I have had the opportunity to share this material with several churches, associations, and pastors. This is not an attempt to point a finger at any generations or to say any generation needs to be catered to. This is simply an attempt to help each of us evaluate who we serve week after week and how we can effectively lead them, as we attempt to worship together.
For the first time in history, our churches are facing the struggle of having four generations, and even in some situations as many as five generations, attempting to do “church” together. Each generation has certain traits and characteristics that can be evaluated and compared. From this analysis we can determine how to successfully minister to those in the local congregation and reach others.
First, we must define the church.
The word translated “church” in the English Bible is ekklesia. This word is the Greek words kaleo (to call), with the prefix ek (out). Thus, the word means “the called out ones.” However, the English word “church” does not come from ekklesia but from the word kuriakon, which means “dedicated to the Lord.” This word was commonly used to refer to a holy place or temple. By the time of Jerome’s translation of the New Testament from Greek to Latin, it was customary to use a derivative of kuriakon to translate ekklesia. Therefore, the word church is a poor translation of the word ekklesia since it implies a sacred building, or temple. A more accurate translation would be “assembly” because the term ekklesia was used to refer to a group of people who had been called out to a meeting. It was also used as a synonym for the word synagogue, which also means to “come together,” i.e. a gathering, the “Body of Christ”. Since believers have been united with Christ through spiritual baptism, they are sometimes corporately referred to as the body of Christ. (Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Cor. 12:11, 13, 18, 27; Col. 1:18; Eph. 5:30) The idea seems to be that the group of Christians in the world constitute the physical representation of Christ on earth. It is also a metaphor which demonstrates the interdependence of members in the church, while at the same time demonstrating their diversity from one another. (Rom. 12:4; 1 Cor. 12:14-17)
A further definition, taken from the website of a prominent church:
The following is excerpted from Vintage Church, pp. 35-41.
Therefore, we will establish a definition of the local church, summarized from Acts 2:
The local church is a community of regenerated believers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord. In obedience to Scripture, they organize under qualified leadership, gather regularly for preaching and worship, observe the biblical sacraments of baptism and Communion, are unified by the Spirit, are disciplined for holiness, and scatter to fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission as missionaries to the world for God’s glory and their joy.
From this, we determine that there is no distinction given as to who these believers are. Nothing determines age, race, gender, etc. It is all based on the common ground of confessing Jesus Christ as Lord. This “church” participates regularly in worship, observing the sacraments and reaching out to the world. It is spirit-led and spirit-empowered and held accountable by the Holy Word of God. The “church” can be compared to a “family”. A family is a group of individuals, under the leadership of one head, living and experiencing life together. This family consists of multiple generations that share in the experiences of life at different levels. Each one makes sacrifices for the good of the whole. For a “church” to function as a family it finds its leadership from God, revealed in His Holy Word. The family unit cares for one another even with its diversity. There is a give-and-take for the good of the whole. It is not about me getting my way or letting you have yours. It is what is best for all. Although there are multiple generations, there is a respect and care for all. There is an interdependence one for the other.
Let’s look at the various age groups that make up the local church.
Dates vary according to various research studies!
Since the publication of this data there is even now being given the label as Generation Z for those born in the 1990’s and 2000’s. This generation is quickly becoming the largest generation with over 26% of our population now fitting into this category. And by the year 2020, over 1/3 of our population will be of this generation.
Let’s begin with the oldest generation. This generation is quickly dwindling in numbers but its impact is still felt in many of our churches. Most researchers label this generation as the Builder Generation. It is then broken down into three smaller groups:
- The G.I. Generation, born prior to 1925
- The Silent Generation, 1926-1939
- The War Babies, 1940-1945
For this generation, the pace of change is slow and succeeding generations are alike. It was a time when families met around the dinner table. Mom cooked. Items were purchased for their value, not because they were trendy. People fixed things that were broken. They believed in God, country, and family. Most were loyal, faithful, and dependable, and they were survivors.
Many significant inventions and experiences occurred during the formative years of the Builder.
Those with most influence were:
- World War 1 – 1914-18 beginning event of this generation. They fought in it and supported it.
