Baby Boomers Are Returning to Church

July 16, 2018
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The rebellious generation may become the religious generation.

Baby boomers, those born between the years 1946 to 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 at USC by then-assistant professor Vern Bengston. His successors have collected a ninth round of data in this 45-year study. The research was funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

It is amazing. Absolutely amazing.

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, 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, and 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 and are 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. Such an awareness is driving them to find more meaning in the lives they do have.

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 (maybe they are “groovy”).

How can we respond to this opportunity before us? Specifically, what can your church do to reach these more receptive boomers?

Let me hear your thoughts and ideas.

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33 Comments

  • P. Jean Smith says on

    I have a question concerning the comment by Rick Chromey. I have always understood the “Baby Boomers” were those born from 1945-1960, not 1943. WWII ended in ’45 but was still going strong in ’43. Is there another category of people born from 1938 to 1945? My husband and I are both in this group. When I taught American history I called this group “The War Babies.” This might seem insignificant at first glance but it is not. This was the bunch that was not interested in the Big Band music or war songs of the 1930s and ’40s. When they were teens in the mid-50’s they were on the ground floor of Rock and Roll. Like it or not, that changed everything. Our group was the first to experience multiple and wonderful changes in science and medical advances. Remember polio vaccinations? True “Happy Days.” Higher education was easily accessible and inexpensive. My high school graduating class of 1960 was the largest freshman college/university class in American history. Church was fairly traditional for our bunch. We did not question everything like the “Boomers.” I could elaborate on what it meant to be reared by parents of the Greatest Generation but I’ve asked my question. I read this site every day. Keep up the good work.

  • It is good to hear that somebody is returning to church. But what will we do with those who are there and those who are returning? We must teach them what God’s Word says and how to apply those truths to their lives. A great Bible study my church has used for several years is The Biblical Path of Life (www.biblicalpath.com). It teaches through the Bible while revealing that the whole Bible is all about Jesus and the plan of redemption from the beginning. What more important truth can we teach?

  • Tricia Garback says on

    I’m seeing more boomers returning, not to the churches that are pushing children’s programs, but those that have programs, activities and missions available to adults, or multigenerationally. We are seeing them come “back” to our church with the increase in small groups for adults, rather than an ongoing effort towards Christian Ed only for children.

  • Robbie Norman says on

    We have been experiencing an increase in boomers at our church. Many grew up in church and strayed. Now they’re coming back. They’re not just attending either. They’re involved in a wide variety of ministry opportunities. Other boomers that are coming have no history in church. The “coming back to church” boomers are inviting and investing in the “unchurched” boomers. It’s awesome to see.

  • Mark A. Owens says on

    Interesting. I myself am a last year “boomer” (born in ’64). I’ve noticed exactly what this article reports in my time doing God’s Work. Not having been brought up in church, or educated in Seminary, the pastorate has been a school of hard knocks. I realize that may ‘disqualify’ my opinion to many reading this. BUT GOD, in HIS infinite wisdom, chose to use me anyway. As for the mega church built on the backs of boomers, I can see that. And, I can see the dilemma of the GenX and Millennial generation’s revolving door.

    In my humble opinion, I believe we have to start looking at how we do church much differently than in generations past. The corporate style management of the church has programmed and structured her into the place we find her today. A call to revisit the Biblically defined operation of the offices of deacons, elders, and pastors needs to be revisited. Chief Elders (Pastors) have one role: To equip the Saints. We have lost our way when deacons become the business managers who must sign off on every proposal for anything. Elders are so much more than silver-haired members who only advise pastors and try to corral deacons.

    The message has never changed: Jesus is Lord of All, He died for our sins, He alone can save us if we will believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths that He is Lord. God sent Him to do this because He loves His greatest creation – Mankind. When someone accepts this as TRUTH, they are Born Again and now they have a story(testimony) of their own.

    The equipping comes when we understand the Bible and how we can follow it literally and absolutely. Our job as believers is two-fold: 1) Put on the Full Armor of God and go tell our stories; and 2) Lovingly teach every discipline that Jesus teaches us in the WORD to any new believers making them disciples. In these things we Love God, Love Others, and Reach The World. I believe that Jesus said that ‘loving God and loving others’ is the most important thing we can do and in doing so we glorify God.

