That is a huge and growing Generation Gap in the United States. They have been talking about this at church recently. About how there is a “Missing” Generation in the churches of America. How people from 19 years old until 35 are vastly underrepresented. I am in that group, and I agree, we are vastly underrepresented.
A Quick Warning: This blog entry will be about averages and the groups as a whole, there will always be exceptions to every case but generally the following is true. I deal with the general public all of the time and I have had friends of many different ages. I will use the way a church operates during this entry to show the differences. Watch this video to see facts about the world you may not know. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jpEnFwiqdx8]
The older generation simply does a poor job of relating to our generation. There are some fundamental ways that we think differently, and these differences get in the way often.
Interactive vs Broadcast
To me the most profound difference is the way that we interact with other people and with the world. For most of those over the age of 35 the world was mostly a broadcast world. People made TV Shows, made newspapers, books, and gave sermons, and you sat there and watched or listened. You appreciated what was going on and that was it.
But the mindset of the people under the age of 35 is an interactive one. We grew up with video games and soon after computers. We decided what we would watch, what we would listen to, and when. We want the world to work together. In corporate America this has created the power of teams, almost every successful business puts people in my generation in teams, and empowers those teams to make some decisions. This is why the most successful show on tv is American Idol, we want to vote to see who stays on. We have YouTube and Video On Demand, so we can watch anything we want on out time table.
The successful church must realize that for people in this generation the Sermon is just the introduction to the conversation, and they must make ways for the conversation to go on and to get the input When they don’t we simply feel frustrated. Our generation is very tech savvy so even if they brought the conversation online afterward it would much better than the way it is cut off now. The older generation is done, and ready to move on. The successful churches introduce the topic and start the discussion online days before the sermon on the pastors blog, and comments are posted and replied to, so when the sermon comes on sunday my generation is excited to go and see it to see if what we said made a difference, it makes us hunger for it and we are sure to attend. I am talking about much more than just saying Amen here and there. Actually that looks kinda fake to us. I often feel like a pastor is up there trying to answer all of the questions that he thinks that the audience may have but never bothers to ask them what their questions are.
On Tuesday night on ABC they have a show called “What would you do”, it is basically a hidden camera show where they set up situations to test peoples ethics. On the show they said that one of my generations main values is the Value of Tolerance. Our generation is very diverse, and people often express their thoughts by how they dress. I really don’t think that the older generations gets that we really don’t care that much on how you dress. We will take how you look and make some preconceived notions but if your actions are different we quickly can change that. Who cares how you look, it is about who you are. I think that much of this comes from the fact that successful people in our generation come with all sorts of different looks and different backgrounds. I basically will treat you the same if you wear a suit, or if you wear torn shorts and a old raged shirt as long as you act the same. I think that much of this also comes from the fact that we carry on most of our relationships online or on the phone. I have people I have talked to for hundreds of hours over a period of more than 5 years, who I have done business with, who I joke with and have tried to inspire and build a relationship, but whom I have NEVER met in person and never even seen a photo. I think that concept is totally foreign to people in older generations.
Another main value of my generation is Truth. Being real, being authentic. I think that we are much harder to offend than people of older generations. We want to get to the point, to get real. The point where it starts to get good for us is well past the point where older people get offended. One thing I find very lame in church is that pastors stop way too early, they stop before they get to the meat, or the truth because if they do keep going on someone may get offended and walk away, but in doing this they look weak to our generation, unwilling to be authentic for fear of what others may think. Remember that our generation is the generation of tolerance, and because of that we are hard to offend, plus we have seen it all and heard it all on TV and on our computers. For us it is about community, we know that no church is perfect, and no church leader is perfect, and that it is OK to have opinions that are different than the leaders. Older people want to find the church leader that thinks exactly like them, and for this reason the leaders usually are reluctant to take a stand, this keeps the older generation from leaving but it looks completely fake to my generation and turns us off.
One huge value of older folks is that of Authority. But to us we know that the world has become interactive, and that for many decades we have been betrayed by authority giving false information, and because of this we doubt everything. For the boomers you just tell them that something is true and they run with it, but we research it, we have Goggle at our fingertips and we use it, 23 Billions times a month on average. We know that big companies can have no web site at all and we know that a guy running a business in his underwear in his dining room can have an impressive and huge website. We know that some crazy person can edit Wikipedia and change the information you are reading. We also know that an unknown with a good idea can publish it and have a million readers in a few days. For most of us there is no ultimate authority or truth, it is just millions of interpretations of truth. This is the very reason that it so very hard for the church to reach us. First there is only a broadcast, no conversation, and when they broadcast they tell us what is their truth, but their truth is different from what others have said and they do little to prove their truth. They read something out of the bible to people who may not truly believe the bible is truth, they have heard so much that discredits it. Again this is why a conversation works much better than a broadcast.
