Pastors, staff and lay leaders must possess some sense of the terrain over which they lead a congregation. The Alban Institute’s Generation of Faith provides a “congregational atlas” to assist a church’s leadership in understanding how various age generations engage their life and service in God’s Kingdom.
Author Carl Eeman, a veteran minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, describes four generational types which have emerged and re-emerged in American families and society about every 90-95 years. To name, locate and describe those generational types, Eeman relies heavily upon the work of William Strauss and Neil Howe in their book, Generations: The History of America‘s Future from 1584 to 2089.
Eeman follows Strauss and Howe in describing four generational types: Adaptives, Idealists, Nomads and Civics. The characteristics of each type are acquired by the generation primarily from two sources: the style of parenting received during childhood and youth and the circumstances of social history into which they were born and raised.
Adaptives (born 1925-1942) experienced technological progress, economic upheaval and political crisis in their formative years. They were encouraged and set free by their parents to explore human emotions and to work through relationship challenges. The rich understanding of the range and depth of these human dimensions serve Adaptives well as they seek to make the world work, fit together and adapt. Flexibility is a cherished value among this generational type.
Idealists (born 1942-1960) were born after national or international catastrophes: World War II, the Civil War, the Revolutionary War and birth of the United States. Their nation and world need rebuilding. Strong ideas, beliefs and convictions give shape to their young lives. As this generational type moves into young adulthood and midlife, their ideals can clash with one another.
For the Nomad generational type (born 1961-1982), all the bad things that could have happened usually did. In their formative years they dealt with divorce, single-parent families, economic insecurity and poverty. Nomads are survivors. They formulate solutions, make do and move on in life. Nomads find practical solutions to life’s complicated problems.
Civics (born 1983-2005) come into this world at or near the turning of a century. They benefit from a rekindled interest in childhood by their parents. Civics respect authority and people who hold positions of authority. They believe that solutions to life’s challenges come about as people pull together and cooperate for society’s greater good.
The diagrams Eeman employs to show how these generational types evolve and move through history may remind the reader of the diagram of the DNA double-helix molecule. Do not stumble on that feature of the book. The volume’s value is found in the guidance it gives to the clergy and laity responsible to lead congregations.
These leaders are encouraged to listen to the various generational types in a church on a deeper level. Discern what stage of life the type currently finds itself: youth, rising adult, midlife, elder. The leaders can then give leadership which best connects with a generational type, at a particular life stage, for a specific project or task.
Eeman illustrates how this style of leadership can be pursued with the annual challenge of the stewardship campaign. The author gives helpful suggestions about how to connect with and motivate each generational type, in each life stage, as they make stewardship decisions. What clergy or lay leader would not benefit from these insights?
Eeman’s Generations of Faith is a most helpful book, and the Alban Institute hits the mark of excellence by publishing it. But the reader will be challenged to read carefully to attain a clear grasp of how these generational types move through a congregation. The volume will be a helpful addition to the work of pastors, staff, and key congregational lay-leaders.
Ron Wilson is development officer at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala.