As a younger member of Generation X, I often find myself stuck between what can be seen as the polarizing ideologies of baby boomers and millennials.
Despite all their differences, these two generations are much stronger together than they are apart.
Baby boomers tend to value well-calculated risk. Millennials often value adventuresome spontaneity. Baby boomers typically value lush green lawns, perfectly surrounded by white picket fences. Millennials on the other hand, usually value the van life. Baby boomers value a hard-earned paycheck and what it affords them. Millennials by contrast, value minimalism.
As far as the church goes, baby boomers are easy to engage, because they have been engaged for a long time. While Evangelicalism was not established by them, it most certainly flourished under them. For this reason, the modern church is the church of the baby boomer.
On the other hand, millennials are harder to engage because they often find it difficult to fit into communities that by and large, hold a very different set of governing values from their own.
Despite all their differences, these two generations are much stronger together than they are apart. Baby boomers still have something to offer and millennials hold untold potential. And if we can bridge the gap, the church will be stronger today, as well as in the future.
Here are three ideas for bridging the gap between baby boomers and millennials:
Engage Their Passions
Millennials are a passionate bunch. Baby boomers are also a passionate bunch. These two great generations are just passionate about different things. I recently spoke with a missionary on furlough from Papua New Guinea about the differences between these generations. He told me that baby boomers ask him logistical questions about monetary support and his sending agency, while millennials ask him questions about the work he's doing in the field.
Baby boomers want to know what they can do for the cause. Millennials are looking for a cause to throw themselves into.
Baby boomers are practical and count the cost. Millennials are experiential and long for visceral expressions of faith.
When viewed correctly, these seemingly contrary values are quite complementary. Millennials with their passion can help the baby boomers kick the proverbial rust out from underneath the bumper. In turn, baby boomers can provide a practical focus for the millennial’s passion.
Encourage Them to Work Together
When I was in high school, my youth ministry held a murder mystery dinner. The event was free, but there was a catch. To attend the dinner, you had to identify an older person you didn’t know and invite them to be your guest.
The event was a huge success that fundamentally changed the dynamic of our church by cultivating cross-generational relationships. All too often, churches try ministering to polarized generations by placating them with programing geared toward their specific demographics. When we make programming decisions in this manner, we are operating on assumption rather than reality.
We are assuming that the older generation is stuck in their ways and will never change.
We are assuming that the younger generation isn’t interested in learning from the older generation.
Such assumptions are dangerous, because they undermine what God may want to accomplish through the collective effort of multiple generations.
Equip Them for The Task
The key to engaging their passions and encouraging them to work together is to equip them for the task.
If left to their own devices, it's unlikely that these two generations will ever find common ground. However, if church leadership intentionally cultivates opportunities for them to work together, then these generations can work together with surprising results.