*If I told you there is a hidden factor in your spiritual life that both helps and interferes with your relationship with God, you’d probably think: “Oh, another one of these over-the-top claims that try to “hook” you into reading further. At least that’s what I would think. My exaggeration meter must be permanently stuck on cynical.
But after researching and coaching businesses, the military, churches, and individuals for over twenty years around generational, I discovered something I hadn’t expected—understanding generational differences made sense of why the generations relate to God differently. Of course you aren’t surprised, you see it all the time:
- One church draws people in their thirties and forties while another can’t attract anyone under fifty.
- Parents try to pass their faith on to their children but wonder why their kids don’t respond to what is meaningful to them or their friends.
- A dad can’t figure out why he has to force his teenagers to go to his church’s youth ministry when he loved his as a teen and it didn’t have half as much going on as his church offers today.
Bottom line: the generations relate to God differently. I call it the Generations Factor and it requires all of us to raise our Generational iQ. Those who care deeply about their own and others’ spiritual lives often search for the “X” factor that will bring real growth but overlook how the era they grew up in can propel them forward or hold them back spiritually.
Consider these spiritual holes that each generation has to get around to have a vibrant relationship with God.
Traditionalists (69 and older) struggle with retirement. Most people throughout history died before they could retire. So the Traditionalists are the first generation in history to have to figure out what to do with another twenty to thirty years of life after they quit working full time. They are the healthiest and wealthiest people in history. While there is nothing wrong with enjoying some golf or vacationing in a warm climate in January, God didn’t give them more life, more money and more health to find quality of life alone. He gave it to them to use to get His work done in the world. All gifts are God’s including our additional years, but how many people build their retirement around what God would want from them rather than their own interests and climate preferences.
Baby Boomers (50-69 years of age) have been called the “Me Generation” for a reason. Their parents grew up with the struggle to pay the bills and maybe send some of the children to college. But after WWII, the boom in the economy worldwide meant people didn’t have to wonder about what they would eat. So values shifted. As a nation we shifted from “sacrifice” to “self-exploration.” That wonderful shift from want to plenty; sacrifice to self also had a downside. Boomers tend to focus on psychology over theology, Oprah book reviews over scripture, and techniques over solid teaching. They tend to be consumers in terms of finding a church “that fits me” and “feeds me.” While church need not be boring and psychology has great things to offer us, both attitudes put the “self” as the top priority. And that can make it hard for Boomers to make God’s top priorities their top priorities.
Gen Xers (32-49 years of age) grew up with the divorce rate doubling, economic slowdowns, and cable television and its edgier take on life. They learned that government officials really were crooks, hard work wouldn’t get you a great job, and hearing “I love you” didn’t mean mom and dad were both going to stick around. Understandably, they are more independent as a generation. They look for authenticity and a group of people who can replace the family relationships that never worked like they saw on TV. This generation of realists can get jaded and cynical when Christians sin, disappoint, or fail them. Trusting knowing we’ll be hurt; loving knowing others will fail us; and being optimistic in God rather than in institutions can be a challenge for a generation looking for reasons to hope.
Millennials (12-31years of age) were raised by optimistic Baby Boomers and Gen Xers determined to make family a priority. Their parents turned to child rearing manuals and instead of yelling used open dialog that taught Millennials to question things. But their parents’ anti-institutional attitudes and over confidence in psychology has many Millennials liking Jesus but not the church. Ephesians says the church is the bride of Christ. It doesn’t work to love Jesus but not “his wife.” So learning to love the church with all its faults is a key step in loving Christ.
Each generation brings wonderful gifts that help us all grow in our relationship with Christ as well as holes that must be overcome. Understanding how our generation impacts our spiritual life is the “G” factor, the hidden factor that will propel us forward in our spiritual life.
Haydn Shaw has researched generations for over twenty years. TIME called him “an expert on cultural differences in the workplace” and he blogs at Huffington Post. He’s the author of the Generational IQ: Christianity Isn’t Dying, Millennials Aren’t the Problem, and the Future Is Bright and Sticking Points: How to Get 4 Generations Working Together in the 12 Places They Come Apart. He’s spoken to over 100,000 people and worked with over 1500 organizations. He’s also an ordained minister who helps churches deal with the new opportunities presented by multiple generations.