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X-treme missions: Gen Xers mean business

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Those concerned about the future of world missions should take heart: Christians of a newer generation are redefining their limits — and throwing them out altogether if they interfere with serving God. Generation Xers — the generation after Baby Boomers — total 44.6 million Americans, if you count only those born from 1965 to 1976. Add the 72.4 million babies born after 1976 and you have a colossal post-Boomer cohort.
“They will define America and the West for the next 30 to 40 years,” says Justin Long of the Global Evangelization Movement. They also will increasingly define American involvement in world missions.
As members of America’s latest “lost generation” emerge from the long shadow cast by Boomers, negative predictions about what they will accomplish are fading in light of their own actions.
“There’s been some misunderstanding of this generation,” says Lloyd Atkinson, associate vice president for mission personnel at the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. “We’re not finding a trend like we were expecting from the (negative) data on Generation X. They are willing to commit themselves. And they are willing to go to the hard places.”
Though the self-confidence of Generation X has displayed itself in materialism and self-indulgence, many Xers are focusing their energies in service to others. One Gallup poll found nearly half of Americans between age 18 and 24 doing volunteer work. In 1995, younger teens (13.3 million kids ages 12-17) spent a combined total of 2.4 billion hours in volunteer work. Among church-going teens, 74 percent were regular volunteers.
Nearly 600 of the more than 4,200 missionaries now serving through the International Mission Board were born after 1964. One in four of the career missionaries appointed last year had previously served as a two-year journeyman or International Service Corps worker. Most went to the field, experienced missions and came back to commit themselves for the long term with their eyes wide open.
The number of student summer missionaries going abroad annually through the International Mission Board has multiplied from the 100-150 range of the 1980s to more than 500 this year. Thousands of Xers are serving as international mission volunteers each year. A rapidly increasing number of “millennials” — those born in the ’80s — are going for the first time while still teen-agers — a trend unheard of a few years ago.
Tens of thousands of young people are eagerly searching for a cause larger than themselves — and finding it in God’s vision for the world.
That’s one explanation for the popularity of programs like “True Love Waits,” the Sunday School Board-initiated campaign to promote sexual abstinence before marriage. “It’s not just about saving ourselves for marriage,” said one young participant. “It’s about God saving us for himself and his purpose, and not just his purpose in America, but all over the world.”
Christian Gen Xers’ decreased loyalty to denomination and tradition makes it all the more critical that Southern Baptists offer their young adults effective avenues to serve God in missions.
“They don’t vote the party line anymore,” observes Glenn Prescott, who works with young applicants considering the journeyman and International Service Corps programs. “We’ve got to stay sharp and stay on the edge, or they won’t stay with us. They’re not going to stay around just because Mom and Dad are Southern Baptists.”
One student participating in an on-line chat about missions put it in typically frank Xer language:
“We stand around and argue the latest buzz in theology when we know for certain that thousands round about us are dying and going to hell. I read recently that 1,400 people die every hour having never heard of Christ and his gift of grace. How can we stand by and continue to let this happen?”
Gen Xers don’t intend to.

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  • Erich Bridges