Posted: Oct 1
Generations of Stewardship
"Why don’t these young folks understand stewardship?” railed the sweet elderly lady on a church committee. “We just need to explain it to them. They need to understand that stewardship is paying your dues, just like you would if you belonged to a club.”
As a new member of the stewardship team, its token Generation Xer, I widened my eyes. “Is that what stewardship is?” I wondered to myself. “If so, maybe I should reduce my pledge.”
I’ve learned a lot about stewardship since then. I’ve learned that stewardship is not about paying my dues to an institution. Stewardship is not a code word for fundraising. Stewardship is not keeping the church lights on or paying a decent staff.
Stewardship is about responding to God’s generosity with a glad, grateful, and generous heart. Stewardship is about being a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. And stewardship is something that blesses the giver more than it does the receiver.
Why do older and younger generations respond to God’s call to stewardship in such different ways? You’ve heard the old joke: “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing you’ve always done, and expecting different results.” Well, what if the opposite is true? What if the definition of insanity is doing the same thing you’ve always done, and expecting the same results?
In a many ways, this is happening in congregational stewardship across the country – the programs stay the same, but the people respond differently. Why is it that the folks over 70 send back their pledge card the same week they receive it, with more or less the same offering they’ve given every year in memory? And why do the folks under 40 sit nodding politely during stewardship talks, and then respond at a much lower rate?
If the world is changing, it doesn’t make sense for the church to stay the same. Yes, our faith in Jesus remains the same, and our liturgical structures have a beautiful continuity with tradition all the way back to the time of the apostles. But new generations of people grow up in different times, with different technologies, life experiences, values, and ways of looking at the world. That means that the church should learn to look at people differently. And that’s what generational theory is all about.
In 1991, Neil Howe and William Strauss published their seminal work, Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584-2069. They looked at America’s history and determined that each generation in our history fell into one of four identifiable types, occurring in a predictable order, with predictable characteristics. Some generations, like the GI Generation, respond well to institutional structures and love to be part of building them – so they like the idea that they are “paying their dues.”
Others, like Generation X, are wary and skeptical of all institutions, but want to know that their ministries can bring stability to an insecure and frightening world.
According to Strauss and Howe, these generations are now active in our country:
·The GI Generation – born before 1925
·The Silent Generation – born 1925-1942
·The Boomer Generation – born 1943 – 1960
·Generation X – born 1961 – 1982
·The Millennials – born 1983 – 2005
An upcoming series of blog posts over the next few months will explore these generations in detail, including their life events, their unique outlooks on the world, and the church leadership and stewardship techniques that are most effective for them. In the meantime, for more information, click here for a PowerPoint presentation on the generations.
The Rev. Susan B. Snook is Vicar and Church Planter of the Episcopal Church of the Nativity, Phoenix/Scottsdale, and a member of TENS' Board of Directors.