As we shared before, starting in early 2019, Holy Cow! Consulting asked responders to the Congregation Assessment Tool (CAT) which generation they are a part of with a given list of choices. Responders can pick one of the following:
- Traditionalist/Silent Generations: Born 1928-1945
- Baby Boom Generation: Born 1946-1964
- Generation X: Born 1965-1980
- Millennial Generation or Generation Y: Born 1981–1996
- Generation Z or iGen: Born 1997–2012
To read the beginning of this study and the overview please check it out here. Our last post was about the worship experience by generation, specifically music. This week, we will be exploring connection and hospitality, and the generational views on these topics within their congregations.
Connection and Hospitality
Human connection is defined as when people choose to engage in vulnerable interactions where each person is heard, seen, known and valued. We, as humans, crave connection and need it for our overall mental, emotional, and physical health.
Over the last three years, there have been countless studies regarding connection and loneliness. In a recent study conducted by Making Care Common, a project of the Harvard Graduate School, 36% of the 950 people surveyed reported serious loneliness. Within that population 61% of those feeling serious loneliness were between the ages of 18 to 25. 51% of that population were mothers with young children.
The Cigna Group in their published studies found that twice as many younger adults (18-34 years of age) as older adults (55 and older) experience feeling left out.
One of the key recommendations of both of these studies was that “we need to begin reimagining and reweaving our social relationships in health care, schools, and many other institutions.” This means churches have the opportunity to rethink and reimagine how we create and sustain relationships within our congregations as well.
The data from the CAT reflects the findings of these studies on loneliness and longing for connection for the younger generations. The CAT asks responders what they would like to prioritize when looking at the future of the church.
When asked where congregants would like to put that energy, Baby Boomers and Traditionalists are looking for church growth, development around particular ministries and more Christian education opportunities. Traditionalists also have a very high focus on the spiritual generosity of the people to financially support the ministries of the church. This type of focus often speaks to a desire that the legacy of the church they love live on even after they are gone.
For Gen X and Millennials, while they are also wanting to see church growth in the future, their third priority for their church is to create more opportunities to form meaningful relationships within the congregation. This indicates that these two generations are looking to create or deepen their sense of community in their church. Notably even though 36% of Traditionalists and 26% of the Baby Boomers in this study live alone, they do not feel a need to deepen those relationships, this is likely in part because they have already found their community within the congregation. In comparison, only 7% of Gen X and 11% of Millennials live alone but seem to be longing for the community that church could give them.
This desire of community carries into the generational responses when asked to reflect on the hospitality of the congregation. Hospitality is the measure of the degree to which members within the congregation perceive how engaged they are in offering care for each other and new people.
The questions that focus on hospitality in the CAT are:
- Has being a part of church given to new meaning to my life?
- Is our congregation enriched and welcoming to people from many different walks of life?
- Do I feel a prevailing friendly atmosphere among the people in our congregation?
- Do I sense genuine care and concern from our congregation in times of personal need?
- Have we been prepared to welcome new guests to our worship?
Both the Traditional and Baby Boomers score their church in terms of hospitality in the average range of 41%-47% in our database. Traditionalists score their church the highest on welcoming new guests, being enriched and welcoming to people from many different walks of life, and church giving new meaning to their lives. All of these areas for this generation score at or above the 50% range, average to high-average in the benchmarking. Baby Boomers score all of their hospitality measures as a church in the 38%-55% range.
Unfortunately, the younger generations are not experiencing the same level of hospitality. These scores are shown below left to right. Gen X scores their overall churches hospitality in the low range, 28% in the benchmarking. Millennials score the hospitality of their congregation in the low average range, 35% in the benchmarking. Gen Z scores, when reflecting on the hospitality scores in their congregation, are the lowest at 19% in the benchmarking.
It is important to break this down a bit further. Looking at this data, Baby Boomers are scoring their church hospitality in the 41% and the Millennials are scoring hospitality just 6% lower, at 35%. This might make us wonder “is that really a difference that has a distinction?” The answer is a resounding yes.
