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.