is the generational thing still there?

had an interesting experience last night. we were at our house church, meeting for 6th or 7th time, i’d guess. really, i’m only just barely getting to know the other people.

around dinner, we were having an important and healthy discussion about our current commitment levels. i think we’re all trying to discern what level of intimacy this group will offer, what kind of safe space, what tone of community. and we’ve been sort of feeling this along, collectively, as we get to know each other and “practice” together. i can totally sense, especially after last night, a level of affection developing for one another that feels like an onramp to real honesty and vulnerability.

but in the midst of this discussion, one of the guys — the only person under 40 in the group — mentioned some specifics about what he desired the group to become — really more about the tone of the group. a couple others asked for clarification as to what he meant by his word choices, and he clarified some more. i’m really growing to care for this guy, and love his voice in the mix of this little church.

but as i was reflecting on the interchange later last evening, it struck me that i was filtering his comments though generational assumptions.

i haven’t really thought much about generational generalizations for a long time. there was a time when i was WAY into this kind of stuff. i read tons of books about gen-xers and boomers, their predicessors, and, eventually, the gen-y or millenials that followed. of course, like many, my earliest reason for reading all the gen-x stuff was because that was when we thought the changes happening in the church were really only a reflection of the need to connect with the different values of a different generation. reading about gen-x was my onramp into the emerging church conversation, as it was for most people entering that conversation in the mid- to late-90s. of course, most of realized, along the way, that the generational thing was being seriously overblown, and that the shifts we were pinning on gen-xers were really broader cultural shifts that weren’t specifically tied to a generation.

somewhere in the midst of the disenchantment with generational studies, i lost interest in the whole thing. i think i got tired of the labels. and, as encouraging as it was for me as a youth worker to hear about, and talk about, how the millenials are a more optimistic generation, and how they are pragmatic, and how they are interested in significance, and desire to experience synergy with others toward a common good… well, those generalizations don’t actually seem to make much of a difference when you’re sitting with a group of 7th grade boys.

but as i heard my new friend sharing his hopes for our fledgling little church last night, i was totally screening his words through my old gen-x readings. i was thinking, “oh, he wants it to be therapeutic because people ‘his age’ have so many issues with their parents,” and “oh, he wants this to be a place where we all share our pain because gen-xers have deep pain and anger.” and as i was reflecting on all that later, i realized what hogwash it was. i mean, the real hogwash of it was that i would filter his words like that at all, rather than simply receiving them.

it feels to me, as i reflect on this, that studying and stereotyping and archetyping about generations was a fad that we church leaders, especially, were “into” in the 90s. maybe it was useful? maybe it helped us in some ways?

6 thoughts on “is the generational thing still there?”

  1. my quick, not really thinking to deeply about it response is no. they don’t. however, it seems that as the world changes there are implications for the people who encounter the new world. Maybe we all change with it? Maybe we all change differently depending upon our experiences?

  2. and by the way, good for you for being reflective enough to catch yourself imposing your own brand of meaning on what he was saying, rather than actually hearing him.

    Good stuff my friend.

  3. my quick, not really thinking too deeply about it response is yes. For sure, it’s easy to go way overboard and put too much stock in the generational stuff, but it has to matter a little and impact how we do church somewhat I would think. When I look around our culture, I don’t see a ton of effort to break down the generational stuff. We are a culture that seems fairly defined by generational experiences, interests, needs etc.

    I guess the rub for me is this: How does the church decide where to reflect culture and where not to? How the church addresses generational issues seems, to me, to be a perfect example of this dilema.

  4. Can you point me towards your thoughts (or thoughts of others) re: “…the generational thing was being seriously overblown, and that the shifts we were pinning on gen-xers were really broader cultural shifts that weren’t specifically tied to a generation.” I’m at a church that historically has largely ignored 18-35s and is now obsessed with them. Where can I read more about the broader cultural shifts? I would love to bring more balance into the conversation.

  5. I think it is fair to say that we blew the generational thing out of proportion, but that is not to say that it wasn’t there. You state “that the generational thing was being seriously overblown, and that the shifts we were pinning on gen-xers were really broader cultural shifts that weren’t specifically tied to a generation.” While true, I would say that it is in the development or “coming out” of each new generation that we first see these cultural shifts. The older a person gets (how old is old?) the less likely they are to adapt to a new cultural shift; or maybe it isn’t less likely so much as it takes them more time.

    So with Boomers, Millenials, X’ers, and so on, they aren’t so much defined by a generational identity as they are the harbingers of the newest cultural or social shift.

  6. Way to go Marko….I would agree that Generational generalization has been WAY over-booked. Who are the PEOPLE and what do they need.
    However, with that said, I will answer your quesitons from my perspective- was it useful and did it help? Coming from a ‘traditional’ midwest church mentality I think that it has helped move some from the “Y’all come” mentality to realize that to do biblical ministry you have to go where the people are and at least listen to their concerns and be willing to do something about that. Outside of the furried hub-bub of totally changing the structure of ministry to try to fit the specific needs of every next generation (which is a broad generalization on my part)or being ‘obsessed’ with any generational demographic (‘they dont pay the bills’, ‘our generation is carrying this church’, ‘they are teh chruch of the future’)is to miss the mission/calling/purpose of our getting to stay here on earth. I believe for the places I have served it was helpful when tempered with biblical, Jesus focused ministry.

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