Talkin’ About Our Generations

Talkin’ About Our Generations
May 23, 2017 Rick Chromey

by Rick Chromey

Solomon once observed, “Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever” (Ecclesiastes 1:4).

And he was right.  There have always been generation gaps, contexts, and change.

But what Solomon never saw, perhaps never experienced, was a cultural shift.  It’s like a 500-year flood or a “Katrina” moment that rearranges landscape and society.  Everything is the same and nothing is the same.  In my book Sermons Reimagined, I outline this shift more precisely, but let me give a 30,000-foot flyover.

Generational change is rooted to current events.  Every generation has a collective memory of events that charged its psyche. The Silent Generation (b. 1925-1942) remembers the Great Depression, WW2, and Hiroshima. The Boom Generation (b. 1943-1960) recalls Sputnik, Korea/Vietnam, JFK’s assassination, and Woodstock.  Gen X (b. 1961-1981) recollects Watergate, Iran hostages, Reagan’s failed assassination, and the Challenger explosion.  Millennials (b. 1982-2004) remember the Oklahoma City bombing, Columbine, Clinton/Bush, and 9/11.

 

Generational memory is what defines, moves, and orders a generation.  It creates pessimism (Gen X) and optimism (Millennials).  It charges political agendas and social identity. The Silent Generation has never produced a U.S. President.  Its greatest voices (Martin Luther King, Elvis, Bobby Kennedy, Malcolm X, Marilyn Monroe, and John Lennon) were “silenced” young.  Meanwhile Boomer idealism for cultural change has guided countless movements from flower power to Amber alerts, ERA to LGBTQ, the Jesus movement to the megachurch.

Dylan was right: Change is blowing in the wind.

But what Bob perceived wasn’t merely generational.  He recognized something deeper was bubbling: a tectonic cultural shift, a 500-year societal flood that reorders and reimagines everything.  The last time culture shifted so dramatically was during the Renaissance when new “mega” technology emerged to create fresh cultural languages, processes, understanding, and change.  These three technologies—printing press, mechanized clock, and telescope—lifted us out of the Dark Ages and into epochs of Reformation, Enlightenment, Industrial, and Information.  For hundreds of years these techs framed and influenced culture.

Similarly, in the late 20th century, the world shifted again behind three new technologies:  television, Internet, and cellular phone.  These technologies altered how we interact, learn, shop, play, work, and love.  They also shaped generations. Leonard Sweet rightly noted that anyone born prior to 1960 is an “immigrant” to this new world, while those born after are “natives.”

What does this mean to the Church?

1. Megachurch is the new “traditional.” Megachurches exploded on the backs of Boomers returning to church in the ‘80s and ‘90s (with families in tow).  This produced the need for better worship, children’s and youth ministries, and new ecclesiastical specialties:  children’s, youth, and worship pastors.  But now many of these same churches are graying, stagnating, and declining.  Their programming format has become “traditional.”  Gen X (a.k.a. the “dones”) and Millennials (a.k.a. the “nones”) have left the building.  Boomers still control many stagnating churches…seemingly blinded to their cultural obsolescence.

2. Smaller is taller. The explosion of the microchurch (home-based fellowships) has reimagined how we do church.  In some churches, there is more faithful attendance to weekly small group than to Sunday worship.  Microchurches are everywhere, uncountable…and possibly the future.

3. Bigger change is coming. While church attendance statistics slide, interest in spirituality remains.  Translation: The Church faces big decisions. Many futurists believe the church-in-a-box (facility) days are numbered.  Others see the sermon (as lengthy monologues) and “worship concert” programming fading.  What do we know for sure?  It’s the end of modern “churchianity.”

Yes, generations come and go, but cultural shifts happen rarely. Yet when they do, everything changes.

And that’s a good thing.

The Church isn’t going anywhere, and a new generation—the iTechs, born since 2005—is watching and waiting.

 

Rick has a Doctorate of Ministry and is the author of Sermons Reimagined.

3 Comments

  1. Sheba 3 months ago

    ‘Am a bit curious about where your term “iTech” came from for the youngest generation alive now. More sources, including the leading generational theorists Howe & Strauss, are calling those born after 2005, the Homeland Generation. http://www.lifecourse.com/about/method/def/homeland-generation.html … as are other sources.
    Of course, “The last few years at least half a dozen nicknames from Generation Z, to iGeneration, Plurals, Posts or Wii Generation have attempted to describe these kids. … When removed from social theory, generational nicknames have an odd tendency to be launched right in time for the release of a new gadget, new report or a new TED talk.” (Anne Boyson in http://afterthemillennials.com/2014/10/22/its-official-the-white-house-calls-them-homeland-generation/)

    Aside from that topic, thank you for addressing the topic you have in this article and your book. ‘Very insightful & thought-provoking for the Body of Christ.

    • Author
      Rick Chromey 3 months ago

      Sheba, the term “iTech Generation” is my own personal moniker for the emerging generation (born since 2005). I’m agree with Strauss/Howe on many things, particularly their breakdown of the years for generations. However, I find their label of the “Homeland” Generation a bit stiff in description (and ONLY Strauss/Howe promote this label). It’s not the first time they did this. In their earlier works on Gen X (the popular term for those born between 1981-1991), Strauss and Howe doggedly stuck to the “13th Generation” as the label. But like “Homeland” it’s really not sticking and they eventually relented to the more popular and descriptive Gen X. They’ll do the same, I’m convinced, with “Homeland.”

      I have long called the emerging generation as “iTechs” in my own writings and workshops, as I believe it best characterizes how this generation has operated and will operate in the future. They are the first fully digital generation, influenced by cloud, wireless and cyber techs. They already largely operate without hard drives, CD/DVD, mouse and desktop technologies. In the future, they will carry their books on a tablet, date online, buy/sell/lead/learn/create in a digital world. They will come of age and experience young/middle adulthood in the 2020s-2040s, where they will use this cyber and digital landscape to reimagine and reinvent classic “modern” institutions like school and church.

      Strauss and Howe are master historians and sociologists. Their generational theory suggests that every generation (about 20 years in length) operates rather seasonal. Just like there’s a winter, spring, summer and fall, they suggest there are generations that are cold (Gen X), warming (G.I., Millennials), hot (Silent, iTechs) and cooling (Boomer). Once a cycle, roughly every 80 years, there’s a major crisis that strikes. Strauss/Howe predicted the Recession/War on Terror back in the 1990s (our current crisis). Eighty years ago the crisis was the Great Depression/WW2. Eighty years before that the Civil War. And 80 years before that the Revolutionary War. It’s very fascinating!

      Thanks for writing and asking that question! But, yes, “iTech” is a personal label for this generation.

      • Author
        Rick Chromey 3 months ago

        CORRECTION: Typing too fast! Gen X is 1961-1981 not 1981-1991. Sorry for that error.
        CLARIFICATION: While other entities (such as the White House and other governmental agencies and persons) might employ Strauss/Howe’s “Homeland” as the moniker for the emerging generation, in the wider sociological and historical views other labels are preferred. I guess I’ll let my readers judge whether “iTech” is a deserving name for the emerging generation, but from my view and use it has been met with a positive response.

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