Tapestry of Faith: Faith Like a River : A Program on Unitarian Universalist History for Adults
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Faith In Action: Generational Diversity

Materials for Activity

  • Handout 3, Generations Theory Summary
  • Optional: A copy of Strauss, William and Neil Howe, Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069 (New York: Harper Perennial, 1992)

Preparation for Activity

  • Copy Handout 3, Generations Theory Summary, for all participants.
  • Optional: Explore Strauss and Howe's "Generation Theory" in their book, Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069.

Description of Activity

Most of us tend to assume our own world view is the "norm." Our own view, in turn, involves multiple lenses particular to us, such as gender, race, religion, level of education, or urban versus rural or suburban upbringing. One of the most subtle and pervasive lenses through which we see the rest of the world has to do with our age-the stage of life we are currently in and the values and experiences we share with our peer group.

Age differences play out in our faith communities. Although faith communities are among the few institutions in our contemporary world with potential to be truly multigenerational, they are not immune to the generation gaps and gulfs that have come to dominate modern life.

In his book, All are Welcome: A Primer for Intentional Intergenerational Ministry and Dialogue, James V. Gambone suggests congregations might be places where generational differences can be bridged, resulting in added richness for all. However, he asserts that it takes concerted effort and intention to do so. He writes, "...intentional intergenerational ministry means the entire church makes a commitment to involve as many generations in as many parts of the church as possible." Such an approach would honor the fact that "each generation in our society has a unique and important perspective on current personal, political, economic, religious and cultural issues."

William Strauss and Neil Howe have examined how generational differences color our experiences. They differentiate five current generations: G.I.s (born 1901-1924), Silents (1925-1942), Boomers (1943-1960), Generation Xers (1961-1981), and Millenials (born after 1982). Distribute Handout 3 that presents a summary based on their work.

Does your congregation currently face a project, issue, or concern that might benefit from the perspectives and gifts represented by the different generations of your members? If so, invite several representatives from each generation into a conversation about the issue. Invite each generational cohort to meet and discuss their ideas for a solution or approach. Then have one representative from each group join a panel to present the variety of viewpoints to the group as a whole.

You may choose to share a summary of the characteristics of each of the generations defined by Strauss and Howe. Do the responses of your generational representatives bear out Strauss and Howe's Generation Theory?