"That the Next Generation Might Know"

10.05.17 | by Mtr. Catherine Thompson

    "So That the Generations to Come Might Know"

    When the Psalmist wrote these words thousands of years ago, the community of believers surrounding him looked very different than it does today.  While sitting in church, you might notice there are multiple generations sitting with you.  Due to better healthcare, resulting in longer lives, we now have up to six generations of believers in the church.  That can present problems when trying to meet the needs of all of the generations simultaneously.  As the Very Rev. Kevin Martin says in his book, 5 Keys for Church Leaders, “Consider this.  The pastor has to preach to a generation born in the Depression for whom loyalty to an organization is a high value.  Meanwhile, the pastor must use illustrations that speak to boomers who tend to distrust leaders and institutions and believe in non-traditional values.  At the same time, there are younger people present for whom the Challenger disaster was the formative event of their lives and Bill Clinton is the president they remember most.”  He then goes on to outline basic qualities of those generations.  They have been updated to reflect the newest generation, Generation Z.

     Silent, Builder, GI Generation, born between 1928 and 1945

    • 9 percent of the population
    • 28 million people
    • Lives shaped by the Great Depression and the World Wars
    • Learned to live on little, often survival; “made do”
    • Material things were luxuries
    • Every penny counted, debt avoided
    • Women at home, primary volunteers in churches
    • Conservative social mores, divorce frowned upon
    • Strong loyalty to churches, denominations, social organizations, very patriotic
    • Life is work, moderate pace, work and family highest importance
    • 60 percent of this generation is affiliated with a church

     Baby Boomer Generation, born between 1945 and 1965

    • 24 percent of the population
    • 76 million, now in power positions
    • All new opportunities, new technology, higher education, material wealth
    • Civil, social, gender rights challenge the status quo of churches and beliefs
    • Loyalty and trust of government eroded, starting with Vietnam
    • Loss of allegiance to denominations, employers, social organizations, political parties
    • Obligation to belong to churches for social value begins to erode, worshiping God “in my garden,” “on the golf course,” or “in my sailboat”
    • Moral rule breakdown, personal rights, situational ethics
    • Work drives life, planning of play and vacation, little free time, church a low priority unless there is strong attachment through family or a spiritual need to worship
    • 40 percent of this generation today is affiliated with a church

     Baby Busters, Generation X, born between 1965 and 1981

    • 20 percent of the population
    • 66 million
    • Feeling loved and accepted a high priority since 50 percent come from broken homes
    • Search for intimacy a driving force, looking for relationships in churches
    • Most “spiritual” generation, looking at new age, cults, various religions
    • Moral confusion: pro-choice, but pro-life for trees, whales, etc…
    • Commitment only to groups and organizations that address their personal needs or interests, picky because of limited free time, busy-ness valued
    • First “unchurched” generation in America, majority from families not churched
    • May meet spiritual need by multi-church association, less need for confirmation
    • A Catch-22 related to wealth: great material success, but even with two incomes, they sink into deeper indebtedness
    • Work provides money to support play, lifestyle, entertainment
    • 28 percent of this generation today is affiliated with a church

    Millennials, Generation Y, born between 1981 and 1999

    • 24 percent of the population
    • 79 million, first post-Cold War generation, don’t know war as grandparents did
    • Parented by others, latch-key, daycare kids
    • High tech and connected
    • “Disillusioned” generation, have seen it all, know it still isn’t enough
    • At risk because of anger and violence
    • Large economic differences between rich and poor
    • Spiritual quest, feels a void in life, but rejects institutionalized religion, seeking relational, emotionally connecting religious expression
    • Life is play, work is forced, entertainment/technology is central to everyday activity
    • 18 percent of this generation today is affiliated with a church.

     Generation Z, Post-Millennials, born after 1999

    • 23 percent of the population
    • 74 million
    • Widespread use of the internet from a very young age
    • Rapid change is normative
    • Comfortable with technology and interacting on social media for a significant portion of their socializing, but they prefer personal contact
    • Growing up during the Great Recession has lent itself to feeling unsettled and insecure.
    • September 11th terrorist attacks were a defining moment
    • The majority of this generation is non-white, with Latinos growing fastest
    • They are highly entrepreneurial because there is no trust in employers looking out for their employees
    • This generation is and will be in church more regularly, but perhaps not in a traditional church setting

    You can see just by looking at these characteristics how difficult it might be for a single pastor to meet the needs of all five generations simultaneously, as each generation is looking for something different to meet their spiritual needs.  That’s why it is important for us to be open to new ministries, new ways of reaching out to people, and new opportunities for service because that is how the Holy Spirit continues to work in our lives, moving us to be more open to someone who does not have a church home.

    Through these characteristics, you can also see the importance of reaching out to our neighbors, as more and more people are being raised without ever having set foot in a church.  This experience gap can make our “churchy” language confusing, and could ultimately be a barrier for someone looking for God.  Rather than hoping they find their way into our church, the best way we can reach these individuals is through a personal invitation.  If someone has trust in you already, either as your neighbor, co-worker or team member, he or she would be more likely to respond to an invitation to explore a life of faith alongside you, than any other means we might use to reach them.  Statistics say that between 75% and 90% of people attending church today are doing so because they were initially invited by a friend or relative.  If you compare that to the measly 5% of people who attribute their membership to a clergy person, you see just how important that personal invitation can be.  There is no person better suited to bring someone into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ than you.

    Our hope is that you see these generational differences not as a barrier to church growth or an impediment to your worship experience, but as an opportunity to mature in faith.  By knowing more about ourselves, our preferences, and our own spiritual journey, we are better equipped to reach out to others in the name of Christ in a caring way, respecting who they are and what they might need, while still speaking of the power of Christ in our own lives.  There is no greater gift we can give than our witness to God’s amazing grace.