Facing Up to a Four-Generation Society

What a great article!

I couldn’t believe I was reading the title right. Last March 2018, I began writing down some thoughts that eventually turned into a book, The Pharisee Factory. The book will be released July, 2019.

In chapter one of my book I write about the current crisis bearing down on the church. This is the first time in history that four generations are trying to figure out the future of the church!

The article opened with this, “A profound but mostly unrecognized demographic and economic trend is unfolding around the world right now. The average human life span is growing enough that for the first time in recorded history, four generations can routinely expect to be alive at the same time.”

The authors would explore a positive spin on a fast approaching train-wreck. “How we might turn a massive social liability into a common good.” Endicott and Sviokla boldly state, There has never been a modern society in which people routinely lived into their 90s. The longevity revolution is putting massive strains on all of our major social systems — employment, retirement, education, healthcare, housing, transportation, and food, as well as the environment.

I completely agree.

I have one question – as an institution, an influence, where is the church in all of this? Answer, who knows, no one is talking about it.

I am calling out Christian leaders to focus on Building a Gen-Gap Bridge. There are many names for generational identity, I chose four: Traditionalist, Boomer, GenX and Millennial. The point isn’t to argue over titles or birthdates, it’s to acknowledge that these completely different perspectives and ideologies are not trying to figure out how to get along or what the future holds for the church. The four generations are each stuck thinking that they know what’s best! I’m begging you, “please look up!” Look up from your past, your opinions, your positions and power – long enough to see there’s work to be done. Who’s going to do it?

The old guard wants to keep everything the same or worse, go back because to them, “it worked,” “God moved,” and churches were full. In the past, older saints would die and gloriously go on to heaven, forcing the church to make a change. The new guard (twenty and thirty somethings) say go forward because the church lost its way, its love, it’s passion for the poor, and the immigrant. The church became all about judging and what it stands against. This new generation wants the church to be known for what it stands up for. A church for justice and compassion.

I believe that longevity and health care has given us longer lives with no tools to deal with the social, cultural, and financial ramifications when people might live to one hundred years old. In 1900, very few lived to eighty-five;  in 2010 there were 5.5 million; and in 2050, there will be 19 million. That’s a lot more healthy, feisty, and articulate old people!

This longevity equals tension, and it means that pastors stay in the pulpit longer, and congregants (who are old, but not necessarily mature) stay active and vocal in the church. The power and money dynamic continue to push the current young generation to either rebel against their elders or just vacate traditional churches to start their own churches and movements.

This generation, currently sitting in builder/boomer churches, are just waiting out the leaders until their time comes. And, it looks like that time will never come. They’re staying in the traditional church because they: love their family, love their church, and love their community. That’s good, right?

They’ll eventually leave because the pain of staying will outweigh the pain of finding something where they can have a voice about what church looks like and sounds like. Or, the way money is spent and how ministry takes place outside the church, where there are physical and social needs in their community. Eventually, they will just leave. Why? Because two or three generations above them hold all the power and influence about how the church operates.; because their only input is to volunteer in the “ministries” of the church because the older folks have “served their time, and they’re tired;” and because they are weary of being seen as “kids,” or “youngsters” or just lumped into the the whole “youth” category. Many of them haven’t been a youth or student for over a decade!

Look at the facts.: next-gen leaders are willing to walk away from an established building, a long history of a presence in the city, deep family connections (sometimes two or three generations worth), and tons of friendly, familiar faces just so they can experience a church where they are valued beyond their labor, availability, and “youthful” appearance on websites and church bulletins.

  • They will walk away because they want to see change lives.
  • They will walk away because they want to have input.
  • They will walk away because they want action outside the church building.

The builder/boomer prophetic words of revival and “souls getting saved” or the promise of getting younger board/elder members (like in their fifties) will no longer keep them.

What are you doing to build a bridge?

My wife and I are putting our time, effort, money and connections into young pastors who believe the church can thrive in this current culture. These men and women are not afraid of social media or the political climate, they want to engage with the passion and love of Jesus to embrace a broken world.

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