Cafeteria Church?

It has been ten years since the leading edge of the Baby Boom Generation turned fifty. The approximately 76 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964 have, by sheer force of numbers changed institutions and thinking in America. Their demographic weight has affected philosophy, the economy and fashion.
These days in clothing stores we ruefully turn to “Dockers,” a baggy Levi, which is “a looser fitting copy of the original,” to accommodate our aging anatomies. Now the Boomer Generation turns its attention to religion.
It goes without saying that as Boomers have changed everything else, so they will change the face of churches. How, churches ask themselves, can we attract Boomers? Terms such as “User Friendly” churches, and “Cafeteria Church” (where Boomer “customers” select items that are to their liking) have come into vogue. Wade Clark Roof notes that 58% of Boomers who grew up in churches dropped out, at least for two years during adolescence and young adulthood. Only about one third of these have returned to organized religion.
Some churches have sought the “seeker” model, based on the efforts of megachurches such as Willow Creek Community in Chicago. Contemporary music, drama, and messages based on “practical” subjects such as “self esteem,” “personal relationships” and “healthy living” are substituted for preaching on Biblical texts, or doctrine.
Kenneth H. Sidey (Christianity Today, August 1993) notes that while there seem to be fairly large numbers of Boomers present in churches on a given Sunday morning, that they in fact represent only about 40% of those boomers who claim to be members of such congregations. They might be there when the mood is on, or the right speaker is present, but the commitment does not run very deep, it seems. Churches may attract these kinds of people, but they cannot depend on them to provide the backbone of a growing, serving, preaching community of God’s people.
Boomers seem to say, “I’ll pick what meets my needs, and stay with it as long as it continues to do so.”
Jesus says, “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).
Churches may serve the consumer generation, but the challenge is to convert them. Are we converted? Or are we asking “what’s in it for us?” Is it not time we (for I, too, am a Boomer) began to serve, rather than be served?
If Jesus is not Lord of all, he’s not Lord at all.

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Stan Mitchell

Stan has preached since 1976, in Zimbabwe, California, Texas and Tennessee. He serves as preacher for the Red Walnut Church of Christ in Bath Springs, TN. He is currently Professor of Bible at Freed-Hardeman University. He is married to the former Marjorie McCarthy, and has one daughter, Tracy Watts. He is the author of four books: The Wise Get Wiser, the Foolish More Foolish: The Book of Proverbs, Give the Winds a Mighty Voice: Our Worship in Song, and Equipping the Saints for Ministry. He has recently published another book, "Will Our Faith Have Children: Developing Leadership in the Church for the Next Generation.

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