Monday, April 30, 2007

Adapting the Church to Different Generations

Michael Spencer is increasingly skeptical about purported claims to understand how younger generations relate to the Church:

I’m a great believer in the wisdom of Ecclesiastes: there’s nothing new under the sun, and whatever is today’s big breakthrough has probably been around before, maybe several times.
I don’t reject all the insights of sociology or its implications for church planting, worship and ministry. I simply believe that human beings have always been more alike than they have been different. Absolutizing generational characteristics makes more focused leadership, and it often gives a ready defense for all decisions that might be vetoed by traditionalists. But it also moves us towards kinds of practices that are exclusive, judgmental and bizarrely narrow.


Am I the only person who feels that books citing generational insights are arriving so quickly that there’s no possible way they can all be entirely true? And that anyone who sets out to implement them all will build a circus, not a church?

There’s something wrong with defining human beings as accumulations of generationally defined behaviors. Are we really supposed to believe that the guy in the next cubicle is, for purposes of evangelism, a collection of generational characteristics? What about his unique experiences, unique history and unique qualities? What about those things that no one knows that make him UNIQUELY HIMSELF? How do we love and respect someone when we prejudge him in all kinds of ways based on “generational” research?

Spencer argues that many adaptations toward generational 'needs' go beyond this goal to feeding church customer selfishness:

Behind a lot of generational rhetoric is nothing more than a childish defense of selfishness, put forward as what we “must” do to grow. We’re convincing ourselves that older Christians can’t ever be around younger ones, that younger Christians can’t worship with older ones, that anyone with a niche gets their own everything and the job of church leadership is to divide us into as many cultural “pods” as possible.

We need a stopping place for some of this nonsense. A place where we can benefit from generational insight, but we can stop making fools of ourselves in fear that someone with a tattoo might see a hymnal and apostatize.


jim said...

A lot of what we say in terms of adapting churches to different generations is based on our scope of vision. What "reaches" folks is different for every person, congregation,and community.

I personally agree with the article. Christ is power enough to reach everyone. Though growth may be slower to fully live and proclaim His message, your growth will see insane staying power.

Church growth techniques seem to be band-aids or growth with no foundation.

Dan Trabue said...

I think being relevant is important. Being "real" is important. Being hip is not so much.

Will Deuel said...

Well put, Dan. I'm all for using some such insights to inject new life and new breath into worship services, and for challenging my own assumptions about what is relevant and meaningful.

But I have a cafeteria approach to all this material. Try a few things that seem attractive at the time and leave the rest for someone else. Gotta take all this stuff critically - with a grain of salt.

John said...

Indeed, Dan. Such is the difference between evangelism and marketing.

Richard H said...

If we don't write new books, we won't make new money. We've got to keep churning the books out to make a living. Even if we make the stuff up - or base it on questionable models & data.