Generational Differences: Problem or Potential? - Part 1

Today, it is common to see generational differences popping up in businesses, organizations, and families. In any one church, we have five generations in the general population and four generations working and worshiping together. In a changing and confusing world, believers often turn to the church for comfort and guidance; some people come to church looking for the one thing in their lives that is not changing. Therefore, the differences in cultural styles and preferences of these very different generations inevitably cause friction points; especially if there is a perceived loss, change or absence of what brings comfort or guidance. Experts on generational relations agree, it takes intentionality and purposeful work for organizations to create more productive teams, reduce turnover, and retain top talent. It is no different in the church, intentional conversation and planning is needed to address the issues of church decline and disciplining the next generation in a changing world.

Generally, there are four approaches to addressing the generational differences: ignore the differences; “fix” the other group; cut a deal; or lead.   Ignoring is the “easiest” approach; it takes the form of those in power just not addressing the issue or isolating the smaller group. The status quo is maintained and the group without power feels marginalized and unheard, until they drift away. “Fixing” the other group happens when the group is too large to ignore and often involves the older generation creating a program that addresses the perceived “broken” areas of the younger generation. Cutting a deal happens when changes are made to try and attract the younger generation in response to larger numbers of the younger group becoming more vocal or leaving. Inevitably, one or more of the generations will be upset by the changes or lack thereof. Ignoring, fixing and cutting a deal all involve management – managers see a problem, come up with a solution and announce the decision. Leadership starts with understanding; understanding leaves room for realizing that the differences may have to do with each generation having very different experiences in life and living in a different world.  The most common complaint coming from frustrated people in all four generations is “They don’t get it.” Acknowledging that we will always feel more at home in our own “country” is part of the process. The next steps involve helping lead members from all four generations learn about the other “countries;” acknowledging that each generation (including their own) has both strengths and weaknesses; and recognizing the “sticking points” – places where generations working and living together get “stuck.” These sticking points have the potential to either get a church stuck or help it stick together.

Haydn Shaw, in his book, Sticking Points: How to Get 4 Generations Working Together in the 12 Places They Come Apart, addresses these issues, as it relates to the work place. Haydn is a believer and a church planter; he has a heart for bringing to the church his expertise, from over twenty years of consulting on generational differences for Franklin-Covey. The content of this article comes from Haydn’s work. Look for subsequent articles addressing each of the four generations in detail – experiences shaping them, strengths and weaknesses - and ways to turn the 12 “sticking points” from problems to potential.