One out of every three people in America is a “Boomer”; a part of the age group currently between 49-66 years of age. This generation has been known for its excesses and indulgence, characterized in the Tom Wolfe’s popular novel, The Bonfire of the Vanities. New research in the Associated Press-LifeGoesStrong.com poll reveals that the Boomers are the most obese generation in American history. Some believe that America is now reaping the “rewards” of these excesses, perhaps financially (amidst a recession) and even spiritually.
The infamous Boomers got their name because they were the children of the “Baby Boom”, that great increase in the childbirth rate that came when the soldiers (i.e., their fathers) got back from World War 2. The Boomers did not face a world war themselves, as did their parents, but they did face tremendous social change.
The Beatles and Elvis sang the fun songs of the Boomers; Bob Dylan sang the reflective ones. Rock and roll found an eager audience in this group. In their adolescence many of them were a part of the Hippies of the 60s, “free love”, “make love not war”, and the women’s movements. The heralded a “sexual revolution” and pushed the moral boundaries to the limit. They failed, however, to receive and pass on the high-value for marriage of many of their elders. They experimented with drugs.
The hipsters tie-die t-shirts, pony-tails and bandanas, however, were soon traded for power ties and high-powered positions in the free market. Boomers faced technological, educational and financial changes, as the economy grew rapidly.
John F. Kennedy’s death was a moment and a loss imprinted on this generation, as they saw a much-loved icon of their age brutally killed in the light of day. Also, the deaths of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy tore an even deeper wound into the Boomer soul and culture.
Overall, the Boomers have been a very individualistic generation. While very much concerned with issues of identity, personal growth and meaning, they were not good on long-term commitments. Many of their children would concur. The Boomers have been referred to as “The Divorce Culture.”The greatest technological influence on this culture was, no doubt, the television. Front porch visits with neighbors and family devolved quickly to sitting around the tube and being entertained in an individual (rather than communitarian) manner.
So, how does today’s leader respond to this Boomer generation? After all, they make up a large percentage of our congregations and communities. What does it take to best serve and engage their needs? How can their characteristics be utilized to serve the purposes of God today?
- The individual-oriented assertiveness of the Boomers needs to be understood, taught and tempered into authentic community experiences. Although Boomers, for the most part, lived out their careers with a self-help mindset, remember their adolescent years were saturated with images and ideas of community (even “communes” were in vogue at that time). So, teach them the value of sharing in Biblical community and encourage them to serve and work as a team in the church and community.
- So many of the Boomers spent their prime working years focused on simply making money and lots of it, that they are in great need of finding way to do something more “significant” and “meaningful.” Bob Buford’s book, HalfTime, continues to be a great tool to help Boomers rethink and reconsider how they will invest their post-career years. Many today are volunteering at shelters and even doing short-term Christian missions work.
- Don’t underestimate their capacities and the contributions they can make to your church or organization. Just because Boomers are getting older doesn’t mean that they don’t have substantial insights, leadership, vision and administrative skills to bring to the table. Get to know them and help them find their niche