From Generation to Generation

How many generations are present in your congregation?  Look through the list and see which groups are represented where you attend.

  • The Builders Generation: Born 1945 and before
  • The Baby Boomers: Born 1946 to 1964
  • Generation X: Born 1965 to 1976
  • The Millennials or Gen Y: Born 1977 to 1995
  • Gen Z, iGen, or Centennials: Born 1996 to about 2015
  • Generation Alpha, or the Glass Generation: Born 2016 to present

Our approach to inter-generational ministry is essential.  However, it is important to note that it is difficult to pin people with specific characteristics by age group.  Geography and culture can have a significant impact on individuals.  So, while it is essential to be aware of the following observations, some people will display characteristics from other generations.  These individuals may do so for some reasons beyond the scope of this post.  Still, I am hoping to give you a starting point for conversations, interests, and further ministry to those in these groups.  It is also important to note that the number of Christians represented in each generation drops an estimated 50% from the previous generation.

The Builders Generation: Born 1945 and before

Currently, this is the generation that has seen it all.  My two living grandmothers are a part of this generation.  When I was growing up, one of my favorite things to do was to listen to the stories from this generation.  And, they loved to tell them.  They grew up in what seemed like a much different reality than ours.  Some in this generation were born before the Great Depression and World War II.  Now, what they have left is their legacy, with much of it left in the stories they pass on as individuals.  As a group, they helped to usher in the technology and industry that is so common now.  Christianity to them is a rational worldview that does not need to be questioned.

Baby Boomers: Born 1946 to 1964

This is my parent’s generation.  Shaped by World War II but most were not born yet.  It is in this group (and the following generation) that technology would become more streamlined.  They maintained much of the Builder’s generation values in the beginning but eventually began to challenge them and proved to be a transitional group.  This group was hit with the philosophy of existentialism or the “you can be whatever you put your mind to” approach.  There was a great deal of optimism in this worldview.  This was only further by a difference in approach to finances.  The Builder’s saved and paid in cash.  This generation began to learn about loans and credit.   Pragmatism (practical approaches) further marks this generation and the next.  Again, Christianity is still a rational worldview that requires very little empirical evidence.

Generation X: Born 1965 to 1982

This is still a practical generation but learned to be a skeptic of everything.  This generation deals the most with being disconnected from others.  They are the first generation to really see the influence of nationwide broadcasts and computers in the home.  However, when it comes to the previous history, they really want a fresh start.  Generation X has seen political corruption come to the forefront and were introduced a greater awareness of global affairs.  Due to the growing skepticism, Christianity is seen as therapy.  Come to God in times of need and when you are worried.  This group also witnessed the rise of the megachurch, a result of the pragmatic ministry of previous generations.

Millennials or Gen Y: Born 1983 to 1995

This is my generation and the group that seems to be targeted the most for its failures.  However, the previous generation began to see greater occurrences of broken families and the subsequent generations have felt that brokenness in society ever since.  We are millennials because we were at least young adults at the turn of the century.  In fact, the most significant event of our Generation’s identity is 9/11 because of our ability to understand its consequences.  Our generation has seen the exponential growth of technology.  I can remember our first home PC when I was around five and our first mobile phone at the age of 10 that was carried in its own satchel.  Our generation approaches Christianity through as a community to belong to and is not as concerned about buildings as previous generations.  Instead, we want authentic engagement with spiritual disciplines and social justice.  The mission of an organization or Church is vital to us.

Gen Z, iGen, or Centennials: Born 1996 to about 2015

My oldest daughter and my son were born at the tail end of this generation.  The iPhone, the war on terror, economic disparity, changing politics, are all significant influencers on this generation that makes up the youngest of adults and those that are now entering pre-school.  Communication happens mostly behind a screen.  Apart from the feeling of disconnection experienced by Gen X and some Millennials, Generation Z is always connected because of technology and social media.  In fact, videos on social media are the way to connect (as long as it’s under five to ten minutes). Gossip always seemed to travel fast, but now it is instantaneous.  Just think of how newsgroups are utilizing live feeds on social media over breaking news on TV.  Even for myself, I don’t watch the news on TV.  I just look at Facebook. They live against the positivism of Sesame Street from their childhood.   However, mental health in this generation is severely affected, and studies are now showing a connection between this reality and screen time. Right now, Generation Z is also the least religious of any living generation.

Generation Alpha, or the Glass Generation: 2016 to present

This final generation is the least researched generation.  Mostly, because the oldest is just around two years old.  My youngest daughter is in this group.  They are called the glass generation not because they will be so brittle and require care like a piece of glass, but instead, their pacifiers have always been smartphones.  The use and aim of technology will continue to be driven by this group and the previous.  For parents, this is a real concern.  For Christians, there needs to be a real focus on children’s ministry, even the nursery.  It is not just an option anymore.  Building up the faith of our children starts at birth.


