Traditional. Steady. Flexible. Tech-savvy. These words describe key differences between four of the most prominent generations in our culture—Traditionalist, Baby Boomer, Generation X and Millennials. Churches are one of the few places in society that bring these four generations, plus two more—the Greatest Generation and iGen—under one roof.
Understanding how to navigate cross-generational differences is crucial in church, where different convictions, attitudes, mentalities and experiences can create a barrier to effective communication and unity.
Wondering how to avoid age barriers and instead build bridges across generations? Here are four ways to break down generational walls:
Host a training session or keynote speaker to learn about generational differences. Understanding the differences between Baby Boomers and Millennials, for instance, can facilitate better communication, limit misunderstanding and forge relationships.
Spend time with others by asking about their life experiences. For example, “What was it like to live during World War II?” can be a great question to ask a Traditionalist (born between 1925–1945). Or ask a Millennial about their passions and dreams. Being interested in other people’s lives can be a very effective way to minister to them, allow mentoring (or reverse mentoring) and inspire Christ-centered unity.
Ronald Reagan famously said, “Each generation goes further than the generation preceding it because it stands on the shoulders of that generation. You will have opportunities beyond anything we’ve ever known.” Follow his advice and appreciate the foundation that the generations before have established. Respect and humility are important to foster communication and clarity in a cross-generational ministry.
Organize a cross-generational committee or program in your church to allow each generation to feel needed and involved. In Barna Group’s recent study of Millennials, they discovered that three-quarters of Millennials prefer a sense of community over privacy. Sometimes they just don’t know the right words to say to their elders, or they feel intimidated by them. This can cause disconnection between age groups instead of integration.
It takes time and effort to connect generations. A suit-and-tie Traditionalist who grew up with the radio as the pinnacle of technology may find it hard to relate to a smartphone wielding, rugged, jean-wearing Millennial. But there is a wealth of knowledge and experience that can be tapped into from which passionate and entrepreneurial 20-somethings can learn.
Clear communication and involvement between generations is a goal that should be at the heart of your ministry. Past experience has proven that schools, organizations, businesses, families and communities that understand and value cross-generational commitment will thrive—and even regenerate.