- The Roaring 20’s – A time of escapism, it was a time of prosperity. The entertainment industry flourished as crowds flocked to the theaters and to sports stadiums. Many Americans broke the law by making liquor at home, organized crime grew. Investors over-speculated by purchasing stocks with money they did not have which resulted in the stock market crash of 1929.
- The Great Depression – More than 15 million people were unemployed, thousands lost their homes, their farms and their personal savings.
- Rural Lifestyle – Farming was the main source of survival. It took hard work, dedication, and prayer but there was predictability to life. The small town atmosphere and the slow pace allowed people to know, protect, and care for each other. Churches, schools, and family provided the necessary centers of social life.
- The Automobile – Transportation was revolutionized during their lifetime. A love affair with the automobile began. Cars were simple and could be repaired by the average individual in his driveway. But more important, the automobile provided a new form of expression for personal freedom and individualism.
- Radio – 1930’s – This new invention began to capture the attention of the general public. For many, it was a main source of entertainment.
- The New Deal – Franklin D. Roosevelt put in place a wide range of relief programs that communicated the government’s commitment to deal with America’s economic woes.
- Big Bands – Dance bands became popular.
- Pearl Harbor and World War II – 1939-45 – It mobilized public opinion against aggression of the Japanese and the Axis powers. This resulted in the Builders pulling together. Men volunteered and were drafted into the military. It created many heroes.
- Rationing – Goods were scarce and price controls limited inflation. Items were rationed.
- Family, School, Church – Builders remember when life was centered around these three big influences. The process of becoming an adult was closely supervised by these three institutions. Social activities revolved around the church and school. The three influences helped to create a fairly stable life, which helped people face difficult times and created a sense of unity. Couples rarely divorced. Most women did not work outside the home. Traditional values permeated the home, community, and nation. Belief in God is taken for granted by most Builders. To them we are “one nation, under God” which means we have duty to God and country.
They were before panty hose, drip-dry clothes, ice makers, dishwashers, clothes dryers, freezers, electric blankets. They were born before the Pill, television, penicillin, polio shots, Frisbees, hoola hoops, frozen food, Dacron, Xerox, radar, credit cards, ball point pens, tape decks, CD’s, electric typewriters and computers.
Specific characteristics of this generation include:
- Hard Workers
How do they impact the church?
Many are open to change, yet a significant number will exercise their power as needed to keep things the same. This “make –do” generation has found faith, encouragement, and support during difficult times in their churches. They were trained to attend Sunday School and church and for many that habit continues. If they don’t attend out of a spiritual commitment they may attend out of social commitment. They believe in God and are most often found in small churches. They have a strong sense of obligation to serve the church. They are strong supporters of church programs and serve faithfully on church committees and boards. They focused on learning the content of the Bible but there was not a lot of time spent defining personal beliefs. Many learned the words of the Bible without letting them penetrated their lives. Following World War II a driving force in financial stewardship for Builders was missions.
Today, Builders feel a need to defend their view of ministry, and are slow to adopt any new way of doing things. They are satisfied with modest or plain church facilities. They are hesitant to go into debt for church facilities and land purchases. They have attended the same church for years and have come to appreciate songs, order of service, and simple decorations. They resist change in their churches because change destroys the stability and security they expect. In making changes in a traditional church, care should be taken to affirm the validity of previous ministries, underscore the Biblical basis of past ministries, present changes as an extension of the past, and move in a loving, accepting and patient manner. Builders are strongly committed to their denomination. For Builders, corporate worship is a time of quietness and contemplation of God. A worship service that requires minimal audience participation and that includes hymns, prayer, expository or content-oriented sermons, recognition of guests, organ/piano music is preferred.
- Catch the Age Wave, by Win and Charles Arn, Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, Kansas City., Missouri. 1999.
- One Church Four Generations, Understanding and Reaching all Ages in your Church, Gary L. McIntosh, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan. 2002.
- Reaching People Under 40 While Keeping People Over 60, Edward H. Hammett with James R. Pierce, Chalice Press, St. Louis, Missouri. 2007.
- When Generations Collide, by Lynne C. Lancaster and David Stillman, Harper Collins Publishers, New York, New York. 2005.
- Why Men Hate Going to Church, by David Murrow, Thomas Nelson, Inc. Nashville, TN. 2005.
- Pew Research Center, www.pewresearch.org.