Tag Archives: boomer

Church Generation Wars – Millennials pushing for Boomer territory

It has been a busy few weeks, thus things are slow on the blog. I don’t like blogging about blogging, so suffice it to say when the work of being an “In Real Life” pastor takes up more time (as in a couple of conferences and 4 funerals), the time I have to devote to being “The Millennial Pastor” is cut back.

Now, speaking of boomers and millennials, the two conferences I was attending were a clergy study conference and a youth weekend retreat.

The youth retreat was pretty much what you might expect: loud, busy, exciting, fun.

The clergy conference, made up of mostly boomer pastors, was adultish, lots of chats over coffee and beer, and an interesting speaker. Also fun.

However, I noticed that both events were distinctly generational.

The pastors all sat in a big room, the speaker “presented” to us and then offered Q&A at the end (which usually means ” try to frame tangential personal stories as questions” time). The speaker imparted knowledge to us, with minimal interaction –  a normative boomer educational experience.  A few of us young-uns were tweeting, but not without the pre-requisite stares for being on our phones. Nothing makes you feel like you’re teenager again than a glare from someone who thinks you are texting your girlfriend, instead of opening the conversation to those outside the room. The experience was a distinctly boomer one. While of course not all boomers prefer the knowledge imparting expert, the format is so familiar to boomers, it might as well be a part of their DNA.

The youth retreat, on the other hand, was interactive, open source, and tweeting during sessions was encouraged. Now, the fact that I was co-presenting at the youth retreat might have had something to do with that. But my co-presenter and I purposely planned the sessions to be about interaction, about the group’s knowledge over our expert knowledge. The experience of this event was distinctly millennial. As one of the oldest millennials, I was presenting to the youngest of our generation, those born just before the year 2000. We all knew how to function in the open source format. The interactivity and group work ethos is, of course, not the preference of all millennials, but familiar to us right from early grade school. It is how we have learned to be in the world, and social media only amplifies this way of being.

The experience of these back-to-back events pointed me to an important reality facing the world and the church. Millennial culture is beginning to demand cultural space. Boomer culture has been the dominant one since they moved into early adulthood. But as the children of boomers start to come into adulthood, we will demand more and more of society’s cultural and popular attention.

The reality of this impending change struck me in a couple of signpost moments at the clergy conference. One morning, this Kid President pep talk was used in worship.

Now, I don’t know if my boomer colleagues know Kid President or not, but he is one of the many icons of millennial social media-viral-internet culture. In the video, he made distinct references to our cultural era: the Michael Jordan baseball stint allowing to make the movie Space Jam, and Journey’s resurgence because of the TV show Glee.

What was interesting is that the YouTube clip was shown without explanation or apology – it was assumed that showing a video like this was completely normal. This would have been unthinkable even a few years ago. Hip and cool videos have been shown before, but either by millennials ourselves, or as an example of hip and cool youth culture.

schultz_smallNow, boomer pop references didn’t disappear as the presenter put up an image of WW2 German soldier, supposedly named Sergeant Schultz? I am not sure who it was, none of us young-uns got the reference. But our Boomer colleagues all did and thought it was hilarious.

As I reflect on this small moment of a Kid President video being shown at conference of mostly boomer pastors without explanation, apology or consternation, it is the first time in my memory in 31 years of being a church person and 5 years as a pastor that a pop culture reference in an intergenerational gathering church has not been a cultural commute for me, or prefaced with an apology for being a culture commute for boomers.

Before that moment, I have always been the one (or the generation) expected pick up on the cultural references of my elder boomer colleagues, or explain why I am operating outside of the dominant culture. This is no small thing.

It is the toe-hold beginning of something bigger coming down the pipe.

It is something that is happening all around us everyday out in the world, but something that many churches have been resisting. Millennial pop culture is demanding to be inculturated. The once entrenched cultural realm of the boomers is being threatened by their children. It happens in every generation, but our media saturated world makes the tension front and centre. Does anyone really think all those article berating lazy millennials are really about lazy millennial? No, they are the denigration of the coming of age of the next big generation. Boomers have enjoyed their cultural privilege, and won’t give it up easily.

So the question becomes, is our distinctly boomer church ready to share their cultural territory? Are we ready for live tweeting worship? Announcements being made primarily on Facebook? Millennial pop-culture references coming up in sermons without explanation? Or even, are boomers ready to explain their pop-culture references to us as it can no longer be expected that everyone knows them?

My hope is that we millennials don’t slip into the same position of privilege that our boomer parents have. I hope we don’t forget the experience of the cultural commute, of having to learn the culture of the majority group, while your own is mostly ignored or apologized for.

We will be soon the dominant social group – the music, film, TV, and art of our generation will become the media that everyone will have to know in order to follow the cultural conversation. We will be the ones who will be marketed to, and thus the ones moving into political, economic and organizational power.

We will remember being the minority once we become the majority?

Millennial pop-culture is going to simply become pop-culture. The Church is going to have to recognize this generational shift, or risk being left in the 1960s, with Hogan’s Heroes.

What remains is what kind of church we will be. Will the church stick with Sergeant Schultz, “I see nothing!” or will be a little more like Kid President, “I’m on your team, be on my team.”


