As we approach the end of October, thoughts turn to whether Skittles are the better catch, or if Snickers are still king (duh!). Turns out, the answer to that question is different based on your generation. Apparently, I show my age even in my candy preferences.
Generational studies abound. Painted with broad-brush strokes, and generally offering a nod to outliers, they help us understand what makes those folks who grew up in different contexts ‘tick’. There are several excellent authors who help churches to understand what the different needs of Generations X, Y (also known as Millennials), Boomers, the Silent Generation, etc. These studies focus on attitudes and actions, and help congregations understand who they are trying to reach.
Sociologists (and others!) study generational cohorts because out of all the predictors, age is the one that offers the most reliable predictors in terms of attitudes and behaviors.
Churches (in my experience) generally engage in generational studies because they are concerned about dwindling numbers in the pews (and in the offering plate). We study the next generation, because we fear there will not be a next generation in our churches.
I’m not arguing that is a bad thing. I will suggest that the motive might be an issue (let’s put in a coffee bar in the back of the church so more millenials will come… and then lead our committees is not the best motive). Certainly, the art of translating the Gospel into the language of the people is a concept that existed before Generational Theory was postulated and it’s important.
I would argue is that the reason why the church wants to reach the next generation is the bit that needs to be sorted out first. It’s not to increase our numbers, but rather to share the transformative love of the Christ, right?
Perhaps we need to not only look forward to who will follow us in the great parade of faith… but to look backward? How did we get here? Who are the saints before us, and what did they do that made their faith so persuasive?
“Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might”.
Looking back in my own life, I am thankful for the saints who went before me to taught me about Jesus in how they lived their lives. Preachers, teachers, but also grandparents and great-grandfolk, neighbors and shopkeepers who made decisions based on their faith and sometimes even made that connection for me. They showed me in their actions that their faith was important to them. It wasn’t the old “in our family, we go to church on Sundays because that is what we do” sort of thing. It was more “in our family, we go to church on Sundays because this is who we ARE”.
What if the key to reaching the next generation is how we live our lives?
What if the key to reaching the next generation is how the church lives its life?
Regardless, I’m grateful for the many, many generational cohorts that have proceeded my own (I’m officially on the cusp… but identify as Baby Boomer, if you want to know. But you knew that when I opted for the Snickers bar, didn’t you?). For all the Saints… who from their labors rest…