  • Good word,
    We just started Country Fellowship in College Station. Baby Boomers are the target fir this new start.
    Are high attendance has been 79. We have been going for 13 weeks. At our Movie Outreach / I can only imagine.
    We had 12 professions of faith between the ages of 50+( one lady was 87 years old)
    2 from the ages of 39 to 49.
    We are singing traditional hymns and doing relevant sermons. We are a SBC church renting a Brethren Church on Sunday Nights.

  • Andrew Beni says on

    This is good news. Jesus is always at work building His church despite the best laid plans and worries of men over the sustainability of His church.
    My prayer is that we, as followers of Jesus, will cast our nets into these waters and fish for these men and women, by just asking them to come to our churches.
    That’s the simple model Jesus left us – “follow me”, and they did.
    This data is just pointing us to a great fishing hole. Now we have to go there and fish!

  • Hey Thom, Good article. Since you have a lot of research and data available about reaching out to boomers, how about putting the information online or in a pamphlet. I would gladly pay for it. I guess I could do it myself, but at 73 I might not live long enough to use what I had researched. Good article.

  • Minnesota Dave says on

    In a past life I was a seniors’ care and living administrator, in an evangelically sponsored organization. Our chaplaincy program was intentional about reaching these seniors for the Kingdom. Our situation was proof positive that aging people are not closed to the gospel. In our ministry to 3-400 per year, a couple dozen people came to Christ each year. All it took was intentionality.

    The large church I attend has, I believe, a successful ministry to seniors. Contrast Rick’s suggestion that many boomers are taught by only boomers (which didn’t sound very exciting the way it was worded). Though they have the choice of traditional vs. contemporary/blended worship, they mostly attend the traditional worship service where the teaching provided by the same younger pastors that teach in the contemporary/blended services. 1/3 to 1/2 of those who attend this worship service also attend an Sunday School for people their age. But . . . the teaching/discipleship is again typically provided by teachers of all ages, not just of their age.

    In addition to their interest in continuing discipleship the invitation is always open, and a great number respond, to the opportunity to work/voluneteer in our church’s food shelf, in a religiously affiliated thrift store that supports missions/ministries. Both of these opportunities very often result in people being reached for the Kingdom.

    My point is this – when we intentionally offer discipleship opportunities that aren’t “boxed in” by traditional or false assumptions, and intentionally invite them into meaningful ministry opportunities, they engage! And they often “bring others with them.!

  • Edgar E. Fulcher (Ed) says on

    As Steve Brown would say;
    ‘I’m studying for Finals!’

  • Thom, this is old news. Boomers (born 1943-1960) have been “returning” to Church since the 1980s. The megachurch was built on the backs of a Boom generation four decades ago. The only difference today is they have more time to devote to their churches (I do see this in my own research and observations), but that’s to be expected of a generation fully in retirement.

    The real question is what will the Church do to reach aging Gen Xers (b. 1961-1981) and Millennials (b. 1982-1998)? The latter, especially, was raised in a Boomer-led renaissance of church ministry excellence and specialized children’s and youth ministries–featuring the finest resources, events and curricula–and yet these Millennials continue to leave the Church in droves.

    Meanwhile a lot of those celebrated Boom megachurches are also aging fast. The one I attend has an average age of 55. The children’s ministry is a shell of what it once was. The youth ministry in disrepair. And yet 3000, mostly Boomers, will attend to worship every Sunday and listen to an aging Boomer preach God’s Word…and then go home. Less than 10% are involved in any Christian education (small group, Sunday School) outside of Sunday morning worship service.

    That’s simply not a sustainable model for any church. As boomers die in the next two decades so will these megachurches if they don’t reinvent to reach younger postmodern generations.

    Still, as you say, it’s always a good thing to see a generation, any generation, return to its spiritual moorings. I hope we’ll see a true return of my generation (Xers) in the coming years. Thank you for your research and commentary.

    • Thank you, Rick. Our readers would love to see your research. Please provide us a link.

    • Craig Giddens says on

      Yes, it is too bad Paul didn’t leave us any guidance or instructions on how to reach the different generations …… or did he?

      • God showed us the way in that He is not some far away God. He came down from heaven to earth to live among us. Even more so, He lives IN us! You reach any and all people through personal relationship just like how God reached us.

  • Angel Moore says on

    My thought is that it all goes back to the children or grandchildren. Show the boomers we want to love and nurture the ones they love and they will want to be connected as well. This is my hope anyway. Thanks for all the research you all provide.

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