I've been thinking a lot about generational impact lately. I already cited (for some of you) several relevant books by Neil Howe and William Strauss (see amazon.com and look up "Generations" or "Fourth Turning"). I wonder if someone has yet written a good book looking at the impact of generations on the church?
I wonder what the current generational demographic of our churches is? How much of church leadership is from the Boomer generation -- how much from Gen X & Gen Y? How much of our membership? The fact is: it makes a difference. From what I'm reading, it makes far more difference than the racial or even economic makeup of our churches.
Gen X: born approx. 1964-1984
Gen Y: born approx. 1984+
Corporate America is talking about this:
There's no question that one of the challenges today is how to engage Generation Y, the millennial generation. They are manifestly different from Generation X. They're much more optimistic and entrepreneurial, and they're much more tech savvy. We grew up believing that nothing was permanent. We grew up with marriages that ended in divorce. Our parents watched people walk on the moon, and we watched the Challenger blow up.
So as a result of those societal influences, we are a jaundiced, slightly disillusioned, slightly pessimistic, mistrustful generation that expects our chief executives to be stealing form the company and expects to work really hard but knows we could be fired at any time. The hard thing about Generation X is getting us to believe in something real.
Generation X's parents watched Rosemary's Baby (a 1968 film in which a woman discovers that her pregnancy is part of a satanic ritual). Children were to be feared. What were Generation Y's parents watching? Look Who's Talking. The whole things was about "protect the child." Generation Ys got prizes for graduating from first grade, for coming in eighth in a race, or for just showing up. They are the most rewarded, recognized, and praised generation in living memory. So they walk into the workplace feeling massively entitled. After six weeks on the job, they expect a promotion." From "Training and Development Magazine, August 2005 - An interview with Marcus Buckingham
I wonder if part of the reason for the severity of our implosion in the early 00s was partly due to the "coming of age" of Generation X in our churches. The wave of campus conversions in the 80's was all Generation X-ers (I was one of these -- born in 1967). By 1999-2000, most of us were in our 30s. Not only were we jaundiced (as described above), but we were also financially taxed from six years of annual 20x+ contributions (plus normal weekly contributions).
In the 80s and early 90s, we had heroes. For some of us, these were the first real heroes we ever had. The 30 would-be's, the "one suitcase challenge", the evangelism campaigns in London: these helped us to "believe in something real". We had actual Christian heroes instead of the hair-bands, punks, I-want-it-all athelets, or corrupt political figures. The tail end of the "change the world" Boomer generation leadership in ICOC unwittingly created a powerful cocktail of post-60s radicalism and restoration-movement idealism that made us believe. We believed in something real. And then those heroes didn't look so heroic any more.
And how might one predict that a coming-of-age Generation X group might respond to such a turning? Exactly the way we have seen them respond. And yes, devotion to Christ can overcome the flesh-driven generational response. But man, it takes a lot of work.
Another book I would suggest on this topic: Revolution, by George Barna (the church statistics guy). He says that today 70% of Christians get their primary spiritual experience in church. He predicts that in roughly 20 years, that number will drop to around 20%.
Interestingly, the authors of "Fourth Turning" might dispute this (though they make no references to how generational trends impact church). Barna assumes a linear continuation of current trends. Howe and Strauss posit that at a "fourth turning" (roughly to occur mid-00s ), it can (and does) all change. It might be possible, if their assertions are correct, that the crisis we may face in the next 20 years will turn people BACK to community involvement in church. If so, you will be the leaders during this next wave, raising up the next wave of Gen Y'ers to take the helm when you are in your gray years. We GenXers will be somewhere in the middle, financing it and running some of the machinery. -- Jeff Fawcett