Society has shifted and changed to accommodate the size and preferences of each generation in its own time. What changes are on the horizon as the baby boomers grow older and, along with other generations, exert their influence?
If the changes that have taken place thus far are the equivalent of small ripples, the alterations to come are of giant wave proportions. Three giant waves are already on the way. We need not wait for the elephants to run.
In four years, the oldest baby boomers hit 65. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) has been sounding the trumpet, while major advertising firms have recently realized the power of these 78 million people. A Harley-Davidson ad states: 'Next time Granny gets her chopper, she doesn't mean her teeth.' Global auto manufacturers have designed retro models to tug the heart and purse strings of this demographic. News reports shout that by 2030, most U.S. states will experience a 50 to 70 percent increase in seniors.
In developed countries around the world, the demographics are similar. Italy, Japan, and Sweden are disappearing. Russia now pays mothers to have another child. 'This is the new reality for cities and towns everywhere| if they don't provide services for seniors, they will lose them.'¹ The same is true for the church. Will bus ministry become the 'gray line?'
Boomers will not retire to bingo. Many will seek meaning for their final spiritual quest, and in some cases help others to find meaning in life. Originally, Abraham Maslow's highest rung of development was not self-actualization but transference. Self-actualization is 'to reach one's own potential, self-fulfillment, or peak experiences.' Transference, on the other hand, is to 'help others realize their potential.'² This is servant leadership at its best!
Thus, Nazarene Boomers, or 'Nazoomers,' will not be content dusting pews or stuffing envelopes. The most educated generation in history, they are teachers, doctors, nurses, engineers, business chiefs, and small business owners soon to be released to emerge from success to significance. Many have the talents to become trainers, short-term missionaries, life coaches, and mentors.
For example, China will soon be home to the world's largest population of English-speaking people. One province numbers its shortfall of English teachers at 10,000. Christian workers may not gain work visas, but teachers and business trainers can do so easily, utilizing Christian literature or songs as teaching aids.As active philanthropists, Boomers demand a greater say in giving. The founder of Microsoft will soon devote himself full time to choosing, directing, and measuring the results of his gift fortune. The old 'give and pray' model is being swallowed by the 'study, measure, and triage' paradigm. This sea of change will spread from the upper one percent to the middle class.
If a Nazoomer were to say, 'I am going to donate $50,000 to XYZ charity' most pastors would be shocked. Do we have the same reaction if the person says, 'I am going to donate my time next year to XYZ charity?'Are we missing the greatest opportunity for volunteers in history?
The Joys of Small Church
Emerging in the last decade, mega churches are hot. Rick Warren wrote this decade's blockbuster and Bill Hybels heads an association of thousands of churches. Bill Sullivan, former director of the Church of the Nazarene's USA/Canada Mission/Evangelism Department, initiated K-Church and now nearly 60 Nazarene churches in the U.S. have-or soon will have-an average of 1,000 in weekly worship attendance. Lost in the hype is the quiet success and vital importance of the small church.
Carl S. Dudley, professor emeritus of Hartford Seminary, asserts that, 'small churches are not organizational errors to be corrected, but intentional choices of members who put a priority on human relationships.'³ Kenneth Crow, Nazarene Research Center manager, adds, 'Nevertheless, existing small churches tend to be condemned among Protestants. [And yet] among the churches that existed throughout the last decade (1997 through 2006), those that were smaller than 100 in worship at the beginning of the decade received 108,506 new Nazarenes during the last 10 years. Churches of 100 to 250 received 99,838 and churches with a beginning worship average of 250 or more received 81,218 new Nazarenes.'4
How do we honor the thousands of pastors, missionaries, and laypersons tirelessly laboring unheralded in the hamlets and byways around the world? Have you encouraged your pastor or teacher lately?
As the cost of a bachelor's degree approaches $90,000 (U.S.), Christian universities are pricing themselves out of the market. Those lacking a placement office may not offer even rudimentary career search assistance. Techies know that by their third year, the knowledge gained as a freshman is already obsolete. No longer is Nazarene higher education the automatic choice for even the most loyal Nazarene.
A disruptive innovation is one that is 'good enough' and significantly more cost effective. As an on-line educator, the University of Phoenix, is now the largest in the world and growing at a rate of 60,000 students per year. Major companies are concluding that this path is good enough. How about year-round colleges or joint partnerships with community colleges for non-core coursework? What about newly called pastors in the bush country of Swaziland or the rice paddies near Tongren? Can they be expected to leave home and hearth to pursue an ordination path? Who will bring a 'good enough' solution that meets the needs of exploding house churches? The fields are 'ripe for harvest' (John 4:35).
Are the laborers few because we have limited the supply by creating a 'too good' solution? For the first time in history, the laborers may be abundant as well. However, we must recognize, honor their contributions and alternative pathways of life learning, and plug them in to the world harvest field.
Jerry Duff has coached over 10,000 executives in 10 world areas and provides consulting help without charge to pastors and churches.
¹ USA Today, May 13, 2007, 'Cities Gird for Getting Grayer'² 'Abraham Maslow,' www.wikipedia.org³ Carl S. Dudley, Effective Small Churches in the 21st Century4 Kenneth Crow, 'Choice Points: Group Size and Evangelism/Discipleship,' (ANSR 2007)
Holiness Today, July/August 2007