches. Our parents and church leaders knew that something had to be done to help us grow in our faith and keep us engaged in active church involvement. Our church could not employ the leadership of a seminary trained staff minister or budget for a full time program of activities, but under the guidance of a volunteer youth leaders (a privilege rotated among our parents), we maintained an active youth group comprised of about twelve teens from 3-4 church families and a few friends from school.
Though our number was small, we were expected to be regular attenders in Sunday School and prepared to present our “parts” in Training Union. We looked forward to Sunday night youth fellowships (rotating weekly in our homes), and youth choir (6 girls and 2 guys)—all led with lots of loving attention from a cadre of adults who kept their eye on us, inside church, and out. Additional activities included the Youth for Christ (YFC) rally every Saturday night, with Bible study team meetings during the week to prepare for the heated competition at the rally. YFC choir practice and off-campus prayer meetings rounded out the week. Each summer we would participate in the associational youth camp. In addition to the youth activities, my small church provided me the opportunity to serve as church pianist, GA (Girl’s Auxiliary) leader, soloist, Beginners (now known as Preschool) Sunday School teacher, and even church secretary—all before I reached the age of seventeen.
I know that this was not the typical church experience of Boomer teens in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Back in the southern and mid-western Bible Belt, there were big red brick churches framed by massive white columns, with huge sanctuaries, large choirs, multiple buildings, and even paid youth ministers on staff. To accommodate the escalating influx of Baby Boom teenagers, their youth programs came complete with touring youth choirs, youth musicals, youth groups, youth retreats, youth camps, and youth trips, not to mention the standard programs: youth Sunday School, Training Union, and missions organizations.
Donna’s observation is interesting. Even in California, where her church was smaller than Bible Belt churches, boomers were changing what happened in the church.
They’ve changed the church with every decade and life stage. Burgeoning nurseries when they were born, professionally staffed youth ministries when they were teens, the rise and growth of mega churches when they were young adults—every step of the way they’ve changed the expression of church in the U.S.
What will they do for the expression of church in the future? How will they change ministry to older adults? How will they transition out of leadership roles? What are you doing to prepare right now for those changes that are coming?
In the next few posts, we’ll explore some of the changes that are coming.
What changes have you seen already in the members in your church that are in the boomer population? Leave a comment, let me know.
Join me in the conversation.
Let’s reach our generation, in this generation, for Jesus Christ.