Which generation will save the Christian church?
The Depression-era grandpa who steers the Chevy Impala to church each Sunday, the suspenders-wearing, Volvo-driving baby boomer, or the pony-tailed baby buster in the “Turn Or Burn You Worm” T-shirt?
Elmer Towns, a keynote speaker for the Christian Workers Conference in Spokane this weekend, places his bets on the group he calls uncommitted, violent and atheistic: the “baby bust” generation.
“I believe the baby busters can bring a revival to the American church,” he said Thursday at the Spokane Ag Trade Center. “The boomers can’t do it.”
Towns, dean of the school of religion at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., led one of 250 workshops planned for the conference, which continues through Saturday. His was called “Evangelizing Generation X: How to Reach Baby Busters.”
The conference, the largest of its kind in the country, is expected to bring 5,000 to 6,000 church workers to Spokane. They come from small-town churches in six states and Canada.
Bringing together handbell salesmen and bikers for Christ, satin-banner makers and stage-light salesmen, the conference provides innovative ideas and products designed to improve church ministry. The average size of the churches: 50 members.
“Those small churches are just vital to America,” said conference chairman Daryl Bursch of Spokane. “All we hear about is the mega-church, but that’s not where the bulk of the ministry is happening.” Sunday school teachers and pastors attend these conferences, in part, to keep their churches growing.
“For a long time, Christians took it for granted that everybody was in a church,” Bursch said. “Now we’re waking up and realizing there are a whole lot of people who haven’t been raised in a church.”
In the exhibit halls, 168 booths display everything from Noah’s Ark floor puzzles to the Timothy Plan, a mutual fund that won’t invest in companies that support abortion, pornography or television violence.
“We’ve drawn a line in the sand,” says Arthur Ally, Timothy Plan president from Orlando, Fla.
At Towns’ workshop Thursday afternoon, he described the baby buster generation - those born from 1965 to 1985 - as angry, violent and racist. Their heroes, he says, are Rambo and Terminator.
He said they’re the isolated children of divorced baby boomers, who move often, and lack lifelong friendships. They’re materialistic and self-absorbed.
And Towns loves them.
“The baby busters are unpretentious,” he said. “They know it’s hard. They have no illusions that society or the government will solve their problems.”
The baby busters’ violence, Towns believes, mirrors the lawlessness of a society lacking absolute values.
But they come to church because they’re searching for answers, he says. Once there, they are eager to take a decisive stand.
“The church is going to be all right when the busters take over,” Towns said. “They live in a world where there are no moral absolutes. But they come into the church and they find Jesus, who says, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’ They come into the church that says there are moral absolutes.”
After Towns’ session, 19-year-old John Thorpe of Sandpoint said much of Towns’ perspective seemed to fit his generation.
“I don’t think our generation is racist,” said Thorpe, who was home-schooled. “But it is pretty violent.
“My hero is the Terminator.”
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MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Promise Keepers About 2,000 men are expected to attend a Promise Keepers wake-up call at the Spokane Opera House on Saturday. The event, from 9:30 a.m. to noon, features Wayne Taylor, senior pastor of Calvary Fellowship in Seattle, and Reggie Witherspoon, founder of Seattle’s Mount Calvary Christian Center. Promise Keepers brings Christian men together to build strong families and churches. A conference of 64,000 men is planned for the Seattle Kingdome April 26 and 27.