Posted by: beattieblog | August 25, 2010

More from Wuthnow and future of American Religion re: young adults – “millenial”, “buster” and “emerging congregations” not as significant as we thought?

Wuthnow tackles two significant common trends within the discussion of young adults and religion: (1) ascribing life-changing status to historical events for today’s young adults, and (2) ascribing too much influence to “emerging” congregations (emerging church?) when the impact of both these trends cannot be backed up by data. Withnow asserts that the significance of these two trends is more about the impact of popular literature and the personal experience of the authors and those close to them. I may be overstating his point but this is what he appears to be arguing:

Two reasons why we should be skeptical of what’s behing labels like “busters” (supposedly significant because this generation was smaller than the previous “boomer” and “builder” cohorts) and “millenials” (presumed young adults came of age around Y2K and were impacted by the “anticipated crisis” of Y2K)…

First, “there is simply no evidence that younger adults have currently have been decisively shaped by a particular historical event in the same way that the baby boomers were by teh Vietnam war or by their parents waiting until after World War II to marry and have children. Those events had major effects on family and personal life which, in turn, shaped how people participated in religious organizations ( (p. 5).”

Second, on being skeptical of generataional language: “pupular usages of it strain to draw contrasts with baby boomers, but in doing so are misleading. For interest, one reads in the popular literature that the millenial generation si supposedly defined by an interest in small fellowship groups that meet for prayer and Bible study during the week at churches or in homes. But precisely the same argument was made about baby boomers and, in fact, research has shown that baby boomers did gravitate to these groups. Thus it is hard to see why millenials should be identified on these grounds as a distinct generation. Similar claims are sometimes made aabout the distinctive interest of younger adults in personal experience as opposed to creeds or in novel liturgical styles…. Yet this was also said about baby boomers. The popular literature also makes arguments about ’emerging’ congregations that are somehow the wave of the future because they follow a new paradigm or hark back to models from the first centure of Christianity. These discussions are tantalizing. They suggest to church leaders that if they only follow some new pattern, their congregation will attract young adults and grow. But we need to be skeptical… Usually they are drawn from personal experience of a few people, rather than from respectable research. Moreover, they seem strained because they seek to define a new generation by identifying something distinctive about it, instead of recognizing both the variability among younger adults and the continuities between the presnt and the past (p. 5-6).”

–Is Wuthnow on to something? How much, in our media / sound-byte culture that often skips digging deeper and gaining true insight, have we in religious institutions been swayed by tantalizing discussions and compelling literature that in reality may not reflect the true needs / wants / spirituality of young adults?  It did get me thinking: how many people do I know who are truly engaged and a part of the “emerging church” these days? From a straight statistical standpoint, not that high a percentage in my world. Certainly I’ve been influenced and both my churches and seminary education have been influenced (for better and for worse) by the world of “emerging church.” But how wide has been the sweep of its influence, truly?

–On historical labels – what have been the ‘life-changing’ events of your history? I do think 9/11 impacted things – the question is did it really change / alter the development of young adults? I.e. what decisions were made differentlly as a result of 9/11? In studying history I think it may be true that we haven’t had a life-changing event on the level of WWII or Vietnam. What do you think?



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