Generational Silos in the Church

In the previous post, we sought to understand the challenge of being multicultural in the local church by understanding the different generations and some basic distinctions among them. In this post, we will try to understand the challenges for local churches to be healthy, multi-generational churches.

For too long, churches have been satisfied with having a nursery, children’s ministry, student ministry, young adults and senior adult ministries. The strategy has been to provide programming for each of these age groups, not in concert with one another but in distinction from one another. Too often what happens is each age group becomes a silo unto itself and the generations never mix or mingle with one another. The result is a struggle for the church’s resources (ie, money, facilities, calendar, etc).

The overarching challenge for maintaining a healthy, multigenerational church is managing expectations. Tim Elmore, Growing Leaders, teaches that satisfying people is pretty much about managing expectations. He writes that conflict occurs when there is a distance between expectations and reality. The generation gap is wider because of new technology that has siloed us.

Elmore uses the acronym SCENE to show how the technology advancements across generations have created silos.

  • Speed – therefore; slow is bad
  • Convenience – therefore; hard is bad
  • Entertainment – therefore; boring is bad
  • Nurture – therefore; risk is bad
  • Entitlement – therefore; labor is bad

It is helpful to understand how each generation receives and processes information to be able to make applications of Elmore’s SCENE principle.

  • Boomers – They have a story to tell and expect to be heard.
  • Gen X – They are pragmatic and expect to be given the facts.
  • Gen Y – They are confident and tech savvy and expect to have an opportunity to be involved.
  • Gen Z – They want it quick and expect things not to be drawn out.

The key is to seize the day with all the diversity. The code word is collaboration. Each generation brings strengths and weaknesses to the table. Each generation left to itself will have blind spots. So, involve multiple generations in the leadership, planning, dreaming and execution of the church’s mission and vision. The tapestry of the multiple generations are more likely to create results, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, that will help the church engage multiple generations for decades to come. This approach creates a sustainable approach that is replicable without creating silos and power struggles.

Another challenge is communication. It is helpful to over communicate. But the communication must be geared in ways to engage all generations.

  • Boomers – give me the bottom line (reports)
  • Gen X – keep it real (emails)
  • Gen Y – make it conversational (stories of life change)
  • Gen Z – keep it short (hashtags, GIFs & bitmojis)

Different generations have different expectations about the process of collecting as well as sharing information. When trying to discern what and how to communicate, answer this question about each generation: What are they thinking? What are they expecting?

When a church ignores the expectations and communication preferences of the generations under her roof, the inevitable result is a lack of trust. This is when generalizations and unfounded accusations begin getting lobbed at one another: The young people do not respect our history and heritage. The old folks are opposed to doing anything different than what they have always done. Why does everything have to take so long to decide and get anything done?

When our expectations are not met by the reality of our experience, we have a choice to make. We can either fill the gap with trust or we can fill the gap with skepticism. We can choose to believe the best about our friends and fellow church family or we can choose to believe the lies the Devil wants us to believe. The best response is to say, I do not understand everything that has gone into this decision. I would have done things differently if it were me, but I am going to choose to trust God and trust our leaders. I am going to choose to express my trust in God by loving others more intentionally.

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