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The Return of the Boomerangs
If the church morphs too much to fit culture, it risks turning off not only the older folk, but also the kids of Boomers because they know how the culture operates and it's left them cold.

Many of us Boomers have gone through the heart-wrenching experience of our kids hitting late teenage or their early 20s and leaving the church, as though nothing we ever did in church together had any relevance or value. All those years of great activities and marvellous memories, all up in smoke, just like that.

An interesting phenomenon has been occurring of late, though: Boomers' kids are coming back. On the home front they've been called "Boomerangs," as thousands of them return home, hoping their parents can take them back in. But Boomerangs are coming back to church, too. It's a cold, tough world out there, and it's not easy getting by on your own, so back to church they come where, just like home, they feel welcome and things are much the same as they were. And if the Boomerangs have children of their own in tow, church also has huge appeal as a safe place, where family values are taught and people care.

That's good news for us Boomer parents who figured our kids had rejected church forever. The question I would like to ask in this article, though, is: "What kind of church are they coming back to?" I ask that question because a lot of churches, in response to watching their young folk leave, turned themselves inside out trying to figure out how to win the youth back to church, and in the process changed themselves so dramatically they've become unrecognizable to the churches the Boomerangs once knew. For the Boomerang, it's like coming back home to find his bedroom converted into a nursery for the grandkids. Nothing is the same.

That may be a good thing, of course, if his bedroom was a disaster when he left and so was his church—but what if the church of his youth, in its well-meaning efforts to make Christianity relevant and attractive to young people, sold its soul to the culture by burying the Gospel message beneath layer upon layer of "culture-sensitive contemporariness?" So here comes the Boomerang, ready now to get back to hearing the Gospel because he's fed up with the fluff and hype of the culture—but his church is all fluff and hype, too! It's morphed itself into a place that attracts teenagers, but it's dumbed down the Gospel for the sake of church growth.

But, the church wails in reply, what else can it do? Preaching the Cross doesn't exactly attract people, does it, so one has to resort to the culture's means of attracting people, right? Well, yes, if attracting people is so important, but if the church morphs too much, it risks turning off the older folk, including now the Boomerangs, because Boomerangs know how the culture operates and it's left them cold. They're fed up with the world's constant emotional manipulation and clever psychological tactics to win them over. To find their church doing the same thing, therefore, is a real turn-off.

The jugglers of church growth may want to take this into account. They have a new ball to juggle with, the Boomerangs, who've been matured by life and they're heading back to church a whole lot wiser and eager to learn. Here's hoping, therefore, that the church they return to can say what the apostle Paul said to the church in Corinth, which had a culture much like ours. It was full of touchy-feely, experience-hyped, personality-worshipping excitement seekers that postmodernists would fondly welcome as kindred spirits, but "while I was with you," Paul wrote, "I didn't use any clever speaking techniques in my preaching. I concentrated purely on Jesus Christ and why He was crucified. I felt thoroughly inadequate myself and more than a little scared, so it wasn't my brilliant preaching that convinced you, it was the power of the Spirit. It clearly illustrates the point that your trust should always be in the power of God and never in human skill" (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

Paul stood his ground. He didn't resort to psychological or emotional tactics to reach people. There was no need to, however, because in his experience the Spirit did the convincing through the Gospel plainly preached. The results in numbers weren't that great, but Paul wasn't in the numbers game anyway. To him it was far more important to stick to the roots of the Gospel message and trust God to give the growth.

Oh, I'm sure if Paul lived today, he'd appeal to the mindset of the culture, but he'd also be wary, and perhaps even fearful, of people becoming hooked on him more than the message. I can imagine, therefore, his reaction to today's church growth gurus yelling, "The church has to adjust or it will die. You'll never reach this sound-byte generation using the old time-worn methods of preaching, you've got to jazz things up. Kids need attention-grabbing special effects to keep their interest, and worship services that lift the roof off. That's their world and the church had better learn to adjust or it will become an irrelevant relic, destined to die a slow and agonizing death, etc., etc."

The lovely part about Boomers' kids, though, is that they don't have to be won.

To be fair, Paul might agree in part with that assessment, because he said himself that he became all things to all people in order to save them, but he also said he didn't depend on clever techniques and human strategy to get people to respond. It's a juggling act one has to be very skilled at, it seems, because with one ball you want to be relevant to the culture in which you live, but with the other ball you want to stay true to the Gospel message. Drop one ball in favour of the other and you risk either not winning people's attention at all, or winning them instead to your clever tactics rather than the message.

The lovely part about Boomers' kids, though, is that they don't have to be won. They're heading back to church voluntarily because they're sick of the world and its shabby tactics. Imagine their delight, then, coming back to a church that, during the years they were away, stood its ground and didn't let the culture rip the bottom out of the Gospel for the sake of church growth. It may mean, of course, that their church hasn't grown much in numbers, but they're not coming back because of the attendance figures, they're coming back because they're open to the Gospel message—more, perhaps, than they've ever been. It's the Gospel they want to hear, not hype.

This is encouraging news for us Boomers who thought we'd never see our kids in church again, or that the church had to turn itself inside out to win them back. No, the Boomerangs are returning willingly because in this hype-filled, manipulative, forever changing culture, church, like home, is a rock.

Jonathan Buck pastors the Barrie, Huntsville, North Bay, Peterborough, and Sudbury congregations of the Worldwide Church of God.

Originally published in Northern Light Magazine, January/March 2007.




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