AMERICAN churches, especially the so-called mainline Protestant denominations, are intensely interested in the spiritual odyssey of the nation's 75 million-plus baby boomers.
These individuals, born between 1946 and 1964, make up about one-half the adult population of the United States and one-third the entire population. Many of them turned away from organized religion in the 1960s and '70s, and US churches are eagerly seeking evidence that they might be coming back.
A recent study of 500 people confirmed in the Presbyterian Church in the late 1950s and 1960s indicates that nearly half are attending church, although not necessarily in their childhood denominations. The study was directed by Dean Hoge, a sociology professor at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Benton Johnson of the University of Oregon and Donald Luidens of Hope College in Holland, Mich., also participated.
The group found that 39 percent of those surveyed are still members of mainline Protestant churches, while 6 percent belong to fundamentalist or evangelical churches, and 7 percent belong to other major churches, such as the Roman Catholic Church or conservative Baptist denominations. The remaining 48 percent are not active in any church, although 19 percent attend from time to time or are inactive members. The results do not support the theory that the mainline churches are losing large numbers of membe rs to evangelical groups and Eastern religions, the scholars say.
Dr. Hoge believes that the data, to be published in a book entitled "Vanishing Boundaries," are applicable to all mainline Protestant churches and, to a lesser degree, to the Catholic Church. `Booming the Church'
Sixty members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) gathered in Albuquerque, N.M., last month to discuss the baby boomers and the institutional church. "Baby boomers haven't turned against religion, but a large chunk have written off the institutional church," Wade Clark Roof, professor of religion and society at the University of California at Santa Barbara, told them in the keynote address.
Professor Roof discussed his study of baby boomers, which found that some of those who rejected conventional religion during young adulthood have returned to church, but that most have not. Roof found that 41 percent of boomers remained connected with church, 21 percent have returned after dropping out, and 34 percent have never come back.
But Roof also found that 86 percent of boomers consider themselves to be religious, while 72 percent believe in a "personal God." Only 5 percent have no church or synagogue experience.
"As a lay person it gave me something to take back to my congregation," Kent Sather of Scotts Bluff, Neb., told the ELCA news service. He said there is a need to reach boomers through "caring and sharing" activities such as Bible study, men's and single's groups, and alternative forms of worship. Liberal magazine in danger
The liberal ecumenical journal Christianity and Crisis, founded 52 years ago by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, is facing its own crisis. Its board of directors sent a letter to "readers and friends" at the beginning of March telling them the magazine would close March 29 unless new financial resources or an institutional sponsor is found.
The publishers are looking for $250,000 yearly for the next three years or full sponsorship by a "person, a group of people, an institution, [or] an organization." The magazine is reeling from an increase in expenses and declining income from subscriptions. It currently claims 13,000 subscribers. Presbyterian woman is dean
Heidi Hadsell was elected vice president and dean of McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago last month, becoming the first woman so elected at any seminary of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). A lay member of the church, she has done extensive study of religion in Brazil and has taught at the 163-year-old McCormick seminary since 1989.