Are You Falling Through the Generation Gap?

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015

Churches are designed to welcome all sorts of people, from the youngest child in the nursery to the oldest congregant. In between, your church has staff members and volunteers of all ages, and that’s great! This age diversity, though, can be accompanied by communication challenges. Older members may speak of times where it was common for children to play unattended in yards up and down the block; younger members know about “stranger danger,” and many were raised to feel more comfortable playing inside.

Of course, not everyone thinks this way. There are conservative young people who don’t find Snapchat appealing, and older individuals who are well-versed in the nuances of the latest iPhone. When talking about the generational gap, though, it’s helpful to generalize because it aids in understanding. For the purposes of this article, we will classify the generations as The Pew Research Center does:

  • The Silent Generation: born 1928 to 1945. Today, they are about 70-87. Think: Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower were presidents as this generation grew up, wireless radio, jazz and swing, Mickey Mouse and “Steamboat Willie,” and early television.
  • The Baby Boom Generation: born 1946 to 1964. Today, they are about 51-69. Think: John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, the audio cassette, “The Graduate,” Neil Armstrong landing on the moon, and the Vietnam War.
  • Generation X: born 1965 to 1980. Today, they are about 35 to 50. Think: Ronald Reagan and George H. Bush as presidents, the VCR and IBM personal computer, Madonna, “ET,” MTV, and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
  • The Millennial Generation: born after 1980. (Pew doesn’t list an end year for Millennials, but some lists break these out into Generations Y and Z). Today, those kids are 0 to 35. Think: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama presidencies, Google and iPads, Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift, Smart TVs, Sept. 11, and the Iraq war.

What does all of this mean for a church? It means that as you place workers together, it’s important to understand the time period in which they grew up. When conflicts arise or communication gaps present themselves, it is helpful for you to see their perspective through the lens of when they grew up or how they were raised. This can guide you in helping to resolve a situation.

Ultimately, people from different generations working and serving together are valuable because they can learn from one another and provide a wider breadth of experience to those they serve. As a church administrator, your job is to help bridge that gap though open communication and a little patience. Give all staff and volunteers a chance to offer feedback and express their views, and team up workers of different generations. The result will be greater harmony, no matter what the setting.