A bit of back-story: A question concerning Generation X (aka Gen X) was presented to students during a recent M.Div seminar regarding Church, Administration, Finance, and Evangelism. We were instructed to break into small groups and search for an answer to the question presented. I’ll reproduce the original question here, and the answer offered by me, but first I must admit that I’m continually amazed at the constant misunderstanding and mischaracterization aimed at the generation in question (Gen X), especially when the answer to the same old, tired question is so, so simple.
Question: Many Baby-boomers and Generation Xers are suspicious of authority and organizations. They tend to resist “joining” organizations and don’t respond to ideas that they are “obligated” or “bound by loyalty” to support churches. How would you approach these generations in terms of crafting a message about “stewardship” and “financial support?”
First of all, I think this is more of a Generation X characteristic than it is Baby-boomer. Maybe a few Baby-boomers born really close to the line of generational demarcation hung out to close to Gen Xers as children and a bit of institutional apathy rubbed off on them, but they are still Baby-boomers. Gen Xers are extremely territorial, and don’t take kindly to Baby-boomer wannabes leeching their institutional apathy. I jest …
Secondly, I’m not so sure Gen Xers are actually suspicious of all authority or all organizations. We are, after all, active members of many, many organizations, and happily submit to the authority of many, many entities. A lot of us went to college, for example. Colleges are organizations with more than a little representative authority. Professional sports teams all over the globe are by majority populated with Gen Xers right now. There is much organization and even more authority centralized in team sports, regardless of what kind of ball is used. Too, many, many Gen Xers participate in the political processes of this country. How would this even be possible if it were not for organization on a massive, massive level? We vote for politicians, judges, police chiefs, wardens, etc. So, not only do we participate in organization of a political sort, but we also equip those we vote for with more authority and power than we will ever personally realize, I’m sure. Too, we are professional protest organizers. So, how can it honestly be said that “organization” is the problem? So, I think it is quite unfair to brand Gen Xers as allergic to “authority” and “organizations” in such a broad, sweeping fashion. Reality is: Gen Xers are simply suspicious of your organization, and probably for good reasons too! They quite simply may just not like what your organization is pushing. When Gen Xers stumble upon something into which we feel we can seriously and intentionally invest, we invest, and loyally. Yes, it’s harsh, but most likely true, given all the evidence to the contrary: It might just be that your organization sucks. So, don’t blame the customer.
Finally, if you want to actually influence and partner with Gen Xers, then loose word-phrases like “How would you approach …” and “in terms of crafting …” Gen Xers can spot a snake oil salesman from a mile away. We can spot a Bible salesman at five miles. Like it or not, if your entire framework concerning Gen X is built upon strategic “approaching” and “crafting,” and that is as creative as your effort to influence us gets, then you have already lost, and before you ever began. We do partner and invest in institutions and organizations. We partner with a lot of them if you think about it. We do take stewardship seriously too. We have families for which we budget, and seriously so. Our lives are stewardship … which brings me to the crux of the matter and the most profound answer the above question deserves:
If you want to influence and partner with Gen Xers, then whatever you’re “pitching” had better be livable. If it is not a lifestyle, that can be authentically lived, we won’t touch it. We may pick it up for a second, and toss it around a bit, while we try to try it on, but if it doesn’t fit life, it’ll be thrown back. You can count on it. We are all about lifestyle. We want to live … we want to live it.