Generations and the Church: Part 1

If you’re a GenX, like I am, or maybe you are a Baby Boomer, or maybe you are part of the Elder generation, or the Silent generation, Hayden Shaw gives great insight about all of these generations, and everyone gains something from it  because this is such a universal issue.  And hey, if you are a marketer, maybe you don’t even go to church at all, you are going to get some insight. Because any time you look at demographics and how people behave, you learn something. What’s really cool is that Hayden has a new book called Generation IQ,

The subtitle to the book is just fascinating to me.  It’s called “Christianity Isn’t Dying, Millennials Aren’t the Problem and the Future is Bright.”  Aren’t you Millennials glad to hear that? I take it you knew you were kind of taking a minority position in the church, because everyone kind of throws their hands up and I’ve done this. We, as church leaders hear, “Millennials are exiting the church in record numbers, the churches are dying,” and Shaw’s got a different view.  Shaw is a ittle bit more optimistic that the church is alive and well in an age when a lot of people aren’t sure it is.

In the first part of the book there is a chapter that looks at some of the recent research on Christianity living or dying.  Then there is a whole section for parents of Millennials, and families of Millennials.  The point is that Millennials aren’t the problem; the life stage of emerging adulthood is the problem there, and then lastly, the church can have a great future or we can just whiff it completely, strike out so to speak.

The future can be bright if we can increase our generational intelligence.  The first part of the book actually tries to do that.  The book looks at the four generations and it looks at what are their strengths and weaknesses, and it makes the observation that when we were born shapes our relationship with God.

Each generation is shaped by certain experiences and as a result we answer the same questions differently.  So, we answer, “What is appropriate to wear to a church?” and most Boomers wouldn’t say flip flops, but most Millennials say, “Flip, flops.”  So, what’s appropriate to get married in?  Most Boomers would say, “It is a $32,000 average in general, so it better not be flip flops.”  But, there are websites that you can buy a blingged up, ribboned up flip flop in any color so the bride can go down the aisle with fancier flip flops, than the matching wedding party.  So that the Mom has one last thing on her list, then adding that by hand, because in her daughter’s mind, “I’m just going to kick them off and dance anyway.”  So when we answer the same question differently, we know we are shaped by different kinds of expectations and experiences.  As I’m going through generational research you  begin to see some patterns.  So for example, some doctrines that we argue over you can see generational patterns in those doctrines we argue over, and approaches to church.  You begin to see the focus on community that is much bigger for Generation X’ers than for Boomers.  If you understand one of the key things for the generations, it makes complete sense that a generation that saw a lot more divorce and a break down in community structures would be interested in a community as opposed to the hyper-individualism that marked the Baby Boomers.

Traditionalists; they are often called Builders or Elders, were raised by families that stuck together, whether it was good at home or not.  For the most part, divorce rates were quite low. So, your argument would be that as the Boomers started to divorce and as GenX’ers started to divorce, the Millenials and young GenX’ers are like, oh no, I don’t have any community at home, therefore I seek it in other people.

Well you can see it in the show Friends.  Your job’s a joke, you are broke, but you’ve got all of these friends.  So, all the older people in that series were caricatures of real people.  The only full drawn characters were the friends, and then Tom Selleck, when he was dating Monica.  So, those were the only full drawn characters; everybody else were cartoons. You pick your friends; you create your family, because your family of origin, while they were your family and you love them, but they were often rather dysfunctional, or at least appear dysfunctional.  So, you created a family; you created a community. Friends-giving is rapidly increasing over the family tradition of Thanksgiving. It was not at all uncommon for GenX’ers to relocate not to be closer to biological family, but to be closer to people they met in their early 20’s that they’d grown up with through life together, their chosen family, not at all uncommon.

The bad news in what we discovered is that 71% of people between the age of 18 and 23 drop out of church for at least a year, even if they were active youth group attendees and leaders. That to me is a heart breaking statistic. 71% or 7 out of 10 drop out of church for at least a year. The one thing that could drop that path was adults, other than the parents who stay in contact with them.  A text message every other week is enough to cut that in half. A text message every other week from an adult, not their parents made the difference.


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