Level the Playing Field

Learning Objectives
Upon completion of this module, facilitators will:

  • Understand the general characteristics of the five generational groups.
  • Realize the importance of acknowledging these characteristics in the planning of Sabbath School lessons.
  • Implement suggestions for bridging generational gaps.

Our churches come in many different sizes, hence many different sizes of Sabbath School classes. The larger the church, the greater the odds that the members of these classes will be of varying ages—from older teens to venerable elders. These classes will usually be spontaneously grouped, that is, the classes will not be grouped by age, as in the children’s division. Such classes can present special challenges for Sabbath School facilitators because different age groups may require different techniques.

Generational Characteristics
Just as each blade of grass differs, so does each individual. However, most people possess at least some of the characteristics that can be attributed to their respective generations. These characteristics have a bearing on how they can best be approached in a general classroom setting and in a Sabbath School class setting as well. Let’s look at five generations and some of their characteristics:

The GI/Silent Generation: This group is comprised of people who were born through 1926. Numbering about 36 million, they are the ones who set up the church in today’s society. They enjoy traditional church hymns. As conformists, they trust authority figures. Loyalty, duty, and honor are important to them. They are stable, faithful people who have a strong set of values and can be relied upon. Their slogan: “We will prevail.”

Builders/Boosters: Sometimes called the Silent Generation, these individuals were born between 1927 and 1945. They are, for the most part, generous people whose lives were greatly influenced by the Depression and World War II. They are stable, loyal, and hardworking. They grew up at a time when listening to the radio was a family activity, consequently many of them developed auditory learning skills. (See Lesson 6, Learning Styles.) Traditional music and “three-point sermons” suit them just fine. They accept organizational structure and prove to be faithful, reliable church members who keep their word. Their slogan: “We will cope.”

Baby Boomers: Born between 1946 and 1964, this is the largest of the generations, the idealistic children of the 1960s. Often called the first divorce generation, they can be very concerned with making money. Their attitudes were formed by tremendous political change and social upheaval, i.e., the Cuban missile crisis, the space race, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the Vietnam War, and assassinations of key figures: Martin Luther King, Jr., and John and Robert Kennedy.

Those events have caused boomers to be wary of authority, organizational structures, and institutions in general. They were part of the biggest generation gap: themselves and their parents. Influenced by television and computers, boomers enjoy “highly visual entertainment.” They like immediate gratification and individual satisfaction.

Returning to the church built by their grandparents and getting a sense of their own mortality, they enjoy high-energy worship and seek congregations that can help them instill values in their children. This is the Me Generation, whose motto is: “I will be satisfied.”

Generation X/Baby Busters: This group is second in size to the baby boomers. They were born between 1965 and 1976. Many of them are single.

This first postmodern generation has experienced as many attitude-shaping events as the previous generation, i.e., the fall of Communism and the Berlin Wall, the AIDS crisis, the Challenger explosion. Technologically savvy and leisure-loving, they are visually inclined, wanting to “see” the world and save the environment.

Feelings, personal experiences, and relationships are important to them. Wanting to make the world better for others, their community-minded natures lead them to involvement in service and civic projects. They seek churches where they can be in small groups. They prefer visually stimulating worship services.

These people are grounded in reality and prefer congregations that are the same. Members of this group are very accepting of ethnic diversity. Their motto: “Just do it!”

Generation Y/Echo Boomers/Millennials: Born between 1977 and the present, these are the children of the baby boomers.

They have less respect for authority and shorter attention spans. They are technologically experienced (i.e., CDs, computers, video games) and have grown up with more than 50 television stations to choose from.

Accepting nontraditional and gender-free roles, they value the opinions of their parents and other elders. They seek security in an uncertain world. Their motto is: “It’s a hard world.”

Implications for Class Facilitators
The better you know your class members, the better you can help them maximize their understanding of the love of Christ, and the better equipped you are to serve them. Here are some suggestions for undergirding what you have learned in previous modules. The following suggestions will help you bridge generational gaps:

  • Encourage class members to share their professional and personal experiences in the manner most comfortable for them. Baby boomers like to discuss their personal experiences, but you may have to coax Gen Xers.
  • Vary your techniques often. Avoid the tendency to lecture, to “explain” the lesson to members. Rather than discussing the lesson on a day-by-day basis, as it is organized in the adult quarterly, you might discuss it according to specific themes that are relevant to the overall lesson.
  • Tap into the technology know-how of the Gen Xers and the Millennials. (Note: Don’t assume that all members of the GI/Silent Generation are afraid of technology.) If you need some type of special lesson preparation or visual aid, don’t hesitate to ask someone knowledgeable in this area to assist you with the project.
  • Encourage discussion among the generations. Proverbs 23:22 tells us to “listen to your father who begot you, and do not despise your mother when she is old.” Simply put, we can learn from our elders. They are valuable resources. We need to listen to what they have to say, old or young, people are people, and they share similar experiences and challenges. It’s good for people of all ages to be reminded of that.
  • Recognize significant contributions from members. Commendation goes a long way with members of every generation.

While implementing some of the above techniques, do not:

  • Try to appeal to every generation with everything you do. When members realize that you facilitate in a variety of ways, they will be confident that you will accommodate them at many points in the discussions.
  • Ignore generational differences. That would be the same as ignoring individual learning styles/preferences.
  • Regard the opinions or comments of older class members or “established” church members or officials above those of any other generation. In The Desire of Ages Ellen White reminds us that “it [is] not enough for the disciples of Jesus to be instructed as to the nature of His kingdom. What [we] need [is] a change of heart that [will] bring [us] into harmony with its principles. Calling a little child to Him, Jesus set him in the midst of them; then tenderly folding the little one in His arms He said, ‘Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven’ ” (p. 437). That means that regardless of a person’s position and generational ties, he or she must have the heart of a child and be receptive to Christ’s directives, no matter whom they come from!
  • Pigeonhole members to fit certain characteristics. Remember: everyone does not share all characteristics.

We are told in Joel 2:28: “And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.” Here, God lets us know that it takes all ages—all generations—working together to get the job done, to finish the work. No one should stand on the sidelines. Each member of every generation must “get into the game” and play his or her part in sharing the gospel with unbelievers and serving God’s people.

Dorothy J. Patterson
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists
Self-assessment No. 10
Write your answers:
  1. Identify the members of the different generational groups present in your Sabbath School class.
  2. Why is it necessary for you to understand some of their general characteristics?
  3. What specific things can you do to “close the gap” in your Sabbath School class?
  4. How can the various generations complement one another in furthering God’s work?