Another value of our generation is that of Equality and fairness. Most of us believe that everyone should have an equal chance at success, that we should all have a say in things. We all want a turn to share what we know, we want to be empowered. In business school there were a lot of good lessons, and one that stuck with me the most is delegation. First if you are a leader you need to delegate as much as you can, you cast the purpose and vision of the company and then delegate to smart people who have bought into that vision and give them the power and freedom to do what it takes to make you successful and the results will always be more than you ever thought it could be. If we don’t know the WHY to a task, and how our efforts fit into the big picture than we feel like what we do is not so important so we just don’t do it.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODQ4WiDsEBQ] Another virtue of our generation, and one that has caused some of the largest generation conflicts is the Ubuntu concept. People in my generation see the world as one huge mass of humanity. We should be helpful to others, we should share with others, we should build a community of caring, trust and unselfishness. An African word has been used for many decades to express this concept, that word is Ubuntu. Recently a group of programmers took this concept and named their operating system after it, because they built their entire OS on this concept of community. They call the OS Ubuntu, in a few short years it is already better than windows, and as more things work with it it is gaining market share, recently passing the Mac OS as the second most used OS, and I think that it will overtake Windows as the most popular OS in the world in the next decade. People in my generation make stuff so that it can be useful to others, and we don’t care if they use those things, and for the same reason we don’t ask if we can use what you made, we download your music, and your movies and use them however we see fit. An open society is in direct conflict with the current system of copyrights. Some smart companies are releasing their content to the web, and letting people change it and build on it, making those companies totally hip and cool. While other go after and sue people who do the exact same thing, GM recently after people liked one of their commercials so much that it was posted on youtube and 3 million people viewed it, then they sued to take it down, are they that dumb. (Well I did see their stock price recently so I guess that is my answer.)
We are used to information on demand. I can access more information from my desk in 20 minutes than what would take a whole day in the library of congress just 20 years ago. We are a generation that is flooded with information and rich content, but at the same time we yearn for a real human connection. We don’t just want to sit in a lecture but we want to be part of the conversation and push it forward.
There is a verse in the bible that goes “Teach a child in the way he should go and he will not depart.” By the time someone turns 21 they have formed 95% of their habits, and generally decided where their life is going. For 100’s of years church was the center of society, but in the 1960’s it started to fade, there was a leadership crisis and for the first time the population as a whole doubted if we would be involved in a war. Until the 1950’s most expression was banned, and by the 1960’s it was unleashed, and there was a new culture that was raised up, one without God at the center. The people who were teens during this time did not go to church much and did not make it important to their kids. The concept of church lost critical mass, it was very uncool to go to church. Almost everyone that I know under the age of 35 is in church because they grew up in church, very few found church later on. Now we have millions of “Unchurched” in our generation, many have never been to church or when they did they felt like they went to a lecture, they made no connection, they felt like they had no say in anything so they just never went back, and they took that opinion with them.
To reach these people is a very hard task now, because they feel that they are doing fine now, and that they don’t need God. Many churches express God like a Magic Gene who solves all of your problems. My current church is not like this but many churches I have visited basically have the same theme over and over, “Life is hard, life is tough, the world is unfair and against you and you need to make God part of your life so he can fix it.” I hate it when I hear people say this. To my generation life is awesome and great, we have more at our finger tips now than even existed for our parents, we are generally happy with out lot in life. The message that would work for us is this “God can be your best friend, he will help you when you need it and celebrate with you when you do good, he has great plans for your future, full of hope and success. The better you follow His advice the closer you will get to His vision for you life. Join us and you will have an entire community at your side working to make God will happen in your life.” Too bad few churches today are preaching this. I love how we say in our church “Success to you and Success to the kingdom of God” Because that is really what it is all about, lining up our definition of success with that of what will create success in the kingdom and then going for it.
The church that successfully reaches my generation will be the one that speaks the truth holding nothing back, allows us to participate in the conversation, allows us to discover what is truth, and allows us to all work together to build a community, getting rid of the idea of leaders and followers.