Improving our Generational IQ

In his book "Generational IQ," Haydn Shaw looks at the four generations in the church, and how we can better adapt our ministry to reach Gen-X and Millennials. It's not surprise by now, if you follow such things, that those under 40 are leaving the church, or declaring themselves Nones.

What is interesting about the research is that the Nones don't necessarily have no religious affiliation. In fact, 68 percent say they believe in God, they just don't believe in the church. That's both encouraging — because they can be reached — and discouraging because we're not doing enough to reach them.

In his book, Shaw looks at a number of different areas where changes in culture have led to Millennials approaching faith and the church differently, but the church hasn't changed. Now, the average age upon first marriage is 26 for women and 28 for me. That's much later than for the Boomer Generation, which currently dominates church leadership. It's led to later starts for families, too. And there are two interesting areas that Shaw touches on that resonated with my experience of the church.

I'm 35, and I've been married for four years but have no children. I am a Millennial, born in 1981, as is my wife, born in 1982.

1. We don't talk about sex in honest ways — This is something I've seen first hand. When I was in college at Biola University — The Biblical Institute of Los Angeles — we had a private bulletin board system. On it was a sex questions folder, a place where students could place anonymous questions to be answered by a nurse. I thought it was going to be the funniest thing ever, until I looked at it. Instead, what I saw made me sad. It was people who had such little education — either from school or parents — that they didn't understand the fundamentals of how sex worked. They were lost, confused, ashamed, and curious.

Shaw argues that sex is something of a taboo subject in churches, and it's something that we don't talk about in churches. That's critical, though, especially now that Christian Millennials are delaying marriage — and presumably sex — longer. If the church doesn't talk about the beauty of it within marriage and the Biblical reasons for abstaining, and instead remains silent, then these Millennials will look elsewhere.

And since our culture puts a premium on sex, it's likely information will come from there. In fact, Shaw notes that while the culture has come to worship sex, the church has stepped away from talking about it by-and-large. That's a problem.

2. We have to find a way to minister to singles and those without children — Another statement Shaw makes is about the way the church is set up. We're in a great position to minister to parents and children. And that's vital. All research shows that if the parents are grounded in the faith it's much more likely that faith will be handed down to the next generation. But how do we reach those future parents who are single or married without children into their 30s? The answer, right now, is we're not.

This is something I've experienced in my own church. All the Sunday schools were set up for parents in different stages. All the programs were about families, offering child care and kids options. Or it was aimed at younger adults, those still in college. I was in my early 30s, married, looking to form community, but didn't have kids. Where was I supposed to go.

I am grounded in faith and the life of the church, so my wife and I persisted and created our own group. We found plenty of like-minded couples, and it's greatly enriched our lives, and our life of faith. But what about those who don't have the time, notion, or ability to create their own group? What are they to do?

The church is almost entirely geared to meet the needs of families with children. That's who we market to and that's who we are best equipped to bring in. And that's an important group. But with Millennials waiting longer to marry and waiting longer to have children, we have to find ways to onboard them to the life of faith and community to help them be grounded in the church.


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