At a workshop in Ohio recently, I made note of the fact that emerging generations (Millennials and Gen-Xers), having grown up in a “disposable” world (e.g., sporks, iPods, their parents’ marriages, etc.) — a world that, because of student loan debt and a lack of jobs, requires them to be both mobile and flexible. Emerging generations are much less inclined to want the “stuff” their parents and grandparents have been scrupulously storing up to hand down to them. This is an issue for congregations and denominations that have invested heavily in infrastructure and organizational models, which they worry are not being taken up by the generations coming behind them.
The question that older generations of leaders within mainline denominations must ask themselves, I suggested, therefore, is: “What if the kids don’t want our church?” This is an an important issue in the age of the “nones.”
I could sense the tension. In a room of 118 people, probably ten were under 50 years-old. Some were sad because they’ve labored so long to bequeath something tangible to the to the generations just coming into leadership. Unfortunately, that “something tangible” seems to be a legacy succeeding generations aren’t terribly enthusiastic about embracing.
Others in the audience genuinely tried to understand, saying, “We weren’t a whole lot more grateful to our forbears than these young people are.”
But what struck me was the anger. One woman said, “Well, tell the young people to put down their iPhones and sell their computers, and then we can talk. That’s all they’re interested in anyway.”
“Well,” I thought to myself, “‘It’s not me; it’s you’ is a strategy of sorts, I guess. The young people about whom you’re worried as they skitter out the back door of the church ought to respond well to that.”