Mention the term “Baby Boomers” and, depending on the age of the person you are speaking to, you may get comments ranging from “industrious” and “resilient” to “narrow minded” and “stubborn”. Due to their hard work and stage of life, most top leadership positions in churches are currently held by Christians of this generation and, as a result, there is seldom much effort made to understand them. One of the core goals of the Generations Project is to facilitate meaningful conversations between the different generations so that greater unity can be nurtured through deeper empathy. Thus, after our research with Millennial Christians, the Baby Boomers were the next group that we concentrated on.
This e-Commentary seeks to present a snapshot of some trends that emerged from our qualitative ethnography with Baby Boomer Christians from 16 churches across nine denominations in Singapore. The trends presented are definitely not representative of the experiences of all in this generation but are, in our opinion, worthy of consideration.
Family and workplace values were imported into the church
During their formative years, Baby Boomers usually had strict parents who tended to dictate many aspects of their lives, such as what area of study and career they should pursue. With such strong enculturation, they learnt that “passions” and “idealistic views” on life were not as important as being “obedient” or “respectful” to authorities who knew better. This had a profound influence on their approach towards work—they were willing to “pay their dues”; and wait patiently with unquestioning loyalty towards their companies for opportunities to eventually climb the ladder to positions of influence. This mental model was unconsciously transposed to the way they “did” church, where members were expected to be loyal and patient before earning the right to speak or make changes.
Personal mentoring/discipleship was almost entirely absent
A large majority of Baby Boomers did not have the privilege of personal mentoring relationships with an older person when they were growing up. Theirs was a generation which was content to admire their heroes from afar and looked to the public ministries of prominent Christians for guidance and modelling. As a result, many came to regard Christian authors or ministers as their “mentors”. While some may think that this was a result of insufficient emphasis on relationships, a huge contributing factor was the population trend in Singapore at that time. Between the late 1960s to the 1980s, almost every 1 in 2 Singaporeans was a baby boomer.1 As such, it is likely that peer relationships were much more influential in their spiritual journey. This greatly shaped the way they would come to view relational ministry and mentoring in the church.
The para-church movement in Singapore was very influential during their early and middle adulthood years
Para-church organisations like BSF (Bible Study Fellowship), Navigators, Campus Crusade, and FES (Fellowship of Evangelical Students) featured strongly in the faith journey of many Baby Boomers and were very influential to their spiritual growth. These organisations were often mentioned in the same breath when Baby Boomers spoke of what they felt was lacking in the institutional church; such as the absence of good systemic Bible study or the overly denominationally focused agenda. It almost seemed like their involvement with para-church organisations gave them respite and created a balance which allowed them to continue to stay and serve in their home churches despite their misgivings.
“The cross before me, the world behind me”
The typical church/Christian metanarrative which shaped Baby Boomers in their formative years was the need for them to distance themselves from the corrupting influences of the world in order to stay faithful and effectively do the work of God. The church was idealised as a place which provided spiritual protection from and training to battle the evils of the “outside world”. Romantic imagery of Christians as faithful soldiers whose duty was to free the captives and plunder the gates of hell inspired many large-scale church-wide events and evangelistic rallies. With the faith-at-work movement and narrative only becoming mainstream and embraced by local churches about a decade or so ago, the sacred-secular divide was the lingua franca for quite a while.
The four trends identified above are not meant to be seen as a critique of this generation’s spirituality but is simply a reflection of what was shared with us during our interviews. It is not meant to further exacerbate the tensions between the generations but to invite honest conversations that we hope will lead to greater unity through deeper empathy for one another in the body of Christ.
If you are a baby boomer (aged 57 to 75 in 2021), please help us to validate our insights by taking a survey (5 minutes to complete) here, or if you know someone in this generation who would be willing to participate, please help us by forwarding this link to them. Thank you!
1 Sharmistha Roy. “Baby Boom Generation in Singapore and Its Impact on Ageing”. International Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, Vol:8, No:3, 2014.