One of the cool things about pastoring a church in D.C. is that our members do incredibly interesting work. For instance, one woman is a part of a consulting firm that specializes in foresight, strategy, and innovation. They have job titles like “Futurist” (How about that? I’ve decided I want to be a futurist when I grow up).

Anyways, I’ve found that her work has some parallels to mine, especially as she thinks about generational issues. She gave me this article (sorry I can’t link to it) from Harvard Business Review, which talks about customer and workforce attitudes in the next 20 years.

The article points out a lot of interesting things, for example:

People do not “belong” to their age bracket. We can’t understand a 20-year-old today by remembering what it was like when we were 20. Furthermore, we can’t anticipate what 20 years olds will be like by looking at today’s 40 year olds. Instead, we must recognize people as members of distinct generations. As generations, we have deeply felt associations to certain events, and how old we are when these events happen form who we are as people.

So, in our churches, we won’t get far if we keep saying, “Well, when I was a young mother, I loved going to Thursday night suppers….” Our expectations have to be different for another generation, because they’re distinct. I’ll talk about Gen X today and discuss the Millennials tomorrow.

According to this study, Generation Xers (My apologies. I hate using the term, but for sake of this conversation, I will) were born in 1961 to 1981. We (I was born in ’71) grew up during failing schools and failing marriages, surviving as latchkey kids. We distrust institutions. We’re tough, gritty, and practical. We prefer free agency over corporate loyalty. We’re constructing our families late, but we’re building them with fierce strength. We’ve made little impact on civic life (will Obama change that?), and we believe that volunteering or working one-on-one has more impact.

So how does the church relate to GX? Three things.

First, we can begin to understand that Generation X is “already the greatest entrepreneurial generation in U.S. history.” That’s not me being arrogant. That’s a quote from the Harvard article. Our “high-tech savvy and marketplace resilience have helped America prosper in the era of globalization.” We create, dissolve, and reorganize overnight.

This is obvious in our churches. All of a sudden, we have a crop of thirty-somethings who are itching to start their own congregations. They don’t need a lot of money, or land, or any of those things that we’ve always had to have. They just need a computer and a couple of rented hours in a building space.

So denominations can respond by letting innovators go. Let them start congregations. Let them create, dissolve, and reorganize. After all, we’re closing all kinds of churches, and at the very same time, we have an entire generation of pastor/innovators who know how to start-up. It’s part of our DNA.

Second, we can build up our social justice ministries. Since volunteering and working one-on-one is important to the Xers, this is an important place to focus energy and opportunity as congregations. By and large, we’re not checkbook missionaries. We like to get our hands dirty.

But make sure that the volunteering is meaningful. If you put an Xer on a board where s/he is debating a dead issues for hours and hours, s/he will flee. The important idealism that the Boomers have can be incredibly frustrating for Xers when debates go on forever (i.e., homosexuality in the church). Most of us don’t want to sit around a table and discuss and discern.

Please, please, please, don’t make me sit with a bunch of anti-gay people to try to find some common ground. It’s not that these things aren’t important to me, it’s just a waste of time for me to try to paint a red person blue. We spent our lives fighting, and we’re tired of it. For me, I would rather tell you where I stand, and if you’re still willing to work with me on poverty, environment, and AIDS, then let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work. We can find our common ground in our action.

Third, if we look into Harvard’s crystal ball, Generation X is going to be Generation Exhausted soon. I’m feeling it. With our economic pressures, we’ll be going into midlife focusing “on reconstructing the social frameworks that produce civic order.” Our aversion to institutions may subside a bit, as we’ll be working on fortifying our social environment.

And where does this happen? If we’re smart and we make some space, it could very well happen in our congregations. That’s what Tribal Church is about, making the social connections strong in our denominations.

I’m putting my money on Harvard. We’re going back to church.

Another Gen X trait? We hate when people label us with certain traits. So what do you think? What resonates and what doesn’t?


9 thoughts on “Futurama

  1. I think part of the reason we are disinclined toward lengthy debates and meetings is that we are much less dogmatic. Systematic theology tends to mean less to us that narrative or biblical theology.

    I would also say that we have a much greater sense of mystery. We have no (less)issue with paradox, light is both a wave and a particle, we are fine with that.

    If I have to sit through one more seminar or class in which a “boomer” talks about “Gen X’ers” or “postmoderns” in the abstract, as if I wasn’t sitting there, I’ll go crazy! We’re in our late 30’s and early 40’s now, we are not the future, we are the present!

  2. Whew! I’m not a young adult, but I am an Xer!

    I’m tired of debating homosexuality. I was over it by college. I’m at the point where I say, fine, split the church over it–it would be sad, but at least we could get on with things, instead of putting together more people to think.

