If the Church wants to reach the missing generations, it needs to learn from the science, says Darrell Hall. Truly intergenerational churches are not silos but families that are equally represented, and equally invested in
A mayor, a CEO, and a pastor all walk into a seminar. In that seminar, a social scientist presents data and future trends about each age group in the city where they all lead. After the seminar, they meet for lunch. “I have been waiting on insight like this to put together a development plan for the town center,” says the mayor. The CEO adds: “Stockholders have been criticising our lack of diversity in the boardroom, I think I know what they mean now.” They ask the pastor: “What do you think?”
“It was good,” the pastor responds. "But I need to finish my soup and get going now. I have to put a few more finishing touches on Sunday’s sermon.” After the lunch is over, they all go back to work. The mayor calls the planner to set up a meeting to discuss the town center. The CEO calls HR to get a report on the current age breakdown of all the company’s employees. The pastor calls the secretary to cancel his afternoon appointment so he can finish his sermon.
Using the science
The growth of generational science has given organisations intelligence. Cities are using this intelligence to plan better living and working spaces for their residents. Businesses are using this intelligence to grow their employee and customer bases. Churches should be using this intelligence to more effectively reach into and make disciples of unreached age groups. If they’re not doing this, the question is why not?
Before a bridge for the gospel can be built, churches must learn how to communicate with each generation
For churches to ignore generational science and the intelligence it yields would prove again that Jesus was right when he said: “the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of light” (Luke 16:8). If mayors and CEOs can see something that church leaders cannot, they are more perceptive. If planners and managers can make adjustments that church councils refuse to, they are more loving. Churches should be more perceptive and loving than any other organisation in the world, because we are on the frontline of God’s mission to reach the world.
God’s family plan
The Old Testament includes the story of how God intended to reach the world through a biological family. The New Testament tells the story of how God intended to reach the world through a spiritual family. In both iterations of God’s strategy of salvation, adding to his family was the goal. This meant that when God called the patriarchs, he had every generation of Israel in mind. This meant that when Jesus commissioned the apostles, he had every generation of the Church in mind. The Abrahamic and new covenants were intergenerational from their inception. Where the old covenant failed, the new covenant will succeed. The gospel will flourish in every succeeding generation until the end of time. Although this victory is promised, the players in this historic, cosmic and apocalyptic mission must also take their roles seriously. You are one of those players. Your generation is one of those necessary branches in this gospel family tree.
While the overarching mission of Jesus remains clear, how that mission is carried out involves complex solutions that meet social conditions. Of the many moving parts in current social conditions there is one that I believe needs more solutions – relationships between generations.
All the problems associated with this reality are felt in every family, business, church and country. People of different age cohorts are misunderstanding each other in every facet of life. These misunderstandings compound in impact when experienced in the Church. Theological perspectives around worship, authority, marriage, money, sex, sexuality, social justice and government make it easier for churches to cater to one, or maybe two, generations at best.
And even if more than two generations are present, chances are more churches are multigenerational instead of being intergenerational. In my book Speaking Across Generations, I state that: “In a multigenerational church, all generations may just be on the same campus or in the same database… In an intergenerational church, all generations are equitably nourished, resourced, valued, and growing spiritually.” A multigenerational church has multiple generations present. An intergenerational church has every generation included. The decision-making process, ministry strategy, programming and management of resources are all key areas that will reveal if a church is either multi- or intergenerational.
Speaking their language
This may be more easily recognised in a church of multiple ethnicities. If a church desires to reflect the ethnic demography of its community, it would strive to become interethnic. If that same church has staff, leadership, worship and teaching teams made up completely (or predominantly) of one ethnicity, despite what happens in the congregational complexity, that is a multiethnic church. An interethnic church would have equitable representation and influence from each ethnicity on every level.
A multigenerational church has multiple generations present. An intergenerational church has every generation included
The major key in reaching an ethnic group would be to learn their language. Learning the language of another is a sign of love. This is why so many couples have read Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages. I believe that we cannot claim to love a people group that we refuse to try to understand. This applies to both ethnicities and age groups. If we are really committed to doing all that we can to reach the world around us, we should note that our world is becoming more generationally complex.
The most practical way to wisely and lovingly apply the intelligence that generational science yields is to learn the language of the generations. Before relationships can thrive, groups must learn how to communicate with each other. Before a bridge for the gospel can be built, churches must learn how to communicate with each generation. Some may believe that its easier for the Baby Boomers to have their own church so they do not have to deal with the Millennials. I think it’s a better witness for the kingdom and example to the world for Jesus’ family to be vibrantly intergenerational.
Speaking Across Generations: Messages that satisfy Boomers, Xers, Millennials, Gen Z and beyond is published by IVP Press.