Monday, November 4, 2013

What Millennials Can Learn from Older Folks

Article after article after article after article has been written about how the church can reach millennials.  Many of those articles make good points the church can and should incorporate.  Thank you writers of those articles; anyone asking what millenials can learn from older folks? 

Many say the millennials want authenticity.  I like what authenticity means, but the word has worn out its welcome.  Authenticity is a buzz word much like missional.  Everyone is saying it, but what does it mean?  Everybody wants everybody to be authentic:  Got it!  (...except I'm not sure that's what we really want.  Rather, we want authenticity on our own terms--the kind that jives with our preferences, attitudes, opinions and beliefs, i.e. "I want people to be my kind of authentic!") 

Despite the overuse of the word, let's think about it's actual definition.  According to webster, authenticity is "worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to or based on fact."  Let's use that definition to frame the question:  What is "worthy of acceptance" in the lives of older folks?

Answer:  A lot.  So what can we (I say 'we' because I'm relatively youngish, emphasis on 'ish') learn from older folks?

They don't retire from missions.  There is 92 year old lady who works the clothing closet and food pantry every week at Scottsville Baptist.  I wish you could see how she treats every shopper with dignity and respect.  I am learning about how much God loves the poor by watching her.  It's inspiring.

They give sacrificially to the church AND non-profits.  Statistics tell us young people are less likely to tithe to the church.  "But they give to other worthy non-profits!" you say.  Fantastic.  You know what we can learn from older folks?  They tithe AND give to Heifer International.  They give sacrificially AND support a child through Compassion International.  They believe in the work of the church. 

They are loyal to the church.  Many are members of one faith community for decades.  They don't run away when the going gets tough or flee at the first sign of conflict.  They recognize the plusses and minuses of the community in which they worship and serve.  Older folks understand commitment.  (Also older folks can't wait to get back to church following illness or a stint in the hospital.  They are eager to return to church and get back to work.)

They do what needs to be done.  I'm a big fan of the emphasis on calling (thanks Frederick Buechner!); however some things need to get done whether we're called to it or not.  Someone has to change the light bulbs.  Someone's tithe has to buy toilet paper.  Someone has to be the treasurer.  Someone has to serve on nominating committee.  The faithfulness and loyalty of older folks teach us not every task is something we are called to do (or want to do!), but it needs to get done.  Everybody has to take turns being the 'someone.'

They built a foundation for us.  I'm grateful for the older folks who taught me about Jesus:  For Mrs. Jackson who taught me about missions; for Ms. Lummy who taught me to be a good listener during worship (or else!); for Mrs. Casebier who modeled humor, grace and elegance and for my grandmother who honors her home church by sending gifts.  Faithful older folks have given time, resources and love.   Perhaps some new models work better in the church today.  Perhaps we need to rethink missions and absolute quiet during worship (!), but older folks have taught us so much.  Don't forget their sacrifices for the kingdom (and us!).

They're willing to try new things.  Not all older folks are willing to try new things mind you (not all young folks are either!), but many are. Don't assume every older person is against change.  Scottsville Baptist counts many older folks among its ranks.  They called a pastor who happens to be a young, single lady (cue Beyonce).  They are willing.

Any time we categorize or stereotype an entire generation, we're bound to miss the mark at least a little bit (as I'm sure I have here). For example, an old person might like to rock out to Chris Tomlin song while a young person might relish the sound of a pipe organ in worship.  So any time we say "this is how we reach the millennials" or "this is what we can learn from older folks" it's not going to be 100% or even 70% accurate.  Every person is different.

Like most people I have ideas on how to reach the millennials, but I don't want to miss out on what the older folks have given us.  Focusing solely on one group or generation (be it older or younger) causes us to miss out on the wholeness of who God's people can be together.  Sometimes older AND younger folks are guilty of simply stomping our feet and demanding our way.  If that's what authenticity means--getting our own 'authentic' way--I'm not so cool with that; but if it means honoring what is "worthy of acceptance" in every age--I can get behind that.

Millennials have much to learn from older folks and older folks have much to learn from millennials.  Let's include everyone's voices in the conversation.


  1. Right on target, Katie. I enjoyed this very much - good words, good reminders. And way to throw a shout-out Buechner's way! May you continue to find blessing in the people of Scottsville BC.

    1. Thanks Vernon. I hope you're doing well at Columbus! Blessings on your ministry:).

  2. Well said. As a 49-year-old pastor placed between the generations everyone talks about, I find myself learning in both directions, if you will.

    1. Thank you, Chris. Leaning both directions sounds like a strength to me! Blessings on you and the congregation you serve.