I was born in 1980 so I’m on the cusp of Generation X and the Millennials. On any given Sunday, our congregation has infants to people in their 90s. It is true that some churches are made up predominantly of one or two generations. For example, some older congregations are mainly the Silent (born 1920s-1940s) and Boomer generations (born 1940s to 1960s). Some newer churches may be predominantly Generation X (born 1960s to 1980s) and Millennials (born 1980s to 2000s). It appears to me that multi-generational churches are ideal and reflect the beauty of the body of Christ. As pastors and leaders, we are responsible for the spiritual care and leadership of our entire congregations. Regardless of our generational tendencies, we must minister to others who may think differently because of their age and life experiences.
Following are some observations about the generations. Many in the Silent generation experienced the Great Depression and World War II as children. They tend to be conservative and seek formal worship. A key word for the Silent generation and church is “sanctuary.”
The Boomer generation experienced a changing culture and high expectations. They often pursue standards of excellence and business savvy in their churches. A key word for the Boomer generation and church is “vision.”
Generation X reacted negatively to traditional religious experiences and is known for its absence at church. They tend to be spiritual (if not always church-going) and pursue real relationships in church environments. A key word for Generation X and church is “relationship.”
The Millennial generation is the technology generation embracing fast-paced advancement. Millennials involved in church want their faith to be active and making a difference. A key word for Millennials and church is “authenticity.”
I realize the preceding observations are generalizations, but recognizing differences within the people we serve and lead can greatly aid us in being effective ministers. We can learn from one another and enrich our churches by acknowledging some key areas where multi-generational ministry is important.
- Mentoring. The Silent and Boomer generations have much life experience. Involving spiritually mature Christians from these generations in teaching and mentoring younger generations grants older generations a voice (something they long for) while also creating authentic relationships (something younger generations seek). Mentoring and the generations have significant implications for discipleship.
- Communication. Younger generations are technologically savvy multi-taskers where flexibility and efficiency matter. The advent of websites and smart phones has made communication much faster. It is increasingly easy to communicate to an entire church body. But younger generations must not make the mistake of assuming that web or technology based communication will reach everyone. Boomers and Silents may prefer face-to-face communication or even a hand-written note.
- Ministry. The Silent and Boomer generations might be more comfortable with supporting denominational structures and mission organizations. Xers and Millennials want to know who they are supporting and have a hand in ministry. Creating face-to-face interaction with mission partners and hands-on ministry opportunities is healthy and provides opportunities for celebration.
- Preaching. Preaching to a multi-generational congregation requires thoughtful preparation. It is common that illustrations and applications will generally fit one group of people in your church better than another. While it is unreasonable to attempt illustrations and applications for every generation in every sermon, intentional long-term sermon preparation will ensure that, over time, you are connecting your sermons effectively to every generation.
- Leading. Leading those from different generations requires patience and listening. Boomers and Silents may hesitate with change and will be uncomfortable with moving fast. Xers and Millennials may be willing to change quickly, but lasting mechanisms for long-term growth are not priorities. Pastors who lead the generations well are attentive to the generational and personality tendencies of church leaders. Changing structures and ministries with vision is necessary for churches to advance, but failing to anticipate and answer the reactions of congregations (sometimes developed over 50-60 years of habits) has been the death-knell of many visions. Patience and attentiveness will provide insights into how to communicate with and lead change in your church.
- Joy. There’s just something about adopted grandparents at church. Think of those in your church who pass out candy to children. Spiritual joy is watching parents, grandparents, and adopted grandparents beam when preschoolers and children participate in church. Spiritual encouragement is having them they smile and tell you it’s ok when your child misbehaves for everyone to see.
Generational ministry is important. Embracing the generations in your church may create opportunities for spiritual growth. Are there other areas of generational overlap that are important for church ministry?