In America today we have five living adult generations. This is a unique circumstance in our history. Thanks to improved public health initiatives and the advances of medical science, adults born as early as 1924 are still among us, some more active than others, but still present in our lives and congregations.
Sociologists have given labels to these generations of adults and attempted to generalize about their formative experiences and shared characteristics. Most of us will recognize these labels: GI, Silent, Boomer, Xer, and Millennial.
Five living adult generations: this fact alone speaks to the formational and pastoral challenge the church faces. We wonder how to keep current members involved, compete with the technology-fueled pace of 21st century life, and how to reach those who are absent.
This is made all the more challenging because for the first time in our society the generations have not been formed by the same meta-narrative—a practicing Christian culture/society. We live in a “Post-Christian Era”; a single style of adult ministry is no longer viable.
John Mabry, writing out of his own pastoral experience, acknowledges these challenges in his book Faithful Generations (Morehouse, 2013) and explores the question of what engages each generation—what calls to them and feeds their spiritual seeking, nurtures their spiritual growth, and heals their spiritual wounds.
Mabry presents each generational cohort and offers important insight into the spirituality of each—what they seek and yearn for, how they perceive themselves, and what religious language they will hear or shut down.
Using his ministry as example, Mabry seeks to identify generational blind spots. He was a young pastor (by generational definition an Xer) in a church of octogenarians (by generational definition GI’s). Based on this experience, Mabry offers tools to work through the generational challenges, such as “Why don’t people respond the way I think they will?”
This is an important book for all of us to read and consider as we look at faith formation and ministry with adults. Mabry’s work is not another tired litany of what we have done wrong and why people are leaving. Mabry offers a roadmap—or GPS—for what we can begin to do right as we plan formation, worship, evangelism, and outreach.
Faithful Generations is a practical and user-friendly tool to help us understand and begin to shape what it means to be church now and in the years to come.
Malinda Collier is Director of Lay Ministry & Formation at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, VA.