Gen-X, Gen-Y, and the Church

By Kersley Fitzgerald

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Around some circles, the issue of the day appears to be the blog post by Rachel Held Evans on why Millennials are leaving the church. Her basic premise is that it's because Millennials can't find Jesus there. Church is a bunch of rules without any reason. Not enough compassion, acceptance, or concern about social issues. In her article, she specifically asserts this is a Gen-Y issue, and not Gen-X.

There have been myriad counter-proposals to why 20- and 30-year-olds are leaving the church. Jim Allen says it's because of the apostasy—in large part, the role of emotionalism in evangelism. Hermant Mehta says atheism is drawing them away. My friend Alan Cross says it's because Millennials have grown up thinking the world is all about them. Richard Beck says it's because Millennials have so much access to social media that they don't need the fellowship of church. Meanwhile, Brad Wright says not to worry; it's temporary.

Lots of ideas. Probably all of them have some truth in them. But here's another:

Where Gen-Xers are too depressing, Millennials are too idealistic.

If I were to list off my Gen-X credentials, it would read even more convincing than Paul's resume in Philippians 3:4-6. I have friends across the spectrum, though. And it strikes me recently how much Millennials and the Boomer generations have in common in one particular area: they have unrealistic expectations of institutions and individuals. On my Facebook FList, it is the generations I'm sandwiched between who post the most political rants. They complain about the government, specific politicians, and how the world is going to hell in a hand basket.

My Gen-X friends post about their families and, occasionally, the specific social issues they are interested in.

This is not universal, in that generational viewpoints do not strictly follow birth years. Dev, who was born in 1966, had a very different childhood than I did, and often takes the path of the Boomer. It more follows the generations my friends most closely identify with.

So, how does this play out? Everyone knows the sad story of the Gen-Xers: latch-key kids, broken homes, cynical to a fault, distrust authority, independent—but hard working and very loyal to family and close friends. Millennials, on the other hand, had a fairly easy childhood. Their parents saw the mistakes made by the parents of Gen-Xers and perhaps over-compensated. Instead of coming home to an empty house, Millennials loaded in the minivan for soccer practice. Instead of "vacations" to grandma's, they went on family extravaganzas. Instead of three networks, one local station, and PBS, they had their pick of cartoons any hour of the day. And there's the social media. Groups of like-minded friends available at the click of a button.

I think that's the rub there. Gen-Xers, whiney as we are, are used to being on our own. Our work, entertainment, and beliefs are influenced by a few, but we've had to decide for ourselves. We have small packs of family and close friends; Millennials have tribes. We are used to being surrounded by people who think differently than we do; Millennials are engulfed by great groups of those with shared experiences. Gen-X, once we finally decide on a social cause, work and give quietly to help others; Millennials blast the world with Kony 2012.

Part 2

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Published 8-6-13