Baby Boomers Are Returning to Church


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.

Posted on July 16, 2018

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Hey Thom, Good article. Since you have a lot of research and data available about reaching out to boomers. I find this extremely hopeful and energizing. Thanks for the sharing this.

  • I have been looking at the “numbers” for some time – beginning in 2011, about 4 million boomers have been ‘retiring’ each year.. roughly 10,000/day. There are approximately 11 years and 44 million boomers to go until they (we) have all reached 65. There is a huge opportunity to reach out to them (us) especially in the Godless corridors of America – the East & West coast states, and Northeast. The church might also want to consider how to help solve the impending need of limited-income retirees for food & lodging. Could we set up inner city housing for the (spritely) aging who can also bless their community by teaching English, tutoring children, and acting as surrogate grandmothers & fathers? Such houses could be served by the no so limited in income, too.

  • Jaci McNeil says on

    I find this extremely hopeful and energizing.

  • Dr. Rainer Thanks for this post. This is the space I live in, and have been shouting from the rooftops for two years that there is a good opportunity to reach aging boomers due to the ground shifting our feet. Beyond the Longitudinal Study, there are two other factors giving aging adults/older boomers a sense of need to connect spiritually.

    1. The demise of the Optimal Aging Model- Since the early 1960s the Optimal Aging model in Gerontology has instructed us if we eat right, exercise, cognitively stay active- generally we will age well. The model is being challenged by several recent studies show the Quality of Life indicators for older adults is less now than 20 years ago (2016 Older Americans: Key Indicators for Well Being FTF Age Related Statistics). Older boomers are now waking up the reality that if they keep living, one of two will have life altering dementia by age 85. This is give happy go lucky (mid 60s early 70s) boomers pause to ask the question what is really important in life as they face an uncertain time in the next 10 to 15 years.

    2. Financial uncertainties for Boomers.- Medical Technology will keep boomers alive longer than any other previous generation. Many who planned well for retirement are recognizing they will outlive saved resources as prices for items such as healthcare continue to rise. Many companies are doing public help seminars for boomers on how to “Unretire Yourself” as older boomers see the need for additional income, and younger boomers are seeing the need for good health to continue working past traditional retirement expectations. This is causing many boomers to recognize a need for help from someone larger than themselves.

    The good news is we possibly we have a great opportunity to share the gospel with people who were unapproachable 20 and 30 years ago! I am praying for a harvest of my fellow boomers in the next 10 years.

    Sorry for the long comment, but this is something I see everyday. Thanks for opportunity to share.

  • Really appreciate the encouraging post!

    As for some of the ideas in the comment stream? I am confused. How is it a bad thing if a church is founded and leads hundreds to faith in Christ even if it is viable only for say 10 years?

    Years ago in the SBC I was taught the local 501(c)3 is a voluntary association for the propagation of the gospel. A tool.

    Jesus will build His Church.

    If a local church tool can win many baby boomers for Jesus, go for it! So what if it won’t be around in 20 years–neither will they! NOW is the time to win them, maybe the last chance.

    There are many churches being planted for the millennials, gen-x, and so on. That is also wonderful!

    On the local level it may be more effective to be either or instead of both and.

    Whatever sees souls saved, really saved.

    Jesus will handle the longevity of institutions. Our job is to be harvesting.

  • Steve Baccus says on

    I am on the younger end of the Boomers, born in 1960. I am curious to know if Boomer Ministers (or any generation, really) are retiring earlier and earlier. I know of more than a few who have retired early because congregations are becoming so much more demanding (that’s my theory, anyway). Grace and Peace.

  • Tiwirai Kufarimai says on

    Thank you Thom.

    I am in a new appointment in a church as of July 1. What I am discovering is that this generation have some real cool and simple ideas.

    These two weeks alone, I have talked to more than ten while visiting their loved one in the hospital. Some of them have been leaders and innovative all their working life and they are willing to give their expertise.

    I think if we open up opportunities for them to create small groups, they will be excited to know that they can be part of both growing their faith and impacting other people’s lives.

  • Minnesota Dave: I would be interested in hearing what your church is doing to intentionally reach this generation. I have struggling with this and reached it to about 18 churches, most with 400 plus in attendance (a number close to a 1000) and of the 10 who responded only 1 answered that they were intentionally reaching out to this group. All but two of these churches in SC, NC and Fl have a staff person with this group as a major ministry responsibility.

  • Lillian Carpenter says on

    I think Angel Moore made a good observation, but my first thought was the opposite. I think that it is a very positive thing that the children and grandchildren of these boomers are getting possibly a second chance through their parents and grandparents. There can be a great impact from learning from the mistakes and rebellion of others, and how Christ being restored or accepted in their life has such a life changing effect. I also think there was something touched on in the article that we need to be mindful of and that is with all the distractions of our busy lives with careers and families we must set aside time to hear from God in all seasons of our lives.

  • I graduated in 1992 with my D. Min from Columbia Seminary in Decatur, GA. My project was entitled, “Attracting and Assimilating Baby Boomers into a Southern Baptist Church.” That was a fun defense in the midst of some staunch Presbyterians. My basic theory was, “provide for the ministry needs of their children, and the boomer adults will follow them.” I believe I have seen that in my 28 years in the Mississippi Delta. My publication was the model for my church when I came here as I was developing those thoughts as I arrived. NOW I see much of the same as boomer grandparents are looking on behalf of their grandkids (even though some of their kids disconnected from the church in their early parenting years) and are attracted to where those kiddos needs are being provided for and met. Establishing the need for a “Children’s Minister” in those crucial years was a real key to that success.

  • What advise (encouragement or discouragment) would you give to a 73 year old seriously considering starti g up a new church. Plan is to bring alongside a more youthful young pastor to eventually take over. Comments please..

  • william hartley says on

    A cautionary tale from the Arizona desert.

    As churches here have “taken advantage” of the older generations’ interest in spiritual things. many have “succeeded” in “reaching” these people, only to find that their churches, now a hive of older adults, are not places that younger adults have any interest in attending.

    Boomers make up 22% of our population. Gen-Xers and Millennial adults make up 42%, and that’s not counting today’s youth, who are considered Gen-Z. Would we really be duped into chasing the low hanging fruit of the subset of not-already-religiously-affiliated boomers at the expense of reaching the next generations?

    If we don’t figure out gospel outreach to Millennials, the church is in huge trouble. If we ignore them now, to double down on Boomers, we might as well admit that we’re on hospice care.

    I’m a boomer. What I want most in my church is that it be a vital, intergenerational place.…/us-population-share-by-generati…/