Churches have always struggled with generational changes. The rate of change in the last fifty years has only exacerbated that tension. Pre-boomers, baby boomers, gen Xers and Millenials present a phenomenal range of perceptions and world views in regards to religion.
Bridging Divided Worlds presents an enormous study of congregational trends in the United States regarding the unities and disunities of generational realities in American churches…
…The authors, Jackson Carroll (professor or religion at Duke) and
Wade Roof (professor of religous studies at the University of
California/Santa Barbara), call on their expertise in congregational
history and trends to portray the generational divides faced by many
churches today. They address the obstacles towards intergenerational
participation in ministry and reciprocity of leadership and present the
various ways that congregations opt to blend or segregate the age
groups. Carroll and Roof offer empathetic and also directly
challenging insight into each generation's approach to church life.
Their study critiques North American trends towards inherited
environments, blended services, and generation-specific congregations.
Carroll and Roof note that every group has to one degree or another an inherent history and tradition. As new people come in and as culture evolves, tensions inevitable arise "because the legacy of the past continues to inform the present life of the congregation, [but] inherited patterns make adaption and change difficult" (91). Ultimately, what the authors seek is not just "what kind of continuing adaptation is necessary but also what is possible given a congregation's history and present makeup. How can a tradition, of which the congregation is a bearer, remain a living tradition, connected with the personal narratives and experiences of new generations as well as the older cohorts in their midst?" (91).
From social grouping theories to theological influences upon the purpose of a local church, Bridging Divided Worlds provides an invaluable resource and engaging foundation for those
seeking to comprehend the tensions between generations in local
churches across America.
Carroll, Jackson W. and Wade Clark Roof. Bridging Divided Worlds: Generational Cultures in Congregations (Jossey-Bass, San Fransisco, 2002), 268 pages.
I agree with your comment James… though I think you also answer the question. We don’t do everything marked by love… and therefore we don’t try to understand the traditions and narratives of each generation in our churches. Just yesterday I had an older person in the congregation disrespect me a bit for being only 36. As I pressed this person on their condescension towards me, it turns out that they are frustrated with what they perceive as a lack of commitment to local church in my generation. When they were in their 30’s they invested tremendous amounts of time and energy into their church… and many of those now in their 60s-70s did the same. Where are the younger leaders in the church, they asked.
I don’t agree with this person… that there aren’t any younger leaders sacrificing tremendous amounts of time and energy for the church. In fact, I might venture to say that there is actually more genuine commitment today to the wider cause of Christ (though there is probably a remarkable decline in the commitment to the institution of a church). It’s just that there is a difference in how a 70 year old views the world and how a 20-30 year does. The problem, as you state, is that the various generations are self-centered and fail to be missional to the other generations. We see our own narratives… and not those of others.
You got me going here… YES! We absolutely are stuck in ourselves and have created that kind of culture in our churches. NO! That is NOT a good thing! [I’m yelling at our churches… not you at all James!! 🙂 ] YES! We have to become more others focused… more Kingdom minded… more Good News sharing. We must.
In the united motivation of evangelism (in the love of Jesus) is the desire to understand others outside of ourselves. In the motivation to share Jesus and to love others as Jesus loves is the compelling drive to be missionaries to each generation… and to cultivate a local church environment that cataylzes that drive.
Amen. Thanks James for spurring me up today!
I do not understand why tensions need to exist between generations in local churches. Although this may be a reality, how can this be if the mark of a Christian is love, if all that a Christian does is to be motivated by Christ’s love? Does love not compel us to understand the traditions and personal narratives of each generation, and to accept them where they do not violate foundational Biblical truths?
Have we somewhere along the line become self-centered so that the only tradition we can accept is our own? Or is the reality of this tension a by-product of the church not focussing on outreach and evangelism?