The generation gap is nothing new. Activist Jack Weinberg famously said in a 1964 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, “Never trust anyone over 30.” His statement turned into a rallying cry for a generation of young people, but those young people soon became older people, and Weinberg’s age is now 80.
It’s no secret that many of us would like to stay “forever young” (a phrase that generates 27.2 million Google results), but that simply isn’t possible. I often think of myself as young. After all, I’m three decades younger than the major parties’ presidential candidates. Then a friend my age (or younger) posts a picture of his or her grandchild on Facebook, and I am reminded I may be older than I view myself.
I was born during the 1970s, which makes me a member of Generation X that seems more like Generation Invisible lately. A CBS news report last year left Gen Xers out of an on-screen “Generation Guidelines” graphic with information about the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Millennials and Post-Millennials. Forbes magazine reported that my generation “has essentially fallen off the radar among marketers.” Perhaps being ignored will drive Generation X to a midlife crisis, but will anyone notice?
Earlier this year, a small church in another Methodist denomination made national news for allegedly asking “older parishioners to leave in an effort to attract younger families,” according to CNN, which noted the congregation’s pastor disputed the reports. In the weeks leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, this story likely spread because it resonated with the experiences of some Christians.
Like our nation’s political institutions, many congregations have a majority of leaders and/or members who are 50 or older. Young people may feel like these churches don’t want to hear their viewpoints or welcome them into leadership, and the worship style or sanctuary décor may seem outdated.
In the effort to shift demographics and attract younger people, however, the words and actions of church leaders may communicate that longtime members (or previously unreached older people who live nearby) don’t matter as much.
Should we target our ministries toward younger or older people? As revealed in this issue by Larry Petry, a Free Methodist elder in the Genesis Conference, and Heritage Ministries colleague Melissa Anderson, we can look to the past efforts of Bishop Walter Sellew and other Free Methodist leaders who understood “providing for the physical and spiritual needs of others does not require an age limit on either end of the spectrum.”
This month’s issue offers the perspectives of people from different age groups — including young Free Methodists Natalie Forney and Chris Kaufman, both of whom understand the importance of intergenerational connection. Bishop Matt Whitehead tells us we must pass “along the generational baton of faith.” You’ll also read about Donna Saylor, whose decades of urban ministry have benefited countless people of different ages and backgrounds.
The COVID-19 pandemic may widen the generation gap as health concerns prevent us from occupying the same room as people of other generations. Technology can be helpful, but some people lack access to the internet. Thankfully, most people can still be reached by a phone call or a letter in the mail.
We serve the Rock of Ages “who is, and who was, and who is to come” (Revelation 1:8). He’s been around much longer than the oldest person reading this, and He’s more innovative than a young tech entrepreneur. He is the One who tells us “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you” (Isaiah 46:4).
Jeff Finley is this magazine’s executive editor. He joined LIGHT + LIFE in 2011 after a dozen years of reporting and editing for Sun-Times Media. He is a member of John Wesley Free Methodist Church in Indianapolis where his wife, Jen, serves as the lead pastor.1