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Class Theological Analysis Projects

"Bridging the gap between faith and culture"

By Paul Cannon, Dave Lafurge, Rolanda Ward, Lisa Zambarano


[Works cited in this project are listed in the Bibliography page]


Introduction to the Project

"Many Christians rightly sense that the church is a marginal factor in the lives of most Americans, and even of many self-identified Christians." (Kennesson and Street 1997, 15)

A gulf exists between the Christian church and American society. The statistics cited below demonstrate that Christian church membership as a percentage of national population is at a sixty year low. There is a sense among many church leaders that a crisis looms, especially in mainline churches, as leaders of these churches notice "diminished membership, diminished dollars, and eroding influence and importance" (Brueggemann 1993, 7). Even among non-mainline churches, growth has slowed (Lindner 1998, 6). For all of the publicity given to the rapidly-growing Protestant megachurches, of the over 300,000 Protestant churches in America, less than 2% are megachurches and these churches do not exhibit widespread impact on the general population.

Consider the following statistics:

1. According to the 1998 Yearbook of Canadian and American Churches (Lindner 1998): 241,147,000 Americans are listed as Christian as their religious affiliation. 159,000,000 Americans are members of churches, according to reported church statistics. 82,000,000 Americans claim a Christian affiliation but not church membership. From these figures, we see that approximately one-third of Americans who say they are Christians do not affiliate with a specific church.

2. According to a 1996 Gallup Poll as reported in the May, 1997 edition of Emerging Trends (for the latest Gallup Poll research information, go to http://www.prrc.com): 65% of Americans say they are members of a church. This ties the lowest percentage of claimed church membership (tied with 1990 and 1988) since Gallup first surveyed church membership back in 1937. The highest reported membership percentage came in 1943 and 1947, when 76% of Americans claimed church membership. Of those reporting themselves to be church members:

  • 28% describe themselves as "very active."
  • 44% describe themselves as "moderately active."
  • 22% describe themselves as "not very active."
  • 6% describe themselves as "not at all" active.

3. In his book, The Index of Leading Spiritual Indicators (Barna 1996, 109), George Barna reports that the average adult attendance at Protestant worship services in 1995 among the 300,000 Protestant churches in American is 92. This is a decrease from an average of 102 adults in 1992. Barna comments that the mainline churches continue to decline, and that attendance growth at evangelical churches, which increased in the 1970s and 80s, has now tapered off. Megachurches, those churches reporting a weekend attendance over 2,000, claim Barna, get an "unwarranted" amount of attention and make up less than 2% of Protestant churches (Barna 1996: 110).

4. There are also generational differences in church attendance in the United States. Barna’s surveys reveals these statistics (Barna 1996, 99):

  • 42% of all adults claim they attended a worship service in the past week
  • 50% of Seniors (those born before 1926) attended worship.
  • 45% of Builders (those born between 1927 and 1945) attended worship.
  • 39% of Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) attended.
  • 31% of Baby Busters (also called Gen Xers, those born between 1965 and 1983) attended worship.

The trend in reported church attendance is downward for the younger generations. The church struggles to reach the Boomers and the Gen Xers, and is now faced with the emergence of the newest generation, sometimes called the Millenial or 13th Generation, those born in 1984 or after whose oldest members will soon reach young adulthood.

For more information on the difference between generations and their religious experience, see http://www.barna.org and go to Latest Information. The following is an excerpt from the Barna Research web site:

"The generation gap is alive and well. Baby Busters (ages 18 to 32) are the least likely to describe themselves as religious (62%), as Christian (72%) or as committed Christians (46%). They are the most likely to say they are searching for meaning in life (50%) and are twice as likely as other adults to say they are liberal (18%). Meanwhile, Baby Boomers (ages 33 to 51) emerged as those most likely to say others see them as a leader (69%) and to claim financial comfort (68%). The oldest segment—those 52 and older—are the most religious, the most likely to align with Christianity, the most satisfied with life and the most likely to hold conservative political views. The elders, on the other hand, are the least likely to say they are seen as leaders, to feel stressed out and to be in pursuit of meaning in life. Intriguingly, they are also the least likely to feel excited about the future."

The Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) number 79 million and constitute the largest generation in American, comprising 31.7% of Americans (Barna 1994: 16). Wade Clark Roof and Lyn Gesch describe the Boomers in terms of a "culture of choice:" (Ammerman and Roof 1995,61-79). Although generational analyses are complex, and there are those who critique the effort to generalize about the Boomers as a whole, Boomers have been characterized as largely anti-institutional, individualists, desiring to "get needs met," and responding to self-help and recovery strategies.

Resources for detailed studies of the Baby Boomer generation include the following three books:

  • Wade Clark Roof, A Generation of Seekers. San Francisco: Harper, 1993.
  • Craig Kennet Miller, Baby Boomer Spirituality. Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 1992.
  • Dean R. Hoge, Vanishing Boundaries. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992.

The Baby Busters, also called Generation X (born between 1965 and 1983) number 67.9 million and constitute 27.3 % of the American population (Barna 1994, 16). According to Barna, Busters exhibit ten characteristics: disillusioned, feel abandoned (largely due to the high divorce rate of their parents), desire a high quality of life, are independent (a skill developed from surviving on their own), are defensive, comfortable with change, more person-oriented than goal-oriented, are pluralists, flexible, and pragmatic (Barna 1994, 72-74).

For the church to reach this generation, it will need to keep in mind that the Busters are entertainment-oriented. The Busters are also willing to engage in a consideration of religious claims insofar as religion can aid them in their quest for meaning and fulfillment in life. Busters also have tended to pick and choose bits and pieces from various religious systems and do not operate with a sophisticated belief structure.

Books on Generation X include:

  • George Barna, Baby Busters. Chicago: Northfield. 1994.
  • Tex Sample, The Spectacle of Worship in a Wired World. Nashville: Abingdon, 1998.
  • Meredith Bagby, Rational Exuberance. New York: Dutton, 1998.

The Millenial Generation, also called the 13th Generation, is the generation born beginning in 1984. According to George Barna, six "S’s" characterize this newest generation: "serious, stressed, self-reliant, skeptical, spiritual sense of divine or mystical, survivors" (Barna 1995,18-21). Barna also reports that six out of ten millenials ("millenial" is the term used by Strauss and Howe in The Fourth Turning, noted in the box below) are satisfied with life.

For the church to reach this generation, it must realize that this generation is the least Biblically-literate generation yet. They are reaping the results of the two previous generations’ lack of church attendance and involvement in organized religion. This newest generation is comfortable, however, with "spirituality" as a sense of mystery. Thus, they are interested in God, but not church. They are about spirituality, not religion (this trend actually began with the Boomers).

Books on this newest generation include:

  • George Barna, Generation Next. Ventura, California: Regal, 1995
  • William Strauss and Neil Howe, The Fourth Turning and read several reviews on this book at http://www.amazon.com, typing in the book title under search.

The Project Sections

This project examines four contemporary approaches now being used by churches to reach the three younger generations of Americans and in each section analyses and reflects theologically on the techniques and assumptions underlying the methods used.

Adolescent Spirituality and the Church

How can the church help adolescents to develop their spirituality and to come to understand the church as their support structure throughout the stormy teenage years? What can church youth leaders do to make a difference?

Using Church Marketing to Bridge the Gap between Faith and Culture

Many churches have turned to church marketing strategies to bridge the gap between church and culture. This paper describes church marketing and analyses marketing from a sociological point of view before evaluating church marketing from a theological perspective.

Introducing Contemporary Praise Worship in a Local Church Setting

It is evident that a gap exists between the Christian church and contemporary culture, a gap that is continually widening. What can the Christian church do to close this gap? Can contemporary praise worship music be used as a bridge to reach a society and culture that seems to be moving ever farther away from the Christian church and faith? This paper uses social construction theories as a basis to evaluate the use of contemporary praise-worship music in the worship liturgy at Jonesville United Methodist Church in Clifton Park, New York, as it attempts to use contemporary praise-worship music to bridge the gap.

Theological Reflection on the Public Religious Education Movement: "What Would Jesus Do?"

Religious education is a formative process in which we introduce the young people in our churches to the theologies and doctrines of our respective religious institutions. What happens to the authenticity of our endeavors if the religious programs we choose to utilize in our churches can be found in the local supermarket, secular bookstore, and/or teenage boutique? For theological reflection on the public religious education movement "What Would Jesus Do?" (WWJD), click on the link above!


Here is the list of works cited throughout this project.