Generations and Church Life Part 2

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 third in my series of post on this and again I’m resurrecting something that I posted during my sabbatical back in 2012.



A baby changes everything – don’t they? When our children were born our lives certainly changed! But do babies and children (both physical and spiritual) change everything in the family of the church?

In his thesis Graeme Codrington very helpfully uses this as a challenging illustration of the relationships between the generations within church life.

Saying that young people must “learn to worship” with the adults is hypocritical to say the least. Why do adults not “learn to worship” with the youth. Why do adults believe that they have the right to be comfortable in the style of “doing church”, and that others must adjust? This is certainly not how a family works. Those newly pregnant parents who swear that “this baby won’t change the way we live” are rightly sniggered at by those of us who know what having a baby means. The child changes the way you live. It changes the way you talk. It changes the way you view life, and innumerable adjustments are made in the home to accommodate the new life. Parent’s preferences are deprioritised in order to make these adjustments. This is not to say that the baby becomes the boss. There must be give and take, and the child must learn to live in interdependence within the family. But saying this is very different from saying that the parents will make no concessions for the child at all. It is this latter attitude that is most prevalent, unfortunately often especially in “family” churches. (Quoted from Graeme Codrington’s Thesis see below).

How do our preferences differ? The following are drawn from Graeme’s thesis and looks just at the theme of worship:

The Silent Generation (now aged over about 70) “prefer worship to be structured, analytical, clear thinking and precise, with a clear emphasis on absolute and timeless Truth … it is right and good that everyone worships in the same way, and that all worship is the same … (they) also tend to be clock watchers.”

Boomers (aged approx 51-70) “are much less structured … value highly freedom, a sense of creativity, experimentation and innovation. They enjoy frequent changes in style and approach … Efficiency, effectiveness and professionalism are important elements in worship … They prefer a “personality” leadership style, where the leader imposes his/her personality fairly clearly onto the worship event.”

Generation X (aged approx 35-50 today) “enjoy the less structured and innovative … yet desire more intimacy and relationship to be expressed. Being able to express one’s hurt, find healing and develop relationships are important aspects of worship. They are experiential, and prefer the worship leader to be a fellow pilgrim in the journey of worship, rather than a leader.”

The Millenial Generation (aged approx 15-34 today) “values flexibility and change, and is comfortable with very different expressions of worship … Professionalism is not an important factor, as long as people are able to connect with God in a meaningful way … a connection to the “real lives” is absolutely essential. They look for stimulation in the worship experience, valuing multiple sources of input, such as having two projectors, one for words of songs being sung, the other for appropriate images.”

We all have preferences and values that relate to how we pray, learn, worship and express community that are expressed differently within our generations. It is easy to label the preferences of others as maybe old fashioned or a modern gimmick, both of these are to misunderstand where others are coming from. Generational theory says there are genuine and deep reasons for these differences and we need to learn to respect and honour each other in our differences.

There seem to me to be two ways that these differences need to be expressed. The first is to respect and reflect the differences within the same gathering, service or event. This can’t be a ‘sop’ to the different expressions but an genuine respect for each other in such a way that we enter into what others prefer and value and so find that our own experience of God and Christian community is deepened.

The second way is to understand that these generational differences may mean that there are times when the generations meet separately. This already happens with Sunday School and Youth Groups (although I wonder sometimes whether this separation is more for the benefit of the adults than the youngsters!). But I wonder if we need to look at this more closely. For instance should we look at providing small groups that relate to the values, preferences and stage of life for the Silent generation (those aged over approx 70 today) separately from the Boomers & Generation X because they not only have different generational values but are generally at a different life stage?

If you want to read Graeme Codrington’s work (and I think it is great stuff and easily readable) you can find it in his book Mind The Gap or by reading his thesis which you can find online here:



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *