Looking Through the Generational Lens

One of the consistent lenses I use to view life through is that of generations.

It comes as a natural part of my curiosity of life, as I am interacting with 5 generational cohorts in my family: my parents and in-laws are from the GI Generation; I am a Baby Boomer; my oldest son and one daughter-in-law are Gen Xers; my other three children, two daughters-in-law and one son-in-law are Millennials; and my 6 grandchildren are Gen Zers. Even though we are spread out across three states (and occasionally, around the world) and do not get to interact as much as we would like, the personal level of generational differences is obvious.

Take the same dynamics as above – 5 generations – and move them into the institutional world, say a church setting, and it won’t be long till you have a generational collision.

If you are a leader in ChurchWorld, how do you deal with the fact that, for the first time in our history, we can have five separate and distinct generations working alongside each other in our churches? The 5th generation, born since the mid-2000’s, is not far behind in taking up a leadership role.

Generational differences are important, but it is all too easy to stereotype these differences. The only way we’ll ever build bridges between generations is to stop stereotyping and get to know who these generations really are and why they are that way.

An interesting book on the subject: Sticking Points – How to Get 4 Generations Working Together in the 12 Places They Come Apart, by Haydn Shaw. Here’s a teaser:

For the first time in history, we have four different generations in the workplace (and five in families). These generations might as well be from different countries, so different are their cultural styles and preferences. Of the four approaches organizations can take to blending the generations, only one of them works today. Focusing on the “what” escalates tensions, while focusing on the “why” pulls teams together. Knowing the twelve sticking points can allow teams to label tension points and work through them—even anticipate and preempt them. Implementing the five steps to cross-generational leadership can lead to empowering, not losing, key people.

How many different generations do you regularly interact with?

How’s that going?


Encourage All Generations on Your Team to Connect Through Real Conversations

In 2020, 25 percent of the labor force will be over the age of 55 – and they’re not retiring anytime soon. These projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics at the US Department of Labor indicate that not only will Baby Boomers continue to work alongside their current Generation X and Millennial colleagues, but that they will still be around when Generation Z joins the workforce.

The result? A clash of cultures that will require a new management approach.

Gone are the days when people entered the workforce as young adults, worked until their late 50s, and then moved off into retirement while younger generations took their place. Instead, the average retirement age has steadily been creeping up in recent decades as older employees – in particular, the Baby Boomers – stay in the workforce either by choice or by necessity.

Of course, the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic are still reverberating across home, work, and church settings, so everything is up for grabs!

Before we dive into the discussion, here’s a brief recap of just who comprises the generational cohorts mentioned above. While there’s no set standard, the following descriptions are generally accepted:

  • Baby Boomers – born in the years 1946-1964, numbering about 76 million people
  • Generation Xers – born in the years 1965-1980, numbering about 66 million people
  • Millennials – born in the years 1981-1997, numbering just over 83 million people
  • Generation Zers – born in the years 1998-present, numbering over 80 million and still growing

THE QUICK SUMMARY – You Can’t Google It! The Compelling Case for Cross-Generational Conversation at Work by Phyllis Weiss Haserot

Much of the learning, skills and perspective people of all ages need to succeed long-term in their careers is not found in data on the Internet, but rather in conversations and personal relationships with the people they work with.

Tech tools have trained us to search the Internet for answers to everything, but we can’t find most of the non-technical or non-data-based answers we seek there. Learning about perspectives, relationships and experiences comes best from conversations.

In most organizations there are three, four, or even five generations working together with differing expectations about how things are done and by whom. People of different generations are increasingly isolated physically, functionally, or emotionally from each other both by communication styles and media and lack of the perspective that would help them understand why people think and act as they do. You Can’t Google It! facilitates action to promote and foster cross-generational conversation in organizations on both the parts of management and the multi-generational teams that are increasingly the key to productivity, profitability and sustainability.