Each generation has a clear culture and value set. While not all individuals within each generation will fit these descriptions, it is important to understand the cultures as a whole if we are truly committed to creating community together.
Traditionalists were a part of significant historic events, these events were very defining for this generation. Most in this generation are retired. They value traditional forms of communication and personal touches from those who seek their contributions of time or money. Traditionalists are loyal to the causes and communities they support. Once they find a community they tend to stay committed for long periods of time, regardless of the ebs and flow of that community over time.
When Baby Boomers were and may still be in the workforce, work was the center of their lives. They are a generation that highly values individualism and self-assertiveness. They give time and money to nonprofits and other community ventures based on a duty-driven model. As stated in a study conducted by Nonprofit Tech for Good, “Baby Boomers support traditional, well-established organizations with a proven track record of impact. Religious institutions, universities, and healthcare charities tend to receive substantial contributions from this generation.” Baby Boomers to not need to feel welcomed or connected to an organization to give time or other resources. It is nice if they do feel that connection, but it is not essential.
In contrast, Gen X began assessing the work-life balance when they entered the workforce. Unlike previous generations, Gen X needs personal connection in order to give of their time, gifts, or money. This generation is self-sufficient and values flexibility and informal spaces to connect. They are known for being pragmatic and will research thoroughly before joining a community or donating.6 Gen X currently leads nationally in annual volunteer hours served but does this work only when they can see the direct impact of those causes in their community.
Millennials have come after Gen X benefiting from the shifting work-life balance. This has resulted in a generation that is highly empathetic, values interpersonal connections, and looks for a way to live out their socio-political values4 in both their work and personal life. Millennials give when they experience a connection that is often peer-to-peer and need to understand how the time and money they are giving is connected personally.
Gen Z is the newest generation and studies have not fully formed how that generation interacts and gives. What we do know is Gen Z is a generation that values truth, exploration, and identity or even lack of identity. They look for work and a community that prioritizes mental health, and open and honest communication while fostering collaboration. When giving time or money they want to see immediate impact so they can be assured they are making a difference.
At Holy Cow! Consulting, we sit with church leaders several times a week across the country. The common struggle that we hear is that “we need young people to engage and help in our congregation’s work.” These comments are often coming from a group where the average age over 65. The Baby Boomer generation engages this way – there is a need so we do the work. From that perspective there is frustration, and to some extent understandable frustration, that the younger folks are not stepping up. But unlike in the past, we cannot ask the younger generations to “just engage” without being mindful of connection because that is not their culture.
I find myself saying time and time again, younger generations will do and make time for what they find meaningful. If Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z do not feel connected or invested in personal relationships within the congregation, they will not be inspired to give of their time, their talents, or their money. Hospitality, that welcome and connection, is even more important for these generations because without it, they will not find their life in the congregation meaningful. And as all the data and research says, without that meaningful personal connection, your congregation cannot effectively engage younger generations.
We cannot cling to the old ways of doing things and expect new results. This longing for meaningful relationships and this perception of lower care from the church in terms of hospitality is an important indicator of where the church is missing opportunities to touch lives and create community.
Our congregations have questions that must be answered by all generations. These questions include:
- How can the older generations be open to shifting their way of thinking and connecting with the younger generations?
- How are we welcoming the younger generations into our congregations so they can feel valued and a part of what we do together?
- How are we listening to the needs of those younger generations within our congregations and responding?
- How are we managing our expectations of what younger people can give and how they can give it?
- What can we give each other in community that we cannot get anywhere else?
Scripture promises us that Jesus remains the same, that is our constant. What must change is the way in which we care for each other.
 A portion of the Gen Z population was and is under 16 years of age and therefore not typically eligible to take the CAT assessment.
 Nonprofit for Good, Six Generations of Giving
 John Hopkins University, The Changing Generational Values
 Nonprofit for Good, Six Generations of Giving
 McKinsey and Company, True Gen: Generation Z and its implications for Companies
 John Hopkins University, The Changing Generational Values