Since it is not 1965, we have to do church different

[This is the second blog post in a series. The first was "Since it is not 1955, we have to do church different" found at]

On Sunday night February 9, 1964 the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show during their first American tour and symbolized a major social change in North America. This transformational change rocked the Church world.

Coming less than three months after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, it marked the transition from what was to what was becoming. It marked the end of the birth of the generation known as Baby Boomers and the beginning of the generation known as Baby Busters.

By 1965 congregations in North America were forced to respond to the emerging dynamics. The leading edge of the Baby Boomer generation were now becoming adults and congregations needed to figure out how to help them tune into congregational life and not drop out. They did so by searching for the right program that would reach them.

The sexual revolution burst onto the scene with new contraception methods and love was now freely expressed. Congregations primarily responded with a reaffirmation of the traditional nuclear family and sexual intimacy within marriage only.

The suburbanization of North America created an urban crisis as middle and upper class Anglo-Americans fled the cities and tried to leave the city agendas behind. The issues of urbanization followed them. They could not escape. Many central city congregations were slow to respond and found themselves kicking into high gear an attendance decline that they had tried to ignore in previous years.

With the suburbanization came a massive church planting movement that continued to draw former members of city congregations into new, fast growing suburban congregations that offered significant programming and a homogeneity that families sought. At the same time a massive church planting movement was silently happening within the central cities primarily among non-Anglo-American target groups and conservative denominations who appealed to lower socio-economic groups.

Add to all of this the massive civil rights movement primarily among African-Americans, the growing war in Vietnam, and the pubic war on poverty. In parts of North American Protestantism there was also a movement from church growth and congregational expansion to an embracing of social justice rather than church planting emphases.

Among the ways congregations and denominations responded to the dynamics of 1965 was to reaffirm the importance of their denominational silos. Being faithful to one’s denomination was a high value espoused in many tribes. The 1960s was a time that some denominations were still organizing their institutional structures.

Too many congregations failed to respond to the new dynamics, but sought to reinforce the patterns of the 1950s. For example, in the 1950s parents either brought children to church on Sunday, or the church was nearby and the children walked. In the 1960s with the suburbanization of Anglo-American congregations the number of children attending many congregations decreased, yet congregations had the capacity and the passionate expectation that successful congregations were filled with children.

The response in some places was to start church bus ministries. If parents would not bring children to church, the church would go get them. Many independent churches become well known for this tactic.

What Is different now as compared to 1965?

First, too many congregations became fixated on the Baby Boomer generation during the 1960s. Baby Boomers are now in their 50s and 60s. They lead, or control, many congregations and still demand their congregation meet their expectations. Yet, their commitment is to a congregational life that was characteristic of the 1960s. It is over now. This is seen in many so-called contemporary worship services that are really a culturally captive Baby Boomer worship.

Second, the focus on preschoolers, children, and youth should shift to a focus on heads of households. Long-term sustainable growth, depth, and missional action does not come by a focus on people under 18. It comes from a direct focus on the discipleship development of their parents, and then indirectly the preschoolers, children, and youth.

Third, too many congregations became institutionalized around a homogeneous approach to congregational culture. The world has diversified and intermingled. However, way too many congregations are still in Anglo-American, African-American, Hispanic-American, Asian-American, or other demographic silos. Multi-racial/multi-ethnic congregations are too few in number.

Fourth, too many congregations chose to either renew their core or to extend their ministry. Many chose to focus on church growth or to focus on social justice. Too few chose both. Congregations must renew their core to have the capacity engage in the missional efforts to which they feel called. We need both spiritual formation and missional engagement.

Fifth, too many congregations focused on deep loyalty to their denomination—right or wrong—so that when theological, moral, and ecclesiological debates began happening in ways that changed the foundation moorings of denominations in years since 1965, they had no response except to be more loyal and ignore realities. Congregations must know why and how they are related to their denomination, and be able to express loyalty to the mission of God first and their denomination second.

What are some other things you see different now compared to 1965?

George Bullard

Author's Website
About the Author
George is President of The Columbia Partnership at, This is a Christian ministry organization that seeks to transform the North American Church for vital and vibrant ministry. It primarily does this through the FaithSoaring Churches Learning Community. See George is the author of three books: Pursuing the Full Kingdom Potential of Your Congregation, Every Congregation Needs a Little Conflict, and FaithSoaring Churches. George is also General Secretary [executive coordinator] of the North American Baptist Fellowship at This is one of the six regions of the Baptist World Alliance. George holds is Senior Editor of TCP Books at More than 30 books have been published on congregational leadership issues.

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  • Alan Bean

    Good stuff. I particularly appreciate the emphasis on both church growth and social justice.

  • Jeremy Crowder

    The approach of the 1960’s would likely work if people actually did that approach. If Churches did have bus ministries instead of focusing limited money into building family life centers it would be a start. The idea also that my generation as a child of baby boomers needs to have our own music etc. is insulting we’ve been pandered to enough. Has anyone tried standing by conviction and sharing the Gospel? The Witnesses, Mormons, and a host of very conservative groups following very untrendy approaches have grown by leaps and bounds. That is because they unlike some Baptists are not afraid to be unlike the culture they find themselves. The world is starved for something different. The “Nones” do not know they need to be pushed and pulled to pick a side but that is what needs to happen. We need to worry more about revival than some political notion of Social Justice. A Social Justice is found in the Bible and it’s one that leads to Calvary that is where we Christians belong with a Cross.