One of the biggest challenges facing churches and leadership now is the overwhelming complexity of their congregations. In most churches, we're facing something unprecedented: five generations worshipping together. If we assume a generation to encompass roughly 20 years, we have almost 100 years of experiences coming together, 100 years of shared values, 100 years of advances and trends. For many in my church, they can remember with wonder the first time they saw a television, where they were when JFK was shot, and what they did during the Second World War. Their lives are incredibly different than their children's, different from mine, and different from my own children.
But in this generational diversity is an incredible blessing. With so much at the table, rather than seeing this as an obstacle, we need to see it as an opportunity. In no other time in history have so many generations been alive and active together. Each generation has its own benefits to bring to the table, I want to give three from each:
Silent Generation (1925-1945)
1. Institutional Loyalty & Stability - This generation was in the mindset of staying in one place and working one job/career until retirement. They're loyal to the church. They'll be a steady hand and presence through conflict and difficulty.
2. Wisdom & Discernment - Gray hair is a sign of wisdom in Proverbs. This generation lived through the Depression, through WWII, and has seen it all (moon landings, hippies, Nixon, etc.) so they're incredibly valuable for their wisdom in making decisions.
3. Financial Commitment - These are steady givers in many churches. They will be the ones who leave behind an estate with contributions, they are the backbone of giving for many churches (many pastors I've talked to are so thankful for these tithes and offerings off Social Security and retirement checks).
Baby Boomers (1946-1964)
1. Experience - The oldest Boomers are transitioning into retirement, but the rest are still involved in their careers, they're connected, they've been around long enough to know how things work.
2. Equipping - At this stage, it's time to build into the next generation. The great news is that Millennials want these mentors. So Boomers have the ability to invest and engage with the younger generation. They can show them what it means to be a parent, a spouse, an employee, and a church member.
3. Discretionary Time - Many in this generation are empty-nesters or retired. They don't have the busy school or soccer calendar to navigate. Rather than spend the time in leisure, they have additional time open for serving, for investing, and for engaging.
Generation X (1965-1979)
1. Volunteers - Older generations may have the time and the resources, but may not have the physical health or energy to do what they had done before. In steps Generation X, who are busy but still able to do a lot for the Kingdom. Because many of them have children or teenagers (see #2) there's an internal drive towards serving in next-generation ministry.
2. Concern for Children - They worry about their kids. They hope they make good decisions. They want the best, whether it's career, college, sports, or relationships. There's plenty of "Helicopter Parents" who hover and make things difficult. But they genuinely care, and most want to help.
3. Network of Relationships - Whether it's connections made at the gym, at work, or during Little League games, this generation is able to build relationships outside the church and outside their family. Many times it's through their children's activities. Use your access, your network, to make a Kingdom effort.
1. Technological Access - We grew up with personal computers, and the Internet opened up the world to us. Millennials not only understand the technology, they are adaptable to it. They have an ability to understand the benefits, the pitfalls, and the flexibility of technology. They can use a multitude of platforms: desktop, smartphone, tablet, Windows and Mac. They can help a church establish a "digital footprint" on the web and embrace using technological advances to multiply the Gospel.
2. Global Presence - Through social media, opportunity for travel/study-abroad, and the expanding diversity of their schools and neighborhoods, Millennials have a global platform. They recognize opportunity around the world, aren't scared of new cultures, and are able to plug in to what's happening across the planet from them.
3. Diversity of Perspective - Millennials came of age during the social shifts on gender, marriage, and sexuality, on top of being the first largely post-Christian generation. Even for those who hold to biblical or traditional understandings of social issues, they have been surrounded by the conversation. They also do not have the institutional loyalty (especially to political parties) and so are able to be fluid in their networks and alliances. They've spent time with people who disagree with them, and are able to build bridges, rather than walls, for dialogue and engagement.
Generation Z (2000-Today)
1. Unparalleled Potential - This generation is still in its development, but the world is laid out before them. They have been making YouTube channels, have been building projects online, are able to do incredible things. They have a potential, I think, that exceeds what Millennials have.
2. Non-Competing Interests - This generation is still (at the oldest) in high school. They don't have families, mortgages, jobs, bills to pay. They have time, they have minimal responsibility in the "real world" besides a part-time job and school. In front of them is an opportunity to give their time in service, and they are free to do a number of ministry areas.
3. Network of Relationships - Friends on their football team, coworkers at the movies, who they ride the bus with, who they play Call of Duty with, and their Snapchat following means they have relationships. It's not the "talk over the fence" that their grandparents had, but they still have a network. By encouraging them to leverage this network for the Gospel, to look for ways to bridge their faith in Christ with their passion and develop a burden for their friends, an Xbox can become a missionary tool just the same as an English School.
How have you seen the generations benefit your church? How about benefit each other?
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.