At left is a candid, not very clear, picture of three of our generations. When it was taken with my iPad there wasn't even a thought about what it signifies. Not until yesterday did I remember the power thought behind what it depicts. So, here we are, three of the living generations. The Chester, how we fondly refer to my dad (Chester H. Holmes, Sr., of the Builder Cohort), Me (Chester H. Holmes, Jr, Boomer Cohort), and John Lewis Carpenter (great grand and grand, of the Boomlet Cohort). Daughter Liz Carpenter would be the missing Gen X'er, and our line of the clan didn't include any Millennials in the most immnediate circle. Niece Mollie and nephews Matt and Josh would round out the generationl linkage as the millennials. Now back to my point.
Only after further reflection did the picture above resonate with me. Here are three of our generations sitting side by side, doing what may be one of the marks of that particular cohort. The Chester is reading the newpaper, I'm working on my MAC, and John Lewis is playing games on his iPad. Among the many unique characteristics of each of the generational groups are natural affinity for the way we receive and handle data. The Chester naturally prefers print media, the newspaper, hard back books, Sunday school quarterlies, and such. Me, myself, and I enjoy techie toys like the iPad, the MAC, iPhone 6, FitBit, the Keurig coffee deal, Nook, and others but don't give a whit about how they work. John Lewis plays complicated video games on his own iPad and knows what makes them move. The Chester is an alien in this new world, I am an immigrant in it, and JL is pure native, to borrow descriptions in Leonard Sweet's "Carpe Manana", a classic of this new world.
That so many people, ministry leaders in particular, are unaware of generational dynamics blows my mind to smitherines. Evidently some people believe we all think and act alike. And that, of course, is the underlying principle associated with study of the generations. A cohort is simply a subset of people banded together or treated as a group. Generational cohorts are groups of people who share birth years, history, and a collective personality as a result of their defining experiences. Socialogists disagree somewhat in labeling them, but they are usually (1) Builders (1927-1945 birth years), (2) Boomers (1946-1964), (3) Gen X'ers (1965-1981), (4) Millennials (1981-2000), and (5) Boomlets or Gen Y (2001-now). Each of them has been shaped by their times and bring varying degrees of comfort, teachability, and reliance on everyting from how we go to the bank, pay our bills, watch TV, shop, purchase groceries, and go to church.
Church leaders should have a grasp of the generations in at least two ways. In church , informed leaders know the generational traits of the people they are leading, and the same data about the people in their mission field. When we assume that all Christians are the same we ignore this segment of demographic study. So, a pastor friend fought tooth and nail to begin a modern, contemporary worship service in their rural church. The church membership is primarly the builder cohort. So is the population mix in the one, three, and five miles circles around the church. No member of the church prefers that worship plan, and no member of the mission field will be reached by it. It was a strategic mission mistake. He wanted it because it was the trend in certain ministry locales.
By the same token, I know churches that are dying because they don't resonate with the community around them. This isn't always about worship style either. Often it is about ministry to children, youth, singles, singles again, mission involvement, Bible study, men's and women's groups, recovery, school partnerships, committee structure, chuch business, and connection to the locale community. In the same way, some leaders allow the generational dynamics of the internal population to over-shadow the needs and generational expressions of the surrounding world. These church become internalized and lose their mission focus. Often they just die.
So, what do we do? (1) Know that Jesus heals generation gaps. (2) Generations aren't alike. (3) The most important generation to the local church is the generation of the unbelievers who live in the communities close to the church. (4) The message never changes, but the methods not only do, but must. (5) God's people must be alert to their surroundings if they are to remain on point with the Great Commission.
Now, I think I'll read myself to sleep. I'm reading "Generation Ageless: How Baby Boomers are Changing The Way We Live Today...and They're just Getting Started" by J. Walker Smith. I'm reading it, of course, on my Nook. Hope I remembered to charge it.
Boomer all the way!