You Can’t Google It! is a tool to help organizations and individuals remove the stress, frustration, and negative energy that often arises from working with people of different generations, so they understand and are able to accomplish their common goals―faster and profitably. It is about the implications of different generations, and how to move towards closing that gap.


Author Phyllis Weiss Haserot pulls no punches in establishing the issue of cross-generational conversations:

  • As an established professional, do you question the work ethics of young employees and co-workers?
  • As a young professional, how do you deal with resistance to your ideas from Baby Boomers who think their experience and seniority mean they know it all?
  • Will your organization be threatened because key personnel will soon reach traditional retirement age?
  • Are you wondering how to transform intergenerational challenges into an asset for your organization?

Much of the learnings, skills, and perspectives that people of all ages need to succeed – especially in working with each other – are not found in data on the Internet but rather in conversations and personal relationships with the people they work with. The new multigenerational paradigm is meaningful cross-generational conversation.

GENgagementTM can be defined as the state of achieving harmony, mutual involvement and cooperation, flow, and ongoing absorption in work with people of different generations.

GENgagement means getting all of the generations to understand each other, their influences, and their worldview so they can work collaboratively, loyally, and productively.

It is integral to the mission of transforming workplaces into engaged and productive environments for solving problems and being great places to work. Equally important, it helps individuals and organizations develop closer rapport and loyalty bonds with clients and other external stakeholders – the bedrock of any mission-driven organization.

A satisfying and perennial recipe for GENgagement contains these ingredients as integral to the experience for all personnel:

Defining the big picture for everyone

Having a clear purpose and mission

Visioning – what achieving the mission and purpose will look like

Communicating the importance of each person’s role

Living a culture that respects the values of and promises to employees, clients, donors, alumni, etc. every day

Enabling multigenerational input to organization and and market strategy and service delivery

A sense of joy and continuing curiosity at work

Phyllis Weiss Haserot, You Can’t Google It! The Compelling Case for Cross-Generational Conversation at Work


Distribute the following questions from author Phyllis Haserot to your team in advance. After they have had time to read through them, gather the team for an extended conversation about each question.

  1. Help me understand your perspective on work and the marketplace outside of our organization. What factors influence your worldview, the attitude you bring to your work, and your interactions with colleagues?
  2. What would you like to see changed about how our work is done, and how can you help make it more effective? How important is hierarch to you? When is years of experience very important in your role, and when are other factors equally or more important?
  3. What is getting in the way of a more productive and satisfying working relationship? How can I as your teammate help you learn how best to work with me?
  4. What would you say are your core values? Do you think they are significantly different from my generation’s core values? How can we jointly overcome intergenerational tensions?
  5. What strategies for impact and influence at work can we learn from each other?

Use these conversations as a springboard to ongoing cross-generational conversations as a regular part of the leadership development process in your organization.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 127-3, released September 2019.


Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<

>> Purchase prior issues of SUMS Remix here<<

Living on the Digital Divide

My parent’s generation viewed office paperwork in terms of duplicate copies made by using carbon paper. Correcting mistakes was a laborious process of erasing the original, erasing the copy (messy), and then correcting the mistake.

carbon copy typewriter

I’ve been around to experience the same thing, but not for long. In graduate school I can remember writing and dictating research papers while my wife typed on an IBM Selectric with self-correcting type. We thought we were in heaven!

My first position out of graduate school came with my very own workstation, part of a network of 20 staff positions, with the wonderful world of word processing. We all used a central printer for the output. Like Henry Ford said, we could have any color we wanted as long as it was black.

Through several church staff positions, then as a consultant, and now as the Vision Room Curator at Auxano, I have come to accept the digital universe as normal. I’m typing this in one of my dozens of field offices around the region (Starbucks, for appointments of 1 or 2; Panera Bread, for 3 or more). My laptop is my assistant; I carry a printer around in my 4-wheel office, along with just about anything I would need to talk with a client. I can produce anything from my files in full color, customized for the client, in minutes.

And yet, there’s something gratifying about sketching an idea on a napkin (literally; I do it all the time). And I have several “theme” notebooks that I jot ideas, quotes, and the like in. Sometimes they make it into my digital files; sometimes not.

My world is a digital divide – I can’t do my work without all the innovative developments of the last couple of decades, but I’m drawn to the “old-fashioned” way of writing, in ink, on paper pages.

I’m looking around at kids (anyone under 35) flipping through a tablet, typing on laptops, talking on cell phones, texting on their mobile phone and wondering: Do they have this same feeling? Or are they over the digital divide, living on the next level, moving forward?

Then I think about my granddaughter, who wants to Skype with my wife and me via her parent’s phone almost every week, and my grandson, who makes a beeline for my wife’s iPad whenever he visits. At the same time, our fridge proudly sports the latest fingerprinting, crayon, and marker artworks from these two. For at least awhile, they seem to be comfortable in both worlds.

How long will that last?

Just wondering today…



 Part 4 of a 4-part series on Generations in ChurchWorld

Last week this post introduced the generational lens that shapes a lot of my views. Monday I began this four-part series by looking at the Millennials; on Tuesday it was Generation X, and Wednesday it was the Baby Boomers. Today I want to look at the fourth of four generations active in ChurchWorld leadership roles today, and the implications for you as a leader with your own team.

G.I. Generation (Born 1901-1924)

Silent Generation (Born 1925-1945)

There are actually two distinct generations represented in today’s post, but due to the small number of G.I. Generations still involved in leadership roles in churches, I am going to look at them as a group.

Scarcity is a common denominator for these two groups. Between two world wars and the Great Depression, these generations had plenty of opportunities to do without. The need to “save for a rainy day” was tangible, and “Waste not, want not” was more than a slogan – it was a commandment. No wonder these generations later disapproved of the Boomers’ eagerness to pay two dollars for a bottle of fancy water! Symbols carried great weight. From swastikas to Sputnik and from flappers to flat tops, these were generations that drove their roadsters to drive-ins, smoke cigarettes and drank ice-cold Coca-Cola, and stacked a few 45s on the record player and did the twist.

Defining events such as World War I, the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, the New Deal, World War II, the Korean War, and the GI Bill changed millions of lives and shaped the God-fearing, hardworking, patriotic character of these two amazing generations.

The generational personality of these two groups who lived through these events and conditions can be described in a single word: loyal. These are generations that learned at an early age that by putting aside the needs and wants of the individual and working together toward common goals, they could accomplish amazing things. They learned to partner with large institutions in order to get things done, like winning two world wars, conquering the Great Depression, and sending a man to the moon. These are generations that still have an immense amount of faith in institutions, from the church to the government to the military.

– “When Generations Collide,” by Lynne Lancaster and David Stillman

What is the impact of the G.I. and Silent Generations in ChurchWorld today?

It is diminishing due to age, limited mobility, and illness, but the spark of service still burns bright. These two generations have a strong sense of obligation to serve the church. For decades they have been at the heart of their church, and they remain dedicated and willing to help where they can. Of all the generations discussed, they are the most church-going, and they give generously to their churches.

Characteristics like the following served these generations well during dark and troubled times in our nation’s history; they continue to serve by being passed along to younger generations.

  • Hard working
  • Savers
  • Frugal
  • Patriotic
  • Loyal
  • Private
  • Cautious
  • Respectful
  • Dependable
  • Stable
  • Intolerant

For the G.I. and Silent Generations, hard work, self-discipline, and sacrifice have paid off. They survived the difficult years of war and economic depression and believe that the affluence of the 1950s and 1960s proved that striving and surviving were the right way to go.

Even though the youngest of these generations is age 66 and the oldest above 100, don’t make the mistake that they have nothing to contribute. The characteristics listed above not only served to keep our nation strong in difficult times, they can be tapped by younger generations as a gift of legacy.

