Generations and Church Life Part 1

In June and July we are hosting three evenings at St Paul’s under the title “Church – Past Present & Future.” The intention of these evenings is to explore some of the background to the nature of the church in the 21st century and how we as the church need to continue to adapt and change.

The first of these evenings is on the differences in generations. When you were born has a big influence on your values and priorities in life. This is the second in my series of post on this and I’m resurrecting something that I posted during my sabbatical back in 2012.


One of the goals on my sabbatical is to improve my physical fitness and last week, whilst at the gym, I heard a gentleman singing to himself, he was aged about 75-80 (I know guessing is dangerous), and the song he was singing was ‘The Sound of Silence.’ This was very appropriate as I have been reading some material in the last couple of weeks about the differences between generations and he was a member of what has been called the Silent generation.

I heard of a conversation recently between a member of that same generation and another member in their church. The member of the Silent generation was talking about all the changes in church life over recent years,”The church hasn’t changed for 2,000 years why does it need to change now, why can everything just stay the same, as it’s meant to be!”

Not too long ago I had a conversation with someone I know very well about songs that we sing in our Sunday gatherings. They were expressing how difficult it is to sing some modern worship songs and how the music doesn’t follow the rules they were taught at school for good music writing. Emphasis is on the off beat or between the beats and that makes them difficult for public, corporate singing.

At the time of each of these I had no idea how generationally effected each of these situations was. My reaction to the more elderly person who complains about change and wants everything in the church to stay the same as they grew up with can easily be to see them as stubborn and awkward, standing in the way of progress! What is happening behind the scenes is that the person probably grew up in a time of great turmoil and difficulty and the church was the one place of stability and safety and, for them, became a sanctuary and this is the root of their generational preference for keeping things as they are.

My natural reaction to music that is more modern and written to different rules and is therefore difficult to sing in public settings (especially when you haven’t got the strong and imposing lead of a worship band) is to say its not working, it wont work, it’s bad musically and therefore we won’t use it. What is happening here behind the scenes is that a generation has indeed rewritten the rule book for writing good music, their music is written on the off beat or between the beats and it isn’t intended for public, corporate singing in the same way that hymns or choruses are. It is a style of music where participation is not expressed by singing all the words with heart and gusto, participation is by joining in, supporting and enjoying the performance of the song.

It is also important for older church members to understand that the radical societal changes of the last twenty years have not left cultural expressions untouched. In particular, music has changed radically. For example, “youth today, for the most part, are not listening to music that they can sing. Most youth music is simply heard but that does not make it nonparticipatory music. The music still demands nonverbal participation” (Schowalter 1995:21). (Quoted from Graeme Codrington’s Thesis see below).

The work I have read is by Graeme Codrington. His presentation on generational theory was for me one of the highlights of the Portsmouth Diocesan Conference in September last year. Since then I have heard him gve the same presentation again and I have read his book, Mind The Gap, and also his MA thesis on multi-generational ministry in the church. His presentations, both in person and in writing are thought provoking and challenging and potentially effect almost every area of the lives of our church communities. The way we prefer to pray, learn, worship, lead and understand or experience the Gospel can all have significant generational overtones.

I write this having just led a Myers Briggs workshop for people in Winchester Diocese (I know I’m on sabbatical but the fee for the workshop will help pay for a small part of my sabbatical!). I am aware therefore that there are many different aspects to who we are. Our family setting, upbringing, experiences, gifts and abilities as well as our personalities have made us who we are today. What I had not realised to any real extent before was how much the era in which we were born has also moulded who we are today. We are all created as unique by God, and yet there are similarities between us. There are 16 MBTI types and I was reminded last weekend just how similar individuals with the same MBTI type can be. Just as those with the same type are unique but also have deep areas of similarity, so those born in a generation are unique but also have deep areas of similarity. All is well and good with one type or generation until they meet another type or generation, and potentially mis-hear and misunderstand the other. It is so easy to think that our type or generation has the ‘right’ values, worldview, understanding likes and dislikes. When one type or generation is the dominant one it can be difficult and uncomfortable for the other types and generations and within the church the option is always there to walk out of the back door never to return (and many sadly have done so!).

I’ll pick up this theme in my next post but in the meantime if you want to read Graeme Codrington’s work you can find it in his book Mind The Gap or by reading his thesis which you can find online here:



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