A neat group that focuses research on generations, primarily millennial and younger:

The Younger Evangelicals by R. E. Webber is another excellent read for generational.

Practical Leadership Theory for Local Church Leaders

There are plenty of things I would have liked to of known when I first started pastoring ten years ago.  Professional training and habitual reading have provided a great foundation.  Observing other pastors is another blessing.  However, nothing has been as beneficial as experience.  In reality, it is the mixture of all three that inform my approach to leading in the church, among so many other items as well.

Leadership is a word that brings up conflicting emotions for many people.  Some love it, and some hate it.  There seem to be as many approaches and definitions to leadership as there are people.  Like love, many of us acknowledge it’s reality but have a difficult time articulating it.  For myself, I was introduced like many to the famous gurus of leadership.  Those who had sold millions of books, spoke widely attended leadership conferences, and were highly sought after by CEOs and more.  However, after I entered seminary and especially after some time in a Ph.D. program on Organizational Leadership, there was a realization that leadership is a very complicated and sophisticated social science.

I would like to introduce you to some of the advanced theories that have informed my leading in the local church.  Also, just a note that these approaches can be singled out for discussion and development, but the reality is approach works together.  I hope that you see the need for leadership development in the Church.  While there are a ton of definitions and theories, we do have a solid understanding of what leadership is and what it is not.  At the least, we do recognize a good or bad leader when we come in contact with them. I also have provided some application to each theory. But, remember without understanding the theory you will only copy someone else’s application.

Stewardship Theory

This approach rocked my world.  Being a steward leader would have described my essential approach to ministry and life.  However, the theory provided an excellent framework to explain this method to anyone.  The idea is that we see life through three lenses: Ownership, accountability, and motivation.  First, God is the owner of everything, and we are only the stewards of our life, possessions, relationships, and responsibilities.  Secondly, and because of the first, we are accountable to God for everything we are given.  Lastly, this informs our motivation.  The intention is not that we solely serve God out the fear that we are accountable.  It is that we are motivated to serve God out of love for Him and His mission instead of our desire for self-advancement.  Another way of putting it is that we are responsible for caring for our relationships with God, self, others, and creation.  If you want to know more about this approach to leadership, look up Scott Rodin or Kent Wilson.

Key Lesson for Church Leaders: The local church is not your possession.  The global and local Chuch belongs to God.  You are a shepherd.  You are a steward that is responsible and accountable to God for how you lead and care for the congregation.

Learning-Centered Leadership Theory

A book by Don Dunoon, called “In the Leadership Mode” was one of our required readings.  Alongside Stewardship theory, this was one of those “lightbulb” moments.  Learning-centered leadership is a type of shared or team leadership approaches.  The approach is that leadership is not a position but an activity a person enters in when they make timely interventions during a contentious issue.  Most of the time, people are managing.  Managing is when you perform your tasks.  Leading is when you interact with others by listening, create meaning together, and speak up with to solve a problem.  In other words, you manage from position and lead by proximity.

Key Lesson for Church Leaders: You’re not the only one who can lead.  Also, you can’t lead when you are not working well with others.  Learn to listen and reason together.  Allow other individuals to have the floor and lead.

Servant Leadership Theory

Robert Greenleaf articulated servant leadership theory and popularized it.  Since then, the church has taken this approach as its own.  However, I feel that it is defincient and is best seen as an approach to help a steward leader.  Its strength is in its “people-centered” approach.  The idea is that the best way to care for an organization is to care for the individuals in the group.

Key Lesson for Church Leaders:  If you want to lead change in your church, do it from an individual-organization approach instead of an organization-individual approach.  We are supposed to be about individuals in the church.  Church leaders and plans fail because they begin to change policies and methods in the church thinking that the people will change.  However, if you serve people first, they will trust you later as you lead.

Transformational Leadership Theory

Another popular approach to leadership with a scholarly background is transformational leadership theory.  James MacGregor Burns developed this method and it is widely used.  The idea is that there are three approaches to leadership.  Leaders are either Laissez-faire (meaning uninvolved), transactional, or transformational.  Transactional leaders motivate people primarily by giving and taking away incentives.  The transformational leader motivates people by helping them through crisis moments and in essence, helping them become better.  Transformational leaders help individuals change through idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration.

Key Lesson for Church Leaders:  Transformational leaders are usually termed charismatic (in personality, not religiosity).  This is hard for a person, like myself, that is an introvert.  However, a charismatic person is not necessarily an outgoing person.  Instead, it can mean that this person is genuinely interested in someone else.  If there is only one thing that you can engage in conversation with, focus on that to start.  Build a relationship with that person, serve them, and help them be a better person by your leadership.

