Pardon the interruption into what is obviously a really important conversation between Boomers and Millennials. Obvious, because in the last couple of weeks, there has been a flood of blog posts and articles about how Boomers need to rethink church to capture Millennials.
And yes, it’s important; every time a new generation of young adults comes up through the ranks, we wring our hands about their lack of interest and attendance. These ideas come around every 15 years or so, and with good reason. What keeps one generation interested doesn’t always attract another.
The difference this time is that the conversation is most clearly between Boomers (aged 53-70)* and their Millennial children (aged 9-30) but not involving the aging Silent generation (aged 71-88) or Generation X (aged 31-52).
And that’s a problem.
Now we don’t want to come off as complaining, but GenX is tired of being forgotten. We are tired of being disenfranchised. We are tired of being maligned. We are tired of being overshadowed.
It doesn’t help that there are so few of us – only 44 million Xers were born, compared to 78 million Boomers and 88 million Millennials.
It doesn’t help that no one could ever actually come up with a name for us – though eventually we wore the un-name “X” with pride.
It doesn’t help that the movies that defined us – The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, War Games, etc. painted us as inscrutable slackers and apathetic rule breakers.
It doesn’t help that we are a doing, not a talking generation, more likely to ‘just do it’ than discuss it.
It doesn’t help that many of us grew up as latchkey kids and learned early to fend for ourselves.
But we are adults now; in the public sphere, we invented Google and Amazon, we have made great improvements to electric cars and wind power, and we have excelled in politics, with one of our number currently serving as President of the United States. In our congregations, we’re ministers and religious educators and music professionals and lay leaders. We’re moving into positions of leadership – or trying to, anyway. We’re waiting for Boomers to let go and move into the equally important stewardship roles. But we’re worried; what if the Boomers only move on when Millennials are old enough to take over? What if we miss our chance?
We watch, and much of the time we put our heads down and just do our own thing. We get things done – sure. We’re hard workers. We’re scrappy, innovative, inventive. A recent paper by Douglas Keene and Rita Handrich (written from a legal perspective) suggests that as we have aged and proven ourselves, attitudes have changed. But unlike Boomers and Millennials, we actually did have to work pretty hard to prove ourselves to not be grungy, cynical, apathetic losers but rather optimistic, savvy, ambitious, independent adults.
But we don’t complain out loud much.
Until this recent rash of articles about Millennials and church, whose authors have acted as though GenX doesn’t even exist. (And don’t get me started on the Silent generation – sidelined by the GIs for not serving in World War II, the forgotten Korean War heroes, yet on the front lines of justice and civil rights – again, doing, not talking.)
GenXers are gathering in Facebook posts and email groups and Google chats, wondering how we became forgotten again. We’re worried that our Silent parents are being silenced again. We wonder if we’re really just supposed to take the Silents out for pie while the Boomers and Millennials rule the world.
Well no more.
The youngest members of our generation are in their early 30s – cresting from Young Adulthood into Adulthood, having families, starting careers, finding their feet. They need grounding. They need a strong foundation while the job market is still soft, while the economy still favors the 1%, while there is so much inequality and injustice. Older GenXers are tired of being assistants and vice-chairs; they’ve raised their kids and are ready to lead, ready to deepen spiritually, ready to try new things and innovate our governance, our social action, our stewardship, and our worship.
We are here.
There may not be many of us, but we are here. We have strength of will and an entrepreneurial spirit. We are perceptive and highly protective (sometimes too protective) of younger generations; we are equally protective of our parents, the Silents. We have leadership skills and spiritual insights and new ways to think about money and mission. We worship, we serve our communities, we build coalitions. We want to do when the spirit says do – putting our money where our mouth is, putting mission before mortgage, breathing into the depth and breadth of our faith.
We are here.
We want to be treated respectfully. We want to be valued for our abilities and knowledge. We want to be trusted.
We are here.
*I am using the generational divisions as defined by Strauss & Howe in their book Generations: The History of America’s Future from 1584 to 2069.