Generations Together: Nothing New?

Posted by Liz Perraud at

I love (almost) nothing more than reading an article or a book about bringing the generations together. I couldn’t wait to see “The Intern” with Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway—a movie about generational issues in the workplace (great premise, kind of dumb delivery). My passion is connecting generations through the church but other settings are fascinating and interesting to me too.

So with excitement I opened an email from Alban with the title “Churches Need to Improve their Generational IQ.” I was all ready to share the article on Facebook or tweet it and comment with “Yes!” or “Indeed!” or “Amen!” and then I read the article--an interview with the author of a book.  

Where do I begin?

We’ve simply never dealt with five generations in the church before,” said Shaw, the author of “Generational IQ.” “We’re the first generation that has to deal with it, and it is throwing off some sparks.” [This is stated several times different ways and all I can think is, “You think we’ve never had to ‘deal with’ this before?” Hasn’t the church always been one of the few places (besides the family) where we’ve had all (or most) of the generations?]

“It [his previous book] was about how organizations deal with the fact that for the first time, four generations are in the workplace. It doesn’t matter what kind of organization -- a university, a business, a government agency, a church. All organizations are impacted by having four generations on staff. Or, if a nonprofit, four generations of volunteers.” [Okay, I’ll agree here if this is about church staff. But that’s not the reference in the rest of the interview and presumably not in his book.]

“Millennials also tend to be tribal. We’ve all seen them in their natural habitat, a restaurant where 20 of them spread out at five tables talking to people at their tables while texting people who aren’t there.” [How many exaggerations and stereotypes can be in one sentence?]

“And millennials have great relationships with people who are older, whereas the boomers were saying, ‘Don’t trust anybody over 30.’” [Boomers (early Boomers) may have said that when they were 18! Did it carry on throughout their life…especially after they turned 31?]

Lots of blah, blah, blah explaining the “sticking points” of each generation (more stereotypes about work ethics and expectations) and then we come to the meat of the article (and presumably the book)…if we’ve got these generational issues what do we DO about it?

But the research shows that if we take an older adult and we match them up with a person 18 to 23 and they just text them every other week, keep some kind of connection with them, the likelihood they will drop out of church is cut in half.” [That’s all it takes? Texting every other week between Gen X and an “older adult” for this amazing retention statistic? Show me that research! This just sounds creepy…not relational.] 

When asked, “What’s the best way to reach millennials?” (seems the wrong question and rather should be “What’s the best way to reach all generations?” if that’s your platform) the answer from the author is…

“But the No. 1 thing we can do to reach the millennials is to understand this new life stage of emerging adulthood. If we don’t get a little more generational intelligence, we will focus on the wrong things, and get upset about small things, and propose things that aren’t going to help.” [Can we come up with something better to DO? This screams, “Just buy my book to discover the answers!”]

Okay perhaps here then…

“That’s the second point I want to make about reaching the millennials: we’ve got a match made in heaven here between them and older people who are looking for something more than just folding bulletins or singing in the choir in their retirement.” [Actually, there’s nothing wrong with folding bulletins or singing in the choir if it’s done cross-generationally. This is it…the interview ends…buy the book to find out more (I guess).]

I'll give the author the benefit of the doubt and assume that he doesn't mean that these many generations have never been in the church before but that "dealing with" them is new. That sounds more like a problem to solve than an opportunity for relationships.  

I’d rather read ReGenerations by Jessica Stollings or learn from Melissa Cooper of the Life Enrichment Center. Or Holly Allen or John Roberto or Sticky Faith or Vibrant Faith (see GenOn’s “All About Intergenerational Ministry” webpage).

Understanding the generations, each generation, is a great place to start. Then let’s move on to bring the generations together. For the church context, that means to learn, worship, serve, and fellowship together--intentionally. Mutually investing in one another and in the community.  Building relationships.

In GenOn's over 50 years of experience working with churches of all sizes, in different community settings, and with a range of the theological spectrum, we know that building intergenerational Christian relationships grows churches deeper, wider, and stronger. What is your experience?

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