Authentic Leadership Theory

This theory is a conflicted one for me.  I’m trying to be real with you (that’s authentic, right?).  The present society has popularized this word so much that it is almost annoying and void of real meaning.  Still, it is worth mentioning from a scholarly standpoint.  Authentic Leadership is built on four main factors: leading with a moral compass, a high self-awareness, relational transparency, and balanced processing (able to listen to conflicting perspectives without creating conflict).

Key Lesson for Church Leaders:  You need to be yourself.  Don’t try to be someone else.  Be confident in your identity as a child of God and what the Lord has called you to do.  Lead with a moral compass founded on Scripture.  Have integrity and keep yourself above blame.

LMX Theory

Leader-member exchange or LMX theory is a complicated approach in my opinion.  I was introduced to it in seminary in a straightforward way however by Bob Whitesel.  Organizations can be seen as one large group that is made up of many subgroups.  Leadership groups must interact with each group individually as those interactions are determined by the strength of the relationship between the two.  The complication of this theory comes from the idea that there are different types of relationships between groups and that each type requires a different kind of approach or discussion.

Key Lesson for Church Leaders:  There is no doubt about the existence of in-groups and out-groups, even in the local church.  The hope is that everyone feels like they are INvolved, INcluded, and their needs are INdividually considered.  This theory of leadership is vital to local church leaders because there needs to be an awareness that decisions and activities may leave a group of people feeling like they are on the outside.  Once these outside groups (whether real or contrived) are identified, church leaders can then address a way to bring them in.

How do we improve our church board?

Whenever church boards are discussed, a joke comes to mind.  At the end of a worship service, the pastor announced that there would be a board meeting.  When they gathered, there was a visitor in the meeting room.  Of course, they asked the person why the person had come to the board meeting.  The individual replied, “If anyone was more board in service than me, I want to meet them.”

Through observation and discussions with others, there seems to be a shared perspective about church boards as a necessary evil.  Admittedly, boards can seem to bog things down.  However, the wisdom we gain from Scripture teaches us that a plurality of minds, hearts, and hand are better than a single set (Pro. 11:14, 27:9, 17; Ecc. 4:9; 1 Cor. 12:14; Eph. 4:11; 1 Pet. 4:10).

Why have a board at all?

The simple answer is that the corporate form of governance is highly advantageous in this world, and its requires boards. Nonprofits and for-profits benefit from legal protections.  Since we are a part of this world, we can sanctify things from it to do the Lord’s work.  Including board governance models.  If they are done as unto the Lord, boards can create a great deal of opportunity for productive discussion and fairness.  Fairness is the purpose of parliamentary procedure and approaches like Roberts Rules of Order.  Boards provide necessary checks and balances, cultivate a shared sense of purpose, and produce better decision-making process which results in more healthy organizations. 

What is the purpose of a church board?


One of the problems with any type of board is they can micromanage many aspects of the church.  Or, they can allow problems to perpetuate because of a lack of moral courage among the members.  However, boards can serve a very important purpose, even in a church.  They are responsible for the spiritual, moral, and social maturity of the church membership.  This means they are concerned with the building and properties upkeep and development.  Church boards also oversee Church’s finances.  Finally, they can protect and strengthen the Church’s relationship with the Pastor.

Who I am on the church board?

Each person on the church board is a trustee.  A trustee is one who has been given a something to hold in trust. If you have a title other than a trustee, you are called an “ex officio” member (such as pastor as chairman, youth leaders, treasurers, and so forth). Trustees are otherwise known a fiduciaries or stewards.  Biblical Stewards are accountable to God, self, others, and creation.  As a board member, you are holding the church’s care in trust by God and the congregation.

How do we improve our church board?

This is the million dollar question, isn’t it?  The simple answer is board machinery.  The complicated answer is board chemistry.  Board machinery topics range from meeting time and place to the organizational structure of the board.  Board chemistry deals with the individuals that make up the board, their personalities, experiences, and abilities.  Each of these areas, machinery and chemistry, can positively or negatively impact board governance.  Consideration and activity to strengthen any of the domains could make the desired improvements on a church board.

However, it is also important to reflect on the topics that dominate the board’s agenda.  Church board can quickly become trapped in a maintenance mentality.  Talking about finances, failing buildings and structures probably won’t excite anyone’s passion.  Those are important issues, but if the majority of time is spent on these matters, that board is more than likely to experience a high turnover rate.  Board agendas and discussions should be built around the mission and vision of the Church.  Keeping focus on the main thing with increase the impact and efficiency of any board.