How are you honoring, remembering, and tapping into the G.I. and Silent Generation?

Generational Disclosure: My parents are from the Silent Generation; my in-laws are from the G.I. Generation. As a young boy, I was lucky to have grown up spending a great deal of time around my father and his peers because we lived right behind the gas station he owned and operated. I grew up listening to stories of WW I and II from men who had been there and survived; I experienced first hand the optimism of the 60s and the tremendous  changes America went through. In college and graduate school my professors were primarily from these two generations; my first “bosses” were also part of these generations. In short, most of the adult influencers, from parents to professors to pastors were from these two generations. They were, and remain, the Greatest Generation.

 I hope you have enjoyed this briefest of introductions to the generations now serving as leaders in ChurchWorld. You will be seeing more in the future!


Majority Rules

Eighty million strong, the Baby Boomers changed every market they entered, from the supermarket to the job market to the stock market.

Part 3 of a 4-part series on Generations in ChurchWorld

Last week this post introduced the generational lens that shapes a lot of my views. On Monday I began this four-part series by looking at the Millennials; on Tuesday it was Generation X. Today I want to look at the third of four generations active in ChurchWorld leadership roles today, and the implications for you as a leader with your own team. The final generation will be examined tomorrow.

Baby Boomers (Born 1946-1964)

Ask any Boomer about the greatest invention of their childhood and their antennae go up – literally. The single most important arrival during the birth years of the Boom was the television. In 1952, four million television sets could be found in American homes. By 1960, the number was fifty million. The original “generation gap” was between Boomers and their parents as an entire generation of Boomers could relate to a whole set of reference points (TV shows, characters, plots, advertiser, and products) that were unknown to their parents. As they fine-tuned their sets, the Boomers’ generational personality was shaped. Events that were revealed to the public through this highly visual new medium included deep, divisive issues like the war in Viet Nam, Watergate, the women’s and human rights movements, the OPEC oil embargo, stagflation, and recession. Experiencing these landmark events, whether live or through the miracle of television, permanently changed the Boomers.

Boomers, while graced with many blessings and privileges, have had to fight for much of what they’ve achieved in corporate America against the sheer number of their peers competing for the same jobs and promotions. Boomers have again and again been labeled the “Me Generation” in part because they were privileged to be able to focus on themselves and where they were going instead of needing to sublimate the need of individuals. But there is also a second meaning in this “me generation” label, and that is the deep identification Boomers feel with who they are and what they archive at work.

– “When Generations Collide,” by Lynne Lancaster and David Stillman

The common self-awareness and sense of destiny among Boomers was created by the staggering impact of change that took place during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Among the changes were several high impact events, which bonded Boomers into a generation set apart. If you are a Boomer you will understand the significance of these formative experiences:

  • Cold War
  • Economic growth and affluence
  • Education and technological growth
  • Rock and roll
  • Civil rights movement
  • The New Frontier
  • Space race
  • Assassinations
  • Viet Nam War
  • Energy crisis
  • Watergate and the Nixon resignation

What’s the impact of Baby Boomers in ChurchWorld?

In a word – huge.

Baby Boomers are now between the ages of 47 and 65. Sociologists call Boomers the “lead generation,” which means they tend to set the agenda for the rest of the nation. It’s true for the church, too. Boomers hold a high percentage of leadership positions in churches, including both staff and volunteer roles. Beyond just leadership roles, the simple vast number of Boomers means they will be the leading percentage of participants in your church.

With that being the case, ChurchWorld must take seriously Boomer values, needs, and concerns. Since Boomers are experience-oriented, churches must take pains to provide ways for Boomer to experience Christ. Since Boomers are future-oriented, churches must focus on tomorrow more than yesterday. Since Boomers are growth-oriented, churches must look beyond current membership to those who are not yet a part of the church. Since Boomers are action-oriented, churches must do rather than just discuss.

