Dear Aussie Church-goers,
I think it's safe to say I am in a minority group of church-going Christian Australians today as a Gen Xer. This letter is not intended to be the only opinion or voice from my generation on current 'church' rather simply a letter for you to consider.
It seems to me, many church people here in Australia have forgotten about my generation and are focusing on rebuilding the church through Millennials and therefore are relying on the church-going Baby-Boomers and older to mentor Millennials, or worse still, Millennials to mentor each other through their own peer groups.
I’ve read A LOT about pastors and churches adapting, in a strategic effort to provide a ‘relevant’ church for Millennials. There is much to read on this topic both online and in published literature. I’m sure if you’re well-read you’ll know what I mean; skinny legged pants and Hillsong music verses traditional worship, or experience verses absolutes.
I have found there is not much around to read on the churches meeting the needs of Gen Xers in comparison to the Millennials. What I have read predominately has been generic ‘church relevance’ and basically of the importance of intergenerational family worship with children being included during the service. While I agree this is a fantastic and inspired message I am sad to say is it’s not happening enough. What I do see so much of is routine…service and programs…service and programs...service and programs…service and programs.
Why are the intergenerational worship services and the real Christian communities doing life together so few and far between? I acknowledge they’re out there but I think the majority of churches across denominations are still simply services and programs…services and programs…
I’m sorry, but this just doesn’t cut it for me and I honestly think I can say this on behalf of MANY Australian Gen Xers, even if they couldn’t be bothered articulating it, or thinking about why church is so lacking for us. It may help you to think of us Gen Xers as the ‘Middle Child’…You know the one who feels overlooked, forgotten, and who feels the reality of being the ‘thinking’ middle child. But before you feel like disregarding us and labelling us as the complaining, all-too-hard-to-please generation, hear me out…You see we were taught to think and feel, to challenge the status quo, and it would be good if you older people practiced what you taught us to do, by really engaging with us.
From a Gen Xer still in church today, it can feel like most church-going Christian Australians have given up on my generation. I think many Baby-Boomers may feel at a loss with us, as their own children have not taken up the faith, resulting in a resignation to defeat. I see Baby-Boomers who have resigned to taking their grandchildren to church services rather than continuing to try and reach their own children. Sadly a response like, “Oh well they’re adults now what can I do?” can prevail. Not that taking the grandchildren to church is wrong. It’s a good idea but it should be done with the right mindset of reaching the WHOLE FAMILY not just the kids. Whole families need saving for our faith to be passed most effectively.
But let me encourage you with two truths. First scripture, ‘…The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.’ James 5:16b and ‘faith without works is dead’ James 2:14. Secondly, the fact that we ‘middle children’ are not so removed we’re only one generation away from Baby-Boomers or Millennials and therefore we share characteristics with each group...We aren’t really so difficult to understand!
The Church MUST pray for Gen Xers and work with expectant faith for them to return to the Church community.
With the above said, I hope I can write this letter to help the Church here in Australia better understand my generation. I want to make it clear I am not writing an academic paper, simply a letter from my experience as a church-going Ordinary Aussie Gen Xer which I hope can create some honest reflection and discussion. Here are my thoughts for your consideration:
- We mostly have been well educated and taught the discipline of critical thinking. This can result in sermons not being ‘meaty’ enough (don’t get me wrong we like a good hook, just like a witty joke, but we want real exegesis of scripture…MAKE US THINK MORE…we get tired of spiritual milk for infants…make us WANT to go home and get our Bibles out please! Make scripture relevant as it truly still is. Stop giving sermons where you say what you want, and then add a scripture to support it – I can read blogs for that! We want meat we can pass onto our children. We like apologetics. We appreciate sermons relating to current events as we don’t want to have our faith so far removed from our lives that Christianity has no place in current events and conversations. The idea that politics, religion and the like, are not polite conversation is not for us. Give us sermons from scripture and then weave into that a pertinent current issue.
- We’ve been raised with the foundation of the equality of both sexes and the beauty in diversity. We’ve grown up with the value of both sexes being given equal opportunity for education and jobs. I personally appreciate masculinity and its’ strengths while enjoying being feminine. I find beauty in both tradition and modern rawness. I express myself in the security of being a woman highly valued by my Heavenly Father, so when someone tries to assert authority over me or intellectual superiority because of their age and/or gender I will not respect them. I will see this as a desperate attempt to ‘pull-weight’ based on no foundation other than control. If you want a Gen Xer’s respect treat them as a diverse peer, period.
