- The Washington Times - Monday, May 15, 2000

Tom Beaudoin cringed when he saw a sign in Atlanta advertising a "young adult unplugged worship service."
"Maybe it's a great service, but when I see an ad like this, I think, 'Come on, this is such overt manipulation.' "
Mr. Beaudoin is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School and a member of Generation X, the group of young adults born between 1961 and 1981.
Rather than be impressed by efforts to use song styles, language, images and advertising strategies to reach Gen-Xers, however, he often finds such tactics embarrassing.
"This is a generation that is extremely savvy about advertising, and doubly savvy when it comes to religious advertising… . The heavy-handed and ham-fisted approaches more often than not come from people who have good intentions, but are outside the Gen-X culture.
"The church always goes wrong when it tries to appear cool. It never goes wrong when it tries to attend to people's deepest thirst."
Despite their irreverent facade and high degree of religious illiteracy, Gen-Xers are a spiritually thirsty bunch, very much in touch with their need for a spiritual identity, Mr. Beaudoin said.
Mr. Beaudoin, 30, the author of "Virtual Faith: The Irreverent Spiritual Quest of Generation X," urges religious groups to create generational space within their congregations where Gen-Xers can have their own place and time to get together and focus on prayer, social justice and service, and discussion of religious topics.
Such ministries should be peer-based, he said, because peers are more likely to understand how to tastefully incorporate their questions and needs into programming and worship.
However, he does not necessarily think holding separate worship services for 20- and 30-somethings is ideal. "There is a danger of fragmenting what in Christian language we would call the body of Christ if you break the church up into lots of focus groups and let each one have their own worship."
Generational safe spaces are needed, he said, because some questions will be asked only within their confines, but certain answers will come only in multigenerational settings.
"That is why worship needs to be something shared by everyone. When you set up Gen-X young adult ministries, they can't be allowed to become a church within a church."
Gen-X ministries at their best, he said, are vital, integral and contributing members of the larger body. When they do take time to listen to Gen-Xers, religious leaders who have spent the past decade cozying up to the consumer-driven baby boomers may be surprised to learn what the pierced, tattooed generation wants from religion.
"I'm not necessarily in favor of taking Smashing Pumpkins and Sarah McLachlan and making that church music," Mr. Beaudoin said. "What works for us in our secular lives doesn't necessarily have to work for us at church. To be honest, I find most Gen-Xers suspicious when the church comes too closely to resemble what they're doing in their secular lives.
"There seems to be a both/and sensibility about Gen-Xers toward church services. We tend to want both our secular lives, our CDs, our Internet relationships, attention to fashion, our own culture, our movies, and something else, something different, maybe even more traditional liturgy, maybe more traditional forms of worship."
For example, he said, "I work with so many young, moderate-to-progressive-thinking Catholics who want to pray the Rosary, who are interested in Marian adoration, very curious about the Latin Mass, and who love Taize-style worship."
Taize, which grew out of an ecumenical movement founded in France after World War II, features chanting and candlelight with an emphasis on silence and mystery.
"This is really a moment in the culture where many are attracted to silence, solitude and mystery, and that can be across the political spectrum from fundamentalist to extremely liberal, because those experiences of silence, mystery and solitude hold out the hope of being in touch with something more permanent."
Mr. Beaudoin became intrigued with his generation's spiritual quest while teaching high school in the Kansas City area after graduating from the University of Missouri with a degree in European history and secondary education.
"The questions and needs of my students were all spiritual questions," he said. "They needed someone who could be as much of a spiritual director to them as a good history teacher."
Distributed by Scripps Howard.

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