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JOE LAGUARDIA: All churches grapple with the generational divide

Joe LaGuardia

Joe LaGuardia

Several years ago, my church toyed with “contemporary” worship by employing guitars, drums, and choruses. The process was a tough one for a church that championed liturgy and tradition.

There were long worship committee meetings at the time, and we talked about methods that could facilitate this movement. One was blending the service and using instruments at different times. Another was to split into two services — an earlier service for contemporary, and later one for traditional.

So many churches were going to two services to accommodate their diverse crowds, why not us? Although it seems commonplace now, it was fairly unfamiliar territory back then.

The discernment process continued. To make a long story short, after a year or so passed, we did end up including newer songs, but lost many of the musicians to other local churches that favored contemporary worship.

Through the journey, I heard several different opinions along the way, and it seemed that the real conflict wasn’t over worship so much as it was over how different generations in the church viewed participation in worship.

The conversations revolved around generational divides: Seasoned churchgoers seemed to complain that young adults, many of whom wanted to change the worship, were not as active in giving and donating, so why should they get their way?

The young adults complained that some in the church were unwilling to change. They argued that the congregation had gotten so steeped in liturgy, we forgot to follow a living God who challenged us to “sing a new song” (Psalm 149).

Both camps had shortfalls and merits, and it is unfortunate that this conversation affected so many churches aside from our own. But that was years ago, and many churches have settled on doing worship one way or another (or both with two services).

No matter the worship war outcome, I still fear that the generational divide in churches still exists.

Although worship is no longer the battle, I continue to hear complaints in many communities of faith that stem from different sides of the generational spectrum: Some people don’t give and sacrifice, and others don’t want to change to make room for new ideas. It’s a complaint almost as old as the church itself.

Don’t get me wrong: there is some truth to these notions. It is statistically true that young people don’t tithe as much, and it is also true that people who are ingrained in a community prefer stability and predictability.

But if we move beyond those platitudes, we can see that maybe it’s about time we learn from one another.

For one, young adults, especially those with children, may not give as big a financial contribution to any one church, but they do share a broader understanding of what it means to contribute. For instance, in a double-parent household, it is not uncommon to see young fathers contribute more time to their families as did dads from yesteryear.

Also, many people desire to put feet to their faith. Barna Research Group released an article a few months ago that highlighted five ways young adults connect with churches, one of which is intentional missional outreach. They may not attend Sunday School, but you will find them serving at your local soup kitchen.

At the same time, young people need to slow down, put down the computers and smart phones, and take a few minutes to hear about how their older brothers and sisters in Christ have experienced God over the years. We whipper-snappers can learn a thing or two about resilience in the face of hardship, confidence in the face of instability, and trust in God in the midst of tragedy.

I’ve been chaplain now to seniors in Decatur for over a decade, and I can bear witness to the fact that these seniors are so much better at trusting in God and experiencing God than I.

Sure, change may not come easy, but there’s something to be said about consistency and reliability (some companies make billions from predictable engineering — think Apple and Porsche, for instance).

For now, I’m sure that many churches can’t help the generational divides that exist in their communities. With a concerted effort and some intentional faith sharing, however, I am confident that we can grow closer to one another and together grow closer to Christ even when it is difficult to do so.

The Rev. Joe LaGuardia is the senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, 301 Honey Creek Road, Conyers. E-mail him at trinityassociate@bellsouth.net or visit www.trinityconyers.org.