Do Millennials and Boomers Share the Same Values?
- Mel Walker Contributing Writer
- 2020 4 Nov
Rivalries seem to attract people’s attention. Sports fans are glued to their television sets for some of the best ones. Examples include the New York Yankees versus the Boston Red Sox, Ohio State and Michigan, Duke and North Carolina, and the Lakers against the Celtics.
Rivalries also extend outside of the world of athletics. Who hasn’t heard of the Hatfield’s versus the McCoy’s, or Marvel versus DC comics?
Human conflict and hostility are prone to arise in the church as well. The Bible includes accounts of tension and discord in the churches in Corinth (1 Corinthians 3:3), Galatia (Galatians 5:19-21), and on the island of Crete (Titus 3:9-11).
Sometimes church conflicts arose over doctrinal differences (see Acts 15:1-29, 1 Timothy 1:3-7, and 1 Timothy 1:18-20). On other occasions, disputes occurred over areas of personal preferences and conflicting opinions. Examples include Paul’s disagreement with Barnabas over John Mark in Acts 15:36-41 and Paul’s confrontation with Peter in Galatians 2:11-21.
Addressing the Generation Gap
Perhaps one of the most significant rivalries, however, throughout the chronicles of church history has been the validity of a “generation gap.”
According to one writer, “The term ‘generation gap’ was coined by an editor at Look magazine named John Poppy…His point was that there was a substantive divide in politics, tastes, mores and virtually everything else between the young and the old—with the ‘old’ including everyone over 30.”
It seems as if the Bible notes the existence of a generation gap as well. Various generations were identified in the Scriptures because of their differences. Notable examples include the Apostle Paul’s instruction for older generations to mentor younger people in Titus 2:1-5, and in one of John’s letters as well. (See 1 John 1:12-14.) These references point to the presence of a separation of the generations all the way back to the first century following the life of Christ.
Current Generational Rivalry in the Church
Some observers believe that generational rivalries are currently at a peak in today’s church. They look at areas of church ministry such as differing musical tastes, the way people dress to attend church, and church attendance patterns and scheduling as some points of contention and disagreement.
A recent Google search for the word “rivalry” revealed this basic definition, “competition for the same objective or for superiority in the same field.”
The truth of this definition may be particularly evident in the church with the seemingly widening gap in the way churches function and operate between members of the baby boomer generation and millennials—the two largest generations in American history.
This country’s best-known generational experts, William Strauss and Neil Howe, define boomers as those people who were born between 1943 and 1960, and who number now about 70 million people. These authors also describe millennials as those who were born between 1982 and 2003, who now number about 70 million people. (See Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069, published by William Morrow and Company, 1991.)
Both generational cohorts have been characterized as seeking superiority or control in the way churches function. Boomers are prone to want churches to operate the way they used to when they were young, while millennials would like to see significant changes made to give members of their generation more acceptance and influence.
There is a human tendency for each generation to act like the church exists just for them. And historically many churches have developed functions and ministries to target specific generations with age-appropriate programming. These programs may have helped members of specific generations grow in their own faith journeys, but now many churches are seeing the importance of connecting the generations for the common benefit of all generations.
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Building Generational Connections
It may be more important than ever for churches to establish ways of practically connecting these two generations. Instead of concentrating on church programs that segregate the various generations, perhaps it is time to develop ways to link the generations in biblically-based strategies and functions.
For example, the two generations can pray together like the inter-generational prayer meeting that is described in Acts 12:12-13. The generations can gather like the early church was instructed to do in Hebrews 10:25. They can serve the Lord together like what was described in Romans 12:6, and they can study the Word of God together as the church did in Acts 12:26. Other biblical examples of ways God’s people can connect abound.
Helping boomers and millennials get together will prove to be essential for the future of church programming. Not being intentional about this process only leads to a wider generation gap of mixed generational goals and a lack of inter-generational communication.
5 Important Values Millennials and Boomers Share
These two generational giants may in fact have more in common than what appears on the surface. Church leaders and church members of both generations would do well to identify and then build upon the traits common to both age groups with the objective of church unity and spiritual growth of everyone involved.
Instead of concentrating on their generational differences, churches must recognize that there are some significant commonalities between boomers and millennials.
1. Both boomers and millennials have a desire to see God at work.
It’s quite obvious that both of these generations of believers have a great desire to see God at work. They both have lived through historic times of disillusionment and difficult times—and they both have a definite longing to see God do something great. This desire can prove to be a great benefit for any local church. Elders and other church leaders should get the two generations together and ask them to brainstorm together what they’d like to see God do in and through their church. The results of this mutual conversation may prove to be a catalyst to help generate a spiritual revival in the church.
2. Both generations have a great appreciation for mentoring.
Another common denominator between these two generations is their mutual appreciation for the importance of mentoring. Boomers tended to grow up with a desire to have a more loving relationship with their parents and other members of older generations. Many millennials grew up having been the recipients of those closer relationships. This is a characteristic that can be utilized effectively by the church to build interpersonal relationships between the two. Boomers are motivated to be mentors—and millennials have a desire to be mentored.
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3. Both boomers and millennials are looking for authenticity.
Members of the baby boom generation and millennials alike would readily admit that they have a great desire for genuineness and authenticity. Both generations grew up in a time when they saw what they perceived to be a contrived reality in previous generations. They both crave learning and growing in real-life situations. This can be a tremendous advantage for local churches looking to establish a true discipleship emphasis.
4. Both generations see the value of strong family relationships.
Family relationships are also very important to both generations. As mentioned earlier, boomers grew up in an era when they wanted stronger relationships with their parents. The generations prior to the boomers tended to look at providing for their families as more important than spending time with their families. Millennials are the generation that grew up with “helicopter parents” who hovered over their kids and who may have been overly-protective and overly-involved in the lives of their kids. Churches can recognize this mutual generational distinctive by making family ministries a tangible emphasis in church programming.
5. Both cohorts are looking for meaning and purpose.
Both boomers and millennials also want their lives to count and are willing to give their lives to something that matters for eternity. Pastors, elders, and other church leaders should do everything possible to emphasize the Biblical mandate of God’s Great Commission to secure both boomers’ and millennials’ energy and enthusiasm toward the lasting mission of the church.
Neither generation wants to waste their time, nor waste their lives in something that doesn’t matter. They will work together and will serve the Lord for the common purpose of the church, actively accomplishing what God wants His church to do.
These two generations, baby boomers and millennials do not have to be rivals for influence and leadership in the church. They actually have a great deal in common. Church leaders must provide ways for these two generations to connect and to build growing and positive relationships with each other in the church.
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Mel Walker is the president of Vision For Youth, Inc., an international network of youth ministry, and he is also the youth pastor at Wyoming Valley Church in Wilkes-Barre, PA. Mel has been actively involved in various aspects of youth ministry for over 40 years. He is also an author, speaker, and a consultant with churches. More information about his speaking and writing ministry can be found at www.GoingOnForGod.com. Mel has written 13 books on various aspects of youth ministry, including Inter-Generational Youth Ministry: Why a Balanced View of Connecting the Generations is Essential for the Church. Mel & Peggy Walker are the parents of 3 adult children—all of whom are in vocational ministry. You can follow him on Twitter: @vfyouth.