- We are similar to Millennials in that we respond to authenticity however we go one step further because when we sniff-out hypocrisy, we don’t usually accept it just being ‘their-way’. We’ll wait a while, quietly observing for change and if it doesn’t come we’ll walk. We don’t accept ‘crap’ for long, or continue with church due to modern music; we can listen to that in our car! Don’t preach to us of Christian love and family and never invite us over for a meal and/or ignore our text messages. There are plenty of other social clubs for basic interaction. Don’t tell us to live our faith passionately then not support us in our outreach efforts or church ideas when they’re not your own. We don’t buy the notion of people being ‘too busy’ – We want leaders who don’t just ‘do their job’ and a Christian family who just doesn't ‘do church’ we want PASSION! We’d rather talk to the little old lady at the back who is always present; who looks us in the eyes when we speak; who doesn’t rush us off and who doesn’t look around to see who is noticing her; for we know she’s legit. But when hypocrisy comes from the leadership, no, we won’t stay. We’d honestly rather hang out in environments not good for us, with people who give us the time of day and want to chat irrespective of age difference, for who wants to be lonely?
- Stop ‘Baby-sitting’ our kids with programs and impart solid biblical doctrine and your passionate Christian faith to our children. Yes, it’s our job to impart our own faith to our kids (Gen Xers are not lazy, stop thinking we are, we’re actually jaded) but we want our kids to hear it FROM OTHER PEOPLE NOT JUST US! We can take our kids to the playground any day…STOP telling our kids they can do ANYTHING…Tell them the truth about life about how they can receive eternal salvation and find purpose for their life through Jesus Christ!!!
- Leaders have moral standards and live them out transparently. Gen Xers have current world-wide events in their newsfeeds daily. We hear when church leaders fail morally with their own families. We hear of Christians fighting and when scripture is disregarded. We are suspicious people and trust must be earnt. Family is of such a high priority I believe many Aussie Gen Xers don’t want to even try church because of past paedophilia. You may think being oh so relaxed and easy going is a great thing but church discipline is now basically unheard of. I ask you to consider how that may make me as a parent feel? Do I believe you’ll fight for me and my children if there was an injustice when I don’t hear you apologise, and when you are so quiet on issues to not offend?
- Disciple us as friends. I know this point is going to ruffle some feathers because it will make many feel uncomfortable, going against what we’re taught in Australian theological colleges (yes, I have the degree to say this). Boundaries are sensible but the local church has taken them to the extreme, in my opinion. Jesus spent 3 years with His disciples and then called them His friends (read John, esp. chapter 15). Friends can be trusted and delegated responsibilities. Gen Xers want real relationships to be the fruit of their free-time activities. I know what it’s like to be in local churches and to never receive a phone call from one person; no personal invitations to personal gatherings that aren’t church related, like birthday parties; to receive no real discipleship to mature in my faith or mentoring, to have to pursue this solely on my own; to be treated like a number, a rear-end on a seat filling a building for a couple of hours a week; to move house and have not one person offer to help; to move to a new town and have no welcome for me or my family from the local church when they knew we were there; to be gossiped about...yes it eventually gets back to the person!
Yet I must say I also have experienced some wonderful church relationships where I have been supported, grown and respected as a friend. I recently experienced an amazing welcome when visiting a church from some genuine older faithful people. Yet sadly today this seems to be far too often the exception. As a Gen Xer I don’t want to go to church to meet someone else’s need of having rear-ends on seats, so they can deliver THEIR service to more than one person and receive their pay check. Since when has church only been about meeting the needs of the pastor or giving an unspoken message of conform because we’re right or move on? Where is the diversity in worship styles being embraced? I want to do life and ministry alongside people I know don’t just say they love me…
- Baby-Boomers live your faith through relationship not by religion. ‘Show us’ your faith by sharing with us your stories of relationship over coffee, rather than burdening us with your opinions like… ‘You really should go to church and take the kids!’ Why would Gen Xers, when it means nothing to them? Show us holiness and the love for Jesus lived out in humility. We’ve been provided with first rate extra-curricular activities growing up mostly, so we know what socialising is all about. We don’t need religious activities to add to our family’s calendar, really we’re busy enough. We need to seek an encounter with the LIVING GOD ourselves! We’re interested in the super-natural so tell us about your experiences. Give us a taste of Jesus to make us hunger ourselves. If you don’t have these stories maybe you need to seek Him over religion. Don’t treat us any longer as your kids…we’re not…Gen Xers are all grown up and the majority is lost. Outreach to my generation with the truth about life PLEASE!
- Come alongside Gen Xers with your authentic faith and be prepared to back it up with action. Pray for us Gen Xers in your life (James 5:16b) and then back it up with true, inconvenient outreach (James 2:14). Stop expecting us to chase you. Yes, us Gen Xers may be the annoying, opinionated ‘middle-child’ for you Baby-Boomers and Millennials but you know what, get over yourselves and love us authentically anyway and quickly, even if we don’t meet any of your personal needs, because the church is not a true family gathering when it misses a generation…even if it is more comfortable like the Christmas dinner where no-one is inconvenienced because the ‘difficult one’ is spending it alone, or drinking the day away with their peers! Stop saying all the right things; start doing them to everyone not just your favourites and don’t stop; then you’ll have Gen Xers on board like you wouldn’t believe and will have the older to come alongside the younger as it should be.
Your Christian sister, Melanie.
If you'd like to contact me regarding this letter my public email is email@example.com