Newsletter #420 – Connecting Across Generations

This week we return to Drew Dyck’s book Generation EX-Christian, a discussion about why young adults are leaving the faith. (See Newsletter # 419). One paragraph from the book has been on my mind for several days. It has implications that extend far beyond people who abandon Christianity. Citing a book by researcher Christian Smith, Dyck writes that a “key indicator of whether or not people stick with their faith was intergenerational connections…. Young people who had relationships to older Christians were far less likely to abandon their faith in their twenties….One of the major reasons they drifted away is because the relational bonds to committed Christians were weak or nonexistent..” Many lacked any connection with Christians apart from their youth groups where there were fun activities but little in-depth teaching. Kids who want to impact the world and commit to a cause greater than themselves instead experience a watered-down, emasculated Gospel. Dyck writes that “they don’t want pizza and video games. They want revolution and dynamism.”

I asked some of my twenty-something friends why their generation and mine so rarely connect. Among the answers:

  • We are rarely in the same place. We hang out with our friends and so do they.
  • We are afraid of each other or not interested. We think they are old and outdated. They are afraid of our technology and lifestyles. So it’s easier to stick with our friends.
  • Neither side knows how to approach or talk to the other.
  • There’s an attitude that we’ll never understand each other so why bother.

One 23-year-old commented that he is an active follower of Christ because he had seen two examples of older people who had a faith that clearly works.

If we want to be good teachers, counselors, coaches or leaders, shouldn’t we learn to reach across cultures, including across generations? It starts with showing interest in those who are not like us, asking about their lives, demonstrating respect. With effort and determination we can build healthy, cross-generational friendships. These can lead to informal mentoring and connections that benefit those on both sides of the generational gap.

Please share your comments and experiences with building cross-generational relationships.

7 Comments

  1. Friendships forged with adults in church as a kid, and later in life as a young adult, made a world of difference for me as well.

    Blessings…

    Reply

  2. The ‘twenty-somethings’ make valid points but I’m afraid I would not be so generous towards my own older generation. What are our priorities? If a younger generation doesn’t even feel they can generate interest, how can they possibly feel valued and loved? What priority is there put on discipling; coming alongside and walking with these younger brothers and sisters or are time constraints inhibiting fulfilling what the Lord has clearly called us to do? It’s possible to put cash in the offering plate, maybe even make sure everyone at work knows you are a Christian but be totally unaware that there are young men and women from their church coping with life by attending the local pub as well. Each is going to make their own choice but it’s up to us who have already gone ahead to make a priority of making sure it’s an informed choice.

    Reply

  3. My concern about this “gap” came about 4 years ago. So, as a 58-year-old pastor’s wife, I took the plunge and started a young adult small group that meets at my house on Wednesday nights. Over the past 4 years, we’ve had over 70 young adults who have attended at one time or another. We keep a solid core of 15 – 20.

    One key has been adding a strong element of coaching to our meetings. I taught them the basics of coaching and then they began coaching each other as a group.

    Many years ago, I asked my mother her secret of success with teens and young adults in church. She replied, “Just love them.”

    My theory: If God makes you aware of a need, ask Him what you should do about it and then do it – with love. Then age won’t be a dividing issue.

    Reply

  4. Mary, you and your mother are very wise ladies and I agree that when God gives you a passion for someone, you follow through and see what He would have you to do. I firmly believe the key in this instance is with the spiritual leaders within our churches. As a pastors wife you are in that position and I so admire that you for putting feet to your love. Without that, many are left trying to move forward with little support, minimal training, and even fewer resources.

    Reply

    1. Mary and A.M. Thanks for your interactions. Like almost everybody who has written in response to these newsletter/posts, you have learned that connecting across generations can be tough, especially when the cross-generational tensions involve lifestyle and spirituality issues. But I agree. A lot of the connecting occurs in the context of relationships. It is best, of course, if both sides are responding. If it is all from one side, it still can be tremendously helpful to stick with the person who is backing off. Sometimes we feel pretty rejected but others notice when they see the love and the care. And that is what they respond to – later if not sooner.

      Reply

  5. I agree that one must be intentional in trying to bridge the generation gap. One must show interest in what the younger generation finds interesting. Children love it when you ask about what they are doing, what they are interested in. Each subsequent contact strengthens the bond even if there is a gap of weeks, months, sometimes years between the contacts.

    My great nieces love me to go to their house so that they can tell me about their most recent interest. Of course, as they get into their teens there seems to be a cooling off of the relationship.

    Hope Hurlbut

    Reply

    1. But don’t give up, Hope. At times they probably will think you are very square and outdated but that”s OK. They will still know that you love and respect them and that keeps coming back as a reminder, especially they they run into tough times. It is true as well for those of us who are older.

      Reply

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