The Great Commission to Reach a New Generation -- By: Thom S. Rainer

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 01:4 (Winter 1997)
Article: The Great Commission to Reach a New Generation
Author: Thom S. Rainer


The Great Commission to Reach a New Generation

Thom S. Rainer

Thom Rainer is the founding Dean of The Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. A prolific author, Rainer has lectured, preached, and led conferences on church growth across the United States.

Between the years 1977 and 1994 a tremendous upsurge in live births in America caught most demographers by surprise. Birth rates had declined precipitously during the “baby bust” of 1964 to 1976, and few people expected such a dramatic reversal of this trend. Indeed, this new baby boom was almost as large as the well-documented baby boom of 1946 to 1964.

This generation has been unnamed for the most part. In isolated articles some writers have referred to them as “the next boom,” “the echoboomers,” “the new boom,” “the vava boom” (because so many of the mothers of this generation had their first child later in life, usually in their thirties), and “the millennial generation.”

I have named this generation “the bridgers” for two reasons.1 First and foremost, these 72 million will bridge two centuries and two millennia. Though their birth dates will have twentieth-century markings, their generation will be most influential during their adulthood in the twenty-first century.

A second reason for using the bridger nomenclature is one of hope and promise. While we are living in a time of upheaval and uncertainty, we are also paradoxically living in a time of unprecedented awakenings, prayer movements, and awareness of God. Indeed, the bridger generation is already being cited as a “religious” generation, though “religious” and “Christian” are hardly synonymous. But is it possible that this group of 72 million may be the bridge between the secular and the sacred?

In the twenty-first century the bridgers will shape the attitudes, values, economics, and lifestyles of America. They will be the dominant adult population group for at least the first half of the next century. In 1995, the bridgers accounted for 27.5 percent of the total United States population.2 Though the boomer generation was slightly larger, it is the bridgers who will be moving into positions of power and influence in the twenty-first century. (See chart, page 50.)

Their Religious World

Perhaps more than any twentieth-century generation, the bridgers are a religious group. But “religious” is about as specific as one can get in describing their beliefs. The bridgers as a generation believe in almost any expression of a...

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