The Baby Boom Generation has had tremendous impact on our society. The sheer size of this generation has caused it to dominate our nation – and our churches. As Baby Boomers reach the end of middle adulthood and prepare to move to the next stage of life, they have a lot to offer ChurchWorld.

What are you doing to take advantage of the strengths of Boomers?

Generational Disclosure: I am a Baby Boomer. Enough said. Well, not really. All my formative years in college and my career have been primarily in the company of my peers. My closest friends are Boomers. In addition, many of the church leaders I work with in my consulting role are Boomers. The person who looks back at me in the mirror is a Boomer, and I am continually learning from him.


Gen X – Young & Restless

Part 2 of a 4-part series on Generations in ChurchWorld

Last week this post introduced the generational lens for a lot of my views. Yesterday I began this four-part series by looking at the Millennials. Today I want to look at the second of four generations active in ChurchWorld leadership roles today, and the implications for you as a leader with your own team. The remaining two generations will be examined tomorrow and the next day.

Generation X – (Born 1965-1981)

Possibly the most misunderstood generation in a leadership role today, this small (approximately forty-six million) but influential population has worked to carve out its own identity from its parents and younger siblings.

As you noticed yesterday (and will again tomorrow), technology has had a big impact on the Xers. While it was a single device for the Boomers, Xers were swamped with the media choices that sprung up during their lifetimes: cable TV, digital TV, satellite TV, VCRs, video games, fax machines, microwaves, pagers, cell phones, PDAs, and of course, the most life-changing item of all: the personal computer.

Most of the inventions above were intended to simplify the American way of life, but ask any Gen X about their childhood and you fill find that it was pretty complex. Violence appeared not only on television but close to home in the form of AIDS, crack cocaine, child molesters, and drunk drivers. Taken together, the message came across to Gen X: the world wasn’t as safe as it used to be. The number of single-parent households skyrocketed, and Mom wasn’t home with milk and cookies at the end of school. Instead, it was off to afterschool care or home to an empty house to play video games till supper.

The insecurities that developed during their childhoods continued as they became adults. Lay-offs, downsizing, fierce competition were just a few of the hallmarks of the world that Gen Xers came into as they entered the work force. The rate of change they’ve seen during their lifetimes and the cynical sense that everything is temporary play into their distrust of career permanence. After all, if their computers can become obsolete in a matter of months, what does that say about their own shelf life at work?

– “When Generations Collide,” by Lynne Lancaster and David Stillman

Generation X – the 30 to mid-40 year olds in your church – are an extremely resourceful and independent groupp.

As with any of the generations discussed in this series, it is hard to define Generation X. There are some dominant themes that characterize segments of the group, and will be beneficial for leaders with Gen Xers on their team:

  • Freedom – many Xers reject workaholics and expect personal satisfaction from their jobs; their other interests are just as important as work
  • Issues of survival – national and global issues such as world hunger, famine, poverty, AIDS, pollution, and so on are large and complex; Gen Xers don’t expect these issues to be solved and indeed, see their own quality of life declining in their lifetimes
  • Feeling neglected – more than 40 percent of Gen Xers are children of divorce; often from a single parent home. Isolated from family, they turned to technology to develop relationships

Where does that leave you as a leader in ChurchWorld with Gen Xers on your team?

For Gen Xers, it’s not about job security but career security; they will build a repertoire of skills and experiences they can take with them if need be

Many Gen Xers are looking through the world with a skeptical lens

Because of what they saw their parents and friends’ parents go through, they are often not willing to pay the same price for success

They are ambitious and hard-working, but focused on balance and freedom

Raised on sound bites and accustomed to instant information, Gen Xers like their information in a manageable format

One more thing to think about: because of the large number of Millennials compared to the number of Gen Xers, a big shift in leadership will be taking place in 2015 – the majority of the workforce will shift from Baby Boomers to Millennials – completely bypassing the Gen X leaders on your team.

