Ministries shaped for the sensibilities of Generation X are growing and becoming more distinct from their origins in the megachurch movement.
Mother Jones magazine (July/August) reports that at least 150 religious congregations across the nation are mixing “fundamentalist ethics,” experimental liturgy and personal renewal to target Generation Xers. These congregations, located mostly near urban universities, emphasize community and a sense of family — especially tailored to the many young adults from broken homes. A major Generation X leader, Mark Driscoll of the Mars Hill Fellowship in Seattle, says that this “postmodern” movement is synthesizing the best parts of several traditions — evangelical ethics, Catholicism’s love of art, and mainline Protestants’ openness to cultural pluralism.
This new movement is popular because it doesn’t demonize youth culture, as do traditional fundamentalists; congregants aren’t challenged to renounce the outside world. These outreach ministries are finding significant support from Leadership Network of Dallas, an umbrella group for many megachurches.
From here comes direct financial help to Gen X churches. The Network also sponsors national conferences on this new ministry. The first gathering in 1996 attracted 300 participants, while last year’s drew 500, and this year’s is expected to draw over 1,000. Despite outreach to racial minorities, the movement consists largely of white middle-class young adults.
Although postmodern church leaders claim that they are turned off by the marketing and consumerism of megachurches, they use the “tenets of Generation X — ennui and skepticism,” as a way to draw members. If anything, there has been an increase in marketing and advertising among churches trying to attract the young, reports the Washington Post (July 18). The trend of selling religion as “something relevant and fun” is driving much of the growth in religious ads targeted to young adults — whether through billboard campaigns or on MTV.
The clientele of Impact Productions, a nonprofit ministry creating such ads, has grown from 150 pastors five years ago to 1,300 today. The article finds that not only independent megachurches are starting and supporting these new Generation X ministries. New Horizon United Methodist Church in Champaign, Ill was planned by denominational leaders as a new kind of youth-based church, based on contemporary worship and an interactive small group structure.
— Erling Jorstad contributed to this report.