What's in a name?

April 24th, 2019

Your congregation has up to six, maybe even seven different generations in it. While the oldest generation is unlikely to still be attending worship, they are still part of your congregation. And the newest generation is on its way in. Each generation is influenced by different historical events, technology and expectations.

Do you know how to recognize who’s who, and what each age group needs? It helps to know what’s in a name.*

GI Generation: Born from around 1900 through 1923, they came of age during the Great Depression. Also known as the Greatest Generation, this group includes the veterans who fought in World War II. Along with the Pioneers and Baby Boomers, nine out of 10 GIs describe the Bible as sacred. Duty and tradition are motivators for this generation.

Pioneer Generation: Born 1924 through 1944, this generation is generally recognized as the children of the Great Depression. It had a profound impact on their formative years. The American Dream was alive and well with many in this generation. With dedication and hard work, many found success in work and life. Feeling undervalued demotivates this generation; being part of an organization that does good motivates them.

Baby Boomer Generation: Born from approximately 1945 to 1963 following World War II, in a time that was marked by an increase in birth rates. In general, baby boomers are associated with a rejection or redefinition of traditional values. A relatively large number of young people became teenagers and young adults in the 1960s. They both fought in and demonstrated against the war in Vietnam. They gave rise to the Hippie movement and the Jesus People or Jesus Freaks movement, living in communes and advocating a return to simpler times. The genre “Christian music” grew out of this generation. They broke away from traditional church more so than any of their forebears. Respect and recognition for their efforts motivates this generation.

Gen X or Postmodern Generation: Born from approximately 1964-1980, they are shaped by the first Earth Day, the 1973 Oil Crisis, the end of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War, the Challenger explosion and 9/11. Often the children of divorced parents, they are more open to religious, racial, ethnic, class, sexual orientation and gender identity diversity than any previous generation. Rather than challenge leaders, they tend to ignore them. They are educated, active, happy, balanced and family oriented. Not at all the “slacker” stereotype once attributed to this generation.

Many were babysat by the T.V., and as a result they rebelled against authority and tradition to a greater degree than had been previously seen. Since authority structures were not there for them as children, they question why they should play into this system now as adults. They prefer doing things their own way. While a significant number still participated in church activities, this generation increased the trend of falling away from religion.

Millennial Generation: Born somewhere from 1981-1999, they have been described as upbeat, team-playing, civic-minded, multi-tasking and tech savvy. They are regularly in touch with their parents and many live at home due to high unemployment. Sometimes called the “Trophy Generation” or “Trophy Kids,” a term that reflects the trend in competitive sports, as well as many other aspects of life where mere participation is frequently enough for a reward. They expect more from the workplace than generations before them: coaching, feedback, access to authority. This is good news for churches that thrive on making the above available.

In the U.S., the Millennials are more likely to be skeptical of religious institutions than their forebears, but still have a strong spiritual/religious sense. A recent poll by the Pew Research Center on religion and Millennials showed that 64% of Americans in this generation believe in God.

Digital Generation: Born around 2000. Also called the Internet Generation, they came into being at about the same time as the World Wide Web. Typically children of Postmoderns, they have but a faint recollection of 9/11. These world-aware children will be shaped by the Economic Crash of 2008, the 7 Billionth Baby, and drastically different weather patterns than previous generations.

  • They embrace technology and value human connections. 
  • They are fluid in their ability to adapt to change. Even so, they appreciate stability. 
  • They see the spiritual all around them. God moments are not limited to Sunday mornings or church buildings. 
  • They want to change the world. And often insist on social justice. 
  • They are not fighting over environmental stewardship, whether or not global warming is real, full acceptance of women, gays, lesbians and transgender people in the church, or whether or not to have friends of different ethnicities and races. Generally, they accept these as given. Even so, they are susceptible to prejudice, racism, sexism, heterosexism, greed and selfishness — just like the rest of us. 

You may have noticed that the above information doesn’t necessarily fit your family, culture or life experience. Or that of the families you serve. Even as generational experiences vary by country and culture, 1989 marks a milestone year. As the Berlin Wall came down, and a youth revolt took hold, more of the world looked to American culture for economic, cultural and technological cues. In the generations before 1989, differences abounded in world cultures. Post-1989, however, a global shift occurred, and American culture became a strong focus. From 1989 onward, generational experiences may be more confluent with American experiences, regardless of culture.

Chances are, your church is a generational mix, complete with untapped blessings, wisdom and knowledge. What can you learn from the generations around you?

If you are interested in learning more about how to lead a vibrant multi-generational congregation, Creating a Culture of Renewal is for you. Gain the emotional intelligence to interact with all kinds of people. Look deeply at the life of Jesus, his world-changing vision, and how he implemented it. You will learn a step by step process for crafting and implementing a Kingdom-oriented vision that expands assumptions about what is possible in your setting.

* Much of the generational research used in this article has been drawn from Wikipedia.

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