There’s an amazing thing happening in the church. For the first time perhaps in the history of the world, five generations of people are gathering for spiritual meaning. Now, every generation might not be represented in every church, but, at least now, it’s regularly possible for there to that kind of range of age groups. The great-grandparents, to the babies…that’s a big stretch!
This kind of breadth of age-groups inevitably leads to different needs, capacities, hopes and understandings of God. Everyone has a particular way of being in the world. We must always be cautious when offering generalities to not reduce people to stereotypes. However, sometimes they are helpful. I'm hoping that as our churches reflect on the generalities of each group, we'll be better able to identify the specifics for our settings. We'll be better able to love and serve each other if we are aware of these generational differences.
Each of our five generations have been assigned names. The Traditionalists are those born before 1945*, Baby Boomers (1946 – 64), Generation X (1965 – 1980), Millennials (1981 -2001), Homeland (2001 – present). These are the names that have been assigned to those born in these historical, cultural periods. The characteristics are also very general. Factors such as ethnicity, immigrant experience, and economic status are not taken into account and markedly affect the categories provided. *consider these dates a guide not an absolute
The Traditionalists and the Baby Boomers are both in their second adulthood. That is to say, they are living in retirement. However, those on the older end are tasked with coping with loss of health and relationships. Much of life lays behind them, and legacy is very important. This explains why 70% of all giving to the church comes from these two generations. For the church, this is the time to honor the tremendous generosity and financial support these members have provided. Churches serve the Traditionalists best by 1. providing consistent pastoral care, 2. cultivating ways of honoring and receiving the wisdom of these members.
For Baby Boomers and those who are still actively in their retirement years, the task is to find new meaning in their life after work. Retirement now has the potential to stretch on for decades. The task for the church is to 1. offer meaningful on-ramps to service, 2. facilitate inter-generational connections, 3. provide opportunities for discernment.
The Gen-Xers are adulting. They are working to attain their life-goals while also managing care for parents and children. Their task is to find small ways to serve that have big payoffs for their sense of connection and well-being. Leadership and the ability to convey perspective are important contributions they make. The church can serve them through 1. providing opportunities for simple, stream-lined leadership, creating episodic social and play times, and 3. offering on-going spiritual formation groups.
Millennials are the first generation to experience the full extent of emerging adulthood. The instability of vocation, location, and relationships gives them tremendous tasks for forming and fulfilling their life-goals. They are served by a church that 1. creates connections to older adults who can advise and support, 2. offers meaningful opportunities for service and 3. provides vision-casting in ways that help shape their formation.
Here are a few of the ideas from Steve Lawless that could strengthen your community:
1. Invite older, long-term members to attend newcomer’s classes. This would provide an opportunity to honor their legacy and create relationships across generations.
2. Include personal stories in worship. Most members don’t get to know each other that well. Stories allow for a deeper dive, create intimacy and connection and appeal especially to millenials and Gen-x ers for whom personal experience is a root for truth telling.
3. Build connections through mentoring and “grandparenting” – creating an established structure for relationship and resourcing will strengthen the community and widen its appeal.
We are at an amazing time in the world. Yes, the times feel treacherous, but they are also full of potential. Our faith in God and our commitment to one another across generations provide us deep roots and wide wings for hope.
Rector's Corner posts written by Pastor Rebecca.