Twenty years of Gen X and the Church: How we won an argument that might not even matter.

I can remember twice in my life when I’ve heard the words Generation X in a sermon.  One of them was just a few weeks ago.  The other was almost twenty years back.  I was in college at the time going to a large church with aspirations of being a megachurch led by a senior pastor who drove a red sports car and sounded like a used car salesman every time they passed the plate.  One Sunday the leader of the college ministry was speaking to the entire congregation about who we were: lonely, covered in tattoos, and listening to depressing music.  It didn’t go over very well.  It seemed like the general consensus was they were waiting for the kids in the youth group to grow up so that we would just go away and take all of our cynicism with us.  I think it’s the first time that I realized what it was to be part of Generation X.  And it’s probably why I remember it all these years later.

Around the same time that was going on, there was something perhaps a bit more interesting going on with music and other people my age that didn’t seem to fit in at church.  Somehow I gravitated in that direction.  There were several bands who didn’t fit into the alternative music scene because they were Christian and didn’t fit into the church because they sounded quite a bit different than Kum-ba-ya.  Example.  Along with these bands, there were record labels like Tooth and Nail and festivals like Cornerstone to provide some infrastructure to this particular battlefront of the culture war that our generation was engaged in.  At some point churches began popping up around this particular battlefront, championing our generation’s right to come to church with mohawks, tattoos, and poor tastes in clothing.  Somehow I ended up at one of them.

The church I ended up at has the most Gen X name for a church I’ve ever heard of: Scum of the Earth.  It was often a place for people in transition, as you might expect, but it was a place that I kept going back to.  There didn’t seem to be many other places to go.  Over the years many of those who started the church and others my age who joined shortly after moved on to other things: more “grown up” churches, other parts of the country, other beliefs, or simply their own lonely counsel as not even Scum of the Earth seemed to fit.  It’s still a church for twentysomethings, but that’s not us anymore, it’s the Millenials.  The back row is no longer a grey line of anonymous strangers with their hoodies pulled down so they don’t have to talk to anyone.  These kids giggle and travel in packs now.

Like many people my age that found this subculture so interesting fifteen to twenty years ago, I’ve moved on to other things.  Every once and a while I’ll hear some band like Switchfoot or Skillet on the radio and remember having seen that band’s name among the hundred or so posters for bands appearing at Tomfest.  Or I’ll even hear about bands that I did see live but wasn’t impressed with had somehow ended up scoring a major label deal or a place on the Warped Tour1.  Apparently Tooth and Nail records is still doing well: having several gold albums and a handful of Grammy nominations within the past decade.  MxPx has sold 2.5 million records.  P.O.D. has sold 12 million.  Christian bands don’t have the same sort of challenges to get major record label deals that they did 20 years ago.  But Cornerstone shut down last summer.  And Tomfest’s website redirects to something called Gamechurch, so I’m not entirely sure what happened there.

If the point of everything we did back then was to prove that it was OK to be a freak and a Christian at the same time, then I guess you could say we won that culture war.  Today Senior Pastors at suburban megachurches have sermon series about their tattoos.  Kind of narcissistic, yeah, but these are megachurches we’re talking about.

So yeah, we won the battle over tattoos, but how much does that mean in the grand scheme of things?  The churches we started have been inherited by hipsters who think they’re being ironic by wearing T-shirts with pictures of Civil Rights leaders or revolutionaries.  And when we move on to more grown up churches, we find whatever progress we think we’ve made diluted by the stagnant traditions of aging denominations desperate to stay young but unwilling to stop sounding like a Coca-Cola commercial for Jesus.  Somehow it seems that there’s still not a place for us.  But perhaps it’s our own fault.  If we are a generation that won’t be herded then maybe we’ve no point in complaining that we can’t find a place among the flock.

1-      Admittedly one of these bands was probably composed of 14 year olds the first time I saw them: the lead singer’s voice changed as he announced it was their first real concert when they opened for MxPx at a CD release show.  I’m sure they got better over time.


Advent Series:

Week 1: It’s Advent and we’re still waiting on the church to figure us out.

Week 2: Twenty years of Gen X and the Church

Week 3: The Gospel According to Tyler Durden

Week 4: Jesus in the Wasteland


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