The first time I recall feeling old I was only 34.
I was the pastor, and the youth minister, a decade younger, had let me know by some word or look that I was not in touch with what the students were thinking on a particular issue. That may be when I realized that keeping up with the kids required work.
It wasn’t a matter of being cool or staying on trend. It was the realization that young people think differently – partly because of their life stage which stands in growing contrast to mine, and even more because the culture is changing rapidly.
I’ve heard grandparents say they don’t enjoy social media, “but I have to do it if I want to stay in touch with my family.” My friend Sandy was a pioneer in this area when she explained Marco Polo to me a few years ago. It’s an app for posting short videos. She and her granddaughter, now 16, swap videos several times each week.
Today there’s TikTok and much more. As Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat have gone mainstream, younger people have moved on to new platforms. And their parents and grandparents are tailing them like dogs after a fox.
Does it feel like that in the church?
Younger people are engaged with each other in language and media all their own. Likewise for older people. That’s most noticeable in leadership and evangelism. Finding points of connection – or creating them when they aren’t so natural – is mandatory if the generations are to know each other and to work together to further the gospel.
I heard of a church recently that reviewed its communication plans. Through a survey, older adults expressed a preference for one social media platform, while younger people favored a different one. So the church chose to use both. As a result, the age groups never communicated. They had no natural intersection.
The ultimate outcome of this dichotomy is the single-generation church. A Boomers-only church hangs on until the end, while a Gen-X, Y, or Z church plant starts up, at first to reach college students, then never reaches beyond its own generation. We’ve seen it happen many times. The single-gen church is a guaranteed path to obsolescence. The same is true for the single-gen deacon board, elders or leadership team.
It’s hard keeping up with the kids. Mature believers will be required to adapt for the sake of newer ones. But it’s worth it.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Eric Reed is editor of Illinois Baptist State Association media.)