    I’m not on any boards. I do stuff. I guess I am entrepreneurial in some ways–I start stuff. A lot of stuff, actually. Sort of funny that I work for institutions that many of my peers think are stuffy–colleges and churches–but I’ve always had positions where I get to define things.

    I guess I’m a serious xer, huh?

    I think that the split between xers and the next generation (whatever they’re being called), is one of the things that makes it really hard to define “young adult” attitudes about anything. When I’m asked what young adults think about x or y, the first response is that I can’t speak for others, and second response is this: by young adult, do you mean the 19 year olds I work with at the college, or do you mean the 34 year olds I work with in the young clergy women project? Because they are both young adults, but their perspectives can be vary different–mini generations within a generation.

  3. I hate labels. I am an anarchist (of sorts now). I love chaos. I fight for the underdog. I hunger for a community that fights, loves, and eats with equal passion. I have never had the same job for more than 5 years. The only exception has been student, which I am in my ninth straight year of. I am not fearful of your sexuality, color, political bent (unless you are a sign carrying anything), or religious affinity.

    I love cussing. I hate suits and ties. I would rather hang out than minister. I want to be part of the leadership but only if I get to ‘f’ stuff up.

    This post is beautiful. It moved me deeply. It was nice to wake up this morning and read this.

    I am given hope in this vision.

    “So denominations can respond by letting innovators go. Let them start congregations. Let them create, dissolve, and reorganize. After all, we’re closing all kinds of churches, and at the very same time, we have an entire generation of pastor/innovators who know how to start-up. It’s part of our DNA.”

    Please God let this be read far and wide. Please bless us with the Courage to Be who we are. Given us the wisdom and endurance to walk this path.

    “…working one-on-one is important to the Xers, this is an important place to focus energy and opportunity as congregations. By and large, we’re not checkbook missionaries. We like to get our hands dirty.”

    God let us get real dirty. May we walk with each other towards your grace and abundance is service to each other. Bless us with the strength to breakdown systemic injustice that oppresses and marginalizes (enslaves) your children, all of your children.

    Lord get us ready to revive our faith, our souls, our lives. May we find freedom in you and in your ways. Lord the excitement is brewing, the popcorn is popping, and the children are coming. Get us ready. Let us love, accept, and serve all.


    I am excited by this post. Thank you Carol I am really excited by your vision. Today your are the courage to be that I needed. Thank be to God!

  4. You know… after reading the comments I’m also reminded about how much I hate hearing about Xers from people who don’t look anything like me… I’m wondering if I shouldn’t be talking about Millenniels… Oh well, at least I have regular contact with them.

    A funny thing about Xers, we hate labels/tags, but how many kazillion have you seen on Facebook, blogs, etc? We can take a test to find out what kind of theologian or mythological character we are. We post our enneagrams and our Myers-Briggs. We have all kinds of labels for ourselves… probably more than any other generation.

    Here’s my theory: we reject labels that are used for branding, but we embrace them when they’re tools for understanding. We hate labels that define us too narrowly, but welcome self-imposed descriptors. What do you think?

  5. I live on the rim, feeling I’m neither a Boomer nor really an Xer, or perhaps that I lived my young adult life trying to be like the older Boomers and now am trying to find my self in a world where despite the year of my birth (1961), I’m not included with either. I’m as eager to be innovative as the people you describe, but I hear you assuming they are in their 30’s. At 46, I’m not dead yet. As a pastor I’m only 5 years old, and I’m just getting started. On the other hand, I’ve lived in the institutional church both as an adult volunteer and as a seminarian and as a pastor, so I have hands-on experience with the dull meetings we all wish to eschew but that are to some extent a necessity once you own property collectively.
    My new Methodist neighbors are new church planters, and I am loving watching what they are doing. It’s so lithe! So creative! If I weren’t already a pastor, I would throw my lot in with them. It’s time for a new thing; I just hope I’m not labeled as “too old” to be part of it, because I’m not.

  6. No Way, Songbird!! You’re so cutting edge. You’re amazing. And I can’t wait to keep reading about what’s going to happen in your ministry… It’s time for a new thing, and you’re a huge part of it.

    That’s always the sticky part of talking about generational stuff. There’s so much exclusion in it. Of course, because one trait is represented in a certain generation, it doesn’t mean that it’s not in the others.

    The HOS at our church–a bona fide Boomer–has more innovation in his small toe than I have in my whole body. I wanted to work for him so I could learn what he does, but I realize there’s a part that I’ll never be able to learn… And of course one of the most innovative people in our area (ahem) Jan (ahem) isn’t in this age bracket….

    My apologies when I sound like I’m excluding…it’s never my intention.

  7. Pingback: TribalChurch.org

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