For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100:5)
These closing lines of Psalm 100 sound very different from some of the language you hear today about “the generations.” A lot of social media posts, opinion articles and other forms of commentary spew venom on one generational age group or another. Two particular victims of this are “boomers” (born 1946-1964) and “millennials” (1981-1996).
If you type “boomers are” into google, the search engine’s auto-complete will include suggestions like “…out of touch” and “…the luckiest generation;” while if you type “millennials are,” you see suggestions like “…lazy” or “…killing (capitalism, the housing market, etc.) These results are from when I tried this myself after seeing it posted in a couple articles. My results, and yours, will differ slightly, but the overall sentiment is clear. There’s lots of hate for people in different generations.
The fact is, we struggle with this in the church, as well. I think people at my former churches must not realize who counts as a millennial given the snide comments they’ve made in my presence. Or they didn’t realize I was born in 1983. Or, maybe, they were just being mean…
All that to say, the negative stereotypes about all the generations prove consistently off base when actual studies are done. Although there are distinguishing characteristics of generations. Otherwise, this whole system of categories wouldn’t make any sense.
The problem isn’t that there are differences in generations; the problem is the negativity and blame cast onto one group or another. It’s a convenient way for us to remove blame from ourselves. In fact, it turns out that what one generation attributes to another is sometimes more true of that generation. An example is “boomers” claiming “millennials” tend to hop from one job to another. In reality, during their 20’s, “boomers” switched jobs at almost twice the rate of “millennials” in our 20’s. And it isn’t actually a harmful practice. It was beneficial economically both to boomers and their employers, studies found.
So, why do I bring up this topic? Because it’s important for us to realize that the younger generations currently alive: Gen X (1965-1980), the aforementioned Millenials and Gen Z, sometimes called iGen (1997-2015) are much less likely to just show up at church as a matter of course. My generation and those on either side are much more likely to claim no specific religious affiliation. And Millennials, particularly, are much less apt to join organizations, period.
There’s good reason for our choices in this regard. And also, at times, some not so good reasons. Of course, every individual has their own specific reasons. Also, we shouldn’t stereotype the generations!
The good news is that those younger generations are VERY LIKELY to describe ourselves as spiritual, or that we seek to live according to a greater purpose.
And what that means for us as a church, as First Christian, Valparaiso, is that we can’t assume younger adults, and even families with children, are going to just walk through our doors as those in previous generations did. Instead, we need to seek them out. We need to be focused on invitation. We need to look at relationships in our own lives as avenues for this invitation. Also, that doesn’t just apply to the younger generations. Plenty of people of all ages could use such an invitation!
Do we have something to offer those seeking spirituality or greater purpose? I believe we do. I hope you do, too. After all, if we don’t, then we might as well close up shop.
This year, we’re going to lean into questions and conversations about how we invite people to join us on our journey as followers of Jesus: to join us in this spiritual life we call being Christians.
Let us declare God’s faithfulness to all generations because God’s love does really endure forever. Amen.