Generational Divides

Growing up in a multi-generational church, I encountered people who had, themselves, grown up attending church in a horse and buggy and other, like myself, who had only know going in the family car. It was a diverse church with a rich love for Christ. Differences in generations did cause some inherent friction.

Robert Webber’s book The Younger Evangelicals was one of the first books I read immediately following graduation from college. As I served as an intern at my home church before heading off to seminary, it was an important text to soak in it contents. We stood, in the summer of 2001, at an important crossroads culturally and spiritually. Unbeknownst to us all, we were about to enter into a social earthquake perpetuated by the acts of September 11, 2001.

Webber’s book speaks to a great many things and is a wonderful read. One of the consistently good things he does in the text is to develop charts about the three unique generations within our churches and how they approach Christianity uniquely. This chart is adapted from his text:

Each of the three generational categories refer to believers who reach adulthood during that particular space. While I’ve adapted some of the dates and descriptions based on my own research, much of this is still Webber’s original thought. It is a good chart detailing how unique generations view different aspects of Christianity. (They are fairly general observations and not definite categories, there are always exceptions and nuance.)

One of the challenges that arises in a multigenerational church is having all three of these perspectives present as we do life together, church together, and spend time together. Notice how the different generations approach even basic things such as worship type or our underlying theological approach.

As a result our churches and church leaders must find ways to bridge the generational divide and appeal to all facets of the church. One way that has developed over the past twenty or so years is having unique worship services that are usually age segmented with different styles. We then must find ways to bring people together outside of that or our churches remain polarized and fail to accomplish some of the basic functions of church life.

There is certainly more to be said about this kind of a chart, but perhaps it is a worthwhile starting point. When we look at how the progression has taken place it is compelling to consider how flexible our churches and ecclesiology can be to minister to so many unique generations.

What are you seeing in your churches when it comes to generational divides? Do generations divide or do they find space together? What are some wins you’ve seen happen in creating effective cross-generational ministry?