Generational Values and the Church

Ministry today is both fascinating and frustrating, because people are involved. Engaging people is fascinating because of the various personalities and perceptions. However, it can be frustrating for the same reason. With six generations potentially attending church today, leaders find themselves between several rocks and hard places, since these generations have widely different views and values— about almost everything.
GenerationLife MessageWorking StylePersonal Values
Silent/ElderHumilityCreate the SsystemLoyalty and Sstability
Baby BoomersControlTake over the SsystemSuccess and Rrecognition
Gen XIndependenceAvoid the SsystemBalance and Iindependence
MillennialsAwesomeWork in the SsystemInnovation and Rrelationships
Gen ZFluidityWork Aaround the SsystemIndividuality and Eequity
Gen AlphaUnknownUnknownUnknown

Addressing Fear

Each group wants to be heard and respected; fearing they won't be, they push harder. According to a 2021 Lifeway Research study, 2 in 5 U.S. adults (41%) say fear is what they most seek to avoid. This is up from the 2016 Lifeway Research study that found Americans more evenly divided but with shame (38%) being the emotion people most wanted to avoid, followed by guilt (31%) and fear (30%).

Rationalizing the increased fear of fear as a result of COVID or the general malaise from cultural engagements does not address all the ways fear is infiltrating your church. The older two generations in churches today want loyalty, stability, and control. They fear a loss of stability and control. They fear the loss of a sense of loyalty to God and the church. A 2021 Lifeway Research study found over half of Americans (54%) say religious liberty is declining in America, including 24% who strongly agree. For these older generations, their fears have been realized, causing them to dig deeper to keep things just as they had always been.

The younger generations want something different. They demand innovation, equity, and a recognition of individuality. These values seem innocuous but can be dangerous if they are not tightly tethered to Scripture. The effect of placing such a high value on relationships creates a dangerous potential of putting our friends above our faith. Couple this with the value of individuality and we see how the younger generations will overlook someone’s sin for the sake of friendship. Or they overlook their friend’s sin because that's "their truth." As a 2019 Lifeway Research study found, few Americans see religion in general or faith in Christ specifically as at the forefront of their identities.

Generational perspectives

A 2023 research study by The Pulse shows differences among generations on several topics. Honesty, family, and personal responsibility are less important for younger generations than their older counterparts. A healthy lifestyle, social and racial equality, professional growth, looking good, and wealth are more important to the younger generations and less so to the older generations. Ministry is fascinating and frustrating with the mixture of generations in our churches.

Today, each generation has curated unique beliefs and behaviors that affect the local church. Consider the following ideas and how each generation would view them.
Changing from pews to chairs
The older will want to know the reasons for the change, while the younger will not question it. Are there functional reasons? Are they broken? Is it just for aesthetics? Each generation will view this differently. Pastor, you must understand each group's values to properly communicate the need or desire.

The older generation will give a handshake and smile, assuming that's enough. The younger wants a conversation and a chance for a relationship. For some, this may display itself in a conversation about drinks in the worship center. The older generations often feel having drinks in the worship center is wrong and unnecessary. The younger ones want coffee bars and social opportunities. All want friendships, but each generation goes about it differently.

The older have placed loyalty in the church and attend often. The younger also love their church but may not prioritize being present. The older typically don’t approve of online worship as valid, while the younger often don't see the same problem. Here, their differing views and values will be more noticeable.

Politics and church
The older ones have been raised on “God and country,” with there often being a blur between the two. The older generation loves hearing messages that align with their political ideologies, even if it offends. The younger want the purity of the gospel and Scripture left alone without mixing in politics. Again, this results from the value systems and life messages the different generations have in place.

We need to engage Millennials and Gen Z to serve and lead today rather than waiting for them to "grow up." The older generations have been in leadership for so long and view the absence of the younger generations as a lack of interest and loyalty. Thus, the reins of power have not been released to other generations yet. The fear of what might happen or change is too great for them.

People or projects
I have not known a time when evangelism training wasn't a part of the church's program. For the first 30 years of my life, I didn't know you could stay home on Monday and Tuesday nights because that was visitation time. Massive growth happened during the ’70s and ’80s, but we are not seeing the same results today. Unintentionally, the various models and training led us to view our neighbors more as spiritual projects than people to love. The older generations want to return to what "worked" before, while the younger want to see and feel love. This is harder for the older generations because their view of religion and spirituality is more structured. For them, right and wrong is black and white with no gray. The younger have grown up in the gray, as shown by their message and values.

Final Thoughts

How do we move forward with such diversity? Find the common ground among them all. As you minister to this mix of values and beliefs, remember they all need Jesus. All of your people need relationships, even if they go about them differently. All have a need to grow in their faith. And all have a need to develop to their potential. They all need to feel wanted, valued, and respected.

Love them. Listen to them. Lead them.

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