How do you think they are going to react to that?

Generational Disclosure: I am the parent of one Generation Xer, a 31 year-old son who has a 3-year-old son. He is a chef, kitchen manager, and regional trainer for the restaurant chain he works for. In addition, I work with several Generation Xers in my company, I network with many Xers across the country in my consulting role, and the leadership team at my church is exclusively Gen X.

The Next Great Generation

Leave it to a Millennial to dig up some research on her own generation and send it to me. Well, that’s my daughter – what can I say?

Part 1 of a 4-part series on Generations in ChurchWorld

Last week this post introduced the generational lens that I view a lot of things through. Today I want to look at the first of four generations active in ChurchWorld leadership roles today, and the implications for you as a leader with your own team. The other three generations will be examined the rest of this week.

Just in case you wondered, there is a fifth generation that’s almost in a position of leadership – those born from the late ‘90s on. The oldest of that generation is already leading your youth or student groups, even without a position of leadership – but that is another series for another day! Now about those Millennials…

The Next Great Generation

Meet the Millennials, born in or after 1982 through the late ‘90s  – the “Babies on Board” of the early Reagan years, the “Have You Hugged Your Child Today?” sixth graders of the early Clinton years, the teens of Columbine, the much-touted Class of 2000 entering the new Millennium, and this year, poised to enter their thirties.

As a group, Millennials are unlike any other youth generation in living memory. They are more numerous, more affluent, better educated, and more ethnically diverse. More importantly, they are beginning to manifest a wide array of positive social habits that older Americans no longer associate with youth, including a new focus on teamwork, achievement, modesty, and good conduct.

When you fit these changes into the broader rhythms of American history, you can get a good idea of what kind of adult generation the Millennials have demonstrated so far, and are likely becoming. You can foresee their future hopes and fears, strengths and weaknesses, as they rise to adulthood and, in time, to power. You can understand how today’s young adults are on the way to becoming a powerhouse generation, full of technology planners, community shapers, institution builders, and world leaders. Many observers think this generation will dominate the twenty-first century like today’s fading and ennobled G.I. Generation dominated the twentieth. Millennials have a solid chance to becomeAmerica’s next great generation, celebrated for their collective deeds a hundred years from now.

– from “Millennials Rising” by Neil Howe and William Strauss

And they are the “young gun” leaders chomping at the bit in ChurchWorld today.

Millennials want to make a difference from the day they arrive on the scene, and think they can. After all, they had parents who told them how great they were. They listened to Baby Einstein to get smarter. They expected to get an A in school, and if they didn’t, they negotiated with the school staff.

Millennials bring a lot of valuable skill sets in terms of thinking outside the box and in the world of technology. They are the first generation that are digital natives. They don’t know what status quo means, but they will be the first to speak up is something doesn’t work.

Some thoughts to consider when leading Millennials:

  • Provide specific examples of what you expect at the office
  • Give them feedback at least once a month
  • Capable of learning several tasks simultaneously and performing them admirably
  • Flexible scheduling is important in developing a balanced life
  • “Fun” is not an F-word; it’s a vital aspect of a meaningful, productive workplace
  • Leadership is a participative process; they will learn best from leaders who engage them
  • Continuous learning is a way of life
  • Diversity is expected
  • Being hyper-connected is normal

By 2015 (less than four years away!) Baby Boomers will cede the majority of the workforce to the Millennials. When you consider the changes in the amount of knowledge available at our fingertips, the advent of social technologies, and the expansion of the global economy over the past decade, it’s no wonder that generational collisions are inevitable – even in ChurchWorld.

Are you ready?

Generational Disclosure: I am the parent of three Millennials: a 27 year-old son completing Air Force Basic Training, married with a daughter who is nine months old; a 23 year-old daughter who is employed as a communication director and is completing a Masters in Divinity; and an 18 year-old son who is beginning college this fall as a culinary arts/food services management major. My generational studies start at home!