Where do you stand in the generational culture wars? Where is the church headed when it comes to clashing generations?

Share in the comments

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Want to kill your church? Start a program!


What do programs do anyways?

Every Church I know wants to teach faith to their members, and often struggle to figure out what that looks like. But I am sure that most of us would agree that these things probably don’t work:

  • preventing people from attending worship
  • dumbing down faith into perverse moralisms
  • having ill-equipped leaders lead
  • providing an experience that doesn’t reflect the vast majority of life in the community of the church
  • segregating  members until they are deemed worthy of being a part of the rest of the community

But this is exactly how the most widespread program in churches operates – Sunday School. We just don’t think about what Sunday School is actually doing, and how it is often doing the exact opposite of what we think it is doing. Sunday School is just one of many dreaded “programs” that we use as churches and it is killing us.

Church as Corporation

Churches and Church institutions have been adopting the structures and behaviours of secular organizations for a long time… maybe since the 4th century when Constantine put Christianity in charge of his empire.

In the 20th century and into the 21st century, churches are looking more and more like corporations than ever. Pastors and Bishops are being treated like CEOs. CEOs of companies that don’t pay well and expect a lot. Council meetings are more and more business oriented than community and vision oriented. And it is not surprising. Our North American world is becoming more “corporatized” everywhere we turn.

Besides constitutions, bylaws, policies, budgets, goal-achievment-strategies… the “program” is probably the most pervasive corporate strategy to infect churches. Programs have become the most important thing that many churches think they are doing. We have programs for everything: Sunday School programs, youth programs, young adult programs, young families programs, women’s programs, men’s programs, seniors programs, worship programs, bible study programs, soup kitchen programs, confirmation programs, evangelism programs, volunteer programs, stewardship programs, maintenance programs, VBS programs, music programs, singles, programs, couples programs, AA/NA programs, seeker/new christian programs, and so on…

So here is the thing about programs. They don’t work.

Programs Don’t Work – Communities Do

Programs are for communities that have forgotten how to be communities. Programs satisfy our deep fears about being sufficient on our own to “attract” people to church. I have heard the question so often, “What can we do to (fill in the blank, get the youth back, have a worship band, build a Sunday School, reach out to young families, work with seniors, serve the homeless etc…)?” And the real question being asked is, “What can do we do to avoid the real issue of why we have forgotten how to be a diverse community of real relationships?

Programs seem like silver bullets or magic wands that will solve our problems. But really programs are the best at helping us to avoid being a real community. Programs, literally, give us words to say instead of our own. The map out our activity, our time, or goals and objectives. Only communities that have forgotten how to be real communities need that kind of help.

Programs need to be viewed as what they really are. Crutches for community. Communities that can’t walk on their own use crutches… but only until they are walking again. If we keep using the crutches, we will never walk.

Churches and church leaders should be deciding on their own what the vision, value and goals for community are. We should map out our own activities, time and objectives. We should speak our own words, the words passed on in faith through scripture and the timeless Body of Christ to each other. We need to speak with words specific to our context, our time and place. Programs are killing our community much more often than they are helping us to be a community. So let’s give them up.

Do I mean that churches need to stop doing all those things I listed above? No. But programs don’t teach our faith or serve the poor or “attract” youth to church or help different generations integrate or deepen our relationship with God and others.

Let’s Be a Community

Instead, let’s be churches or communities that teach each other faith and learn together. Let’s serve our neighbour together. Let’s help our young find their place among us together. Let’s grow in faith as we worship and share in fellowship together. Oddly enough doing these things as community might look a lot like a program. And if we do these things well as a community together, other communities might look at us and say, “hey, you guys are doing that well, tell us how” and that is how programs are often started.

Yet, doing these things together as a community means that we are figuring out how it will work – and work here. It means thinking about our people, not any people. It means planning what things will look like here. And we will start looking more and more like a real community that doesn’t need crutches. Because here is the thing about crutches… Jesus didn’t like them. Jesus just created a community that did stuff together… no program required.

One last thing.

Why programs need to die

A word about programs and generations, this blog is called “The Millennial Pastor”, after all.

Programs are a very post-WWII phenomenon. The G.I. generation started all kinds of programs for their kids. Sunday Schools, youth groups, choirs, service clubs, couples groups, singles groups, mom groups, ladies’ groups, etc… And many congregations have a hard time giving up these programs. Soup kitchens, women’s groups, Sunday Schools often have elderly people driving them and doing the work. As often as I am asked the question, “How do we get the young people back?” it is followed by, “They need to come and do their part around here”. Churches and long time members expect their kids and grandkids to come and carry on with the church. Not just carry-on in faith, or gathering for worship, but carry-on the Sunday School, the ladies’ group, the property care, the volunteer programs, the choirs (and their music), the committees and the the financial burden.

But the G.I.’s and the Boomers forget that they had the privilege of founding churches, starting programs from the ground and enshrining their passions in the bylaws of the congregation. These pet projects might have to die for the church to survive. Disbanding Sunday School isn’t a failure, it the realization that something needs to die for something new to start to grow.

So want to kill your church? Start a program or, even better, keep with the ones that aren’t working. Want to see new life in unexpected places? Start killing programs.

What do you think? Are programs bad for churches? Or do we need them? Share in the comments.