Pastoral Perspectives

Building Intergenerational Trust

Our last church camp was held in 2018. Though last year we had a 2-day-1-night church retreat at YWCA, Fort Canning, we didn’t have the full dose of what a church camp would entail until we went for the recent 4-day-3-night church camp in Desaru, Malaysia.

The theme of this year’s church camp didn’t birth out of the blue.

In 2022, when we celebrated our church 30th Anniversary, we wanted to take stock so that we knew how to move forward as a church. We conducted interviews across different generations, i.e. 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s and above. We called them visionary groups.

We wanted to hear from them their take on the different aspects of church life, one of which dealt with how the young viewed the old in church and vice versa. If we are to be one in Christ, besides embracing people from different races, nationalities, socio-economic backgrounds, surely oneness must encompass people from different generations too.

From those who were being interviewed on how we could build intergenerational trust, their suggestions fell broadly into 3 areas – creating platforms for the young and old to serve together, having family service once a month where the young and old can gather for worship, and setting up opportunities where the young and old can have meaningful conversations.

We have already made some headway in each of these 3 areas but there is always room for improvement. We also said that we would use the next church camp as another platform to delve deeper into how we can bridge the generation gap. That was how this year’s camp theme came about.

The camp speaker Ho Wei Hao and his mentor Tan Soo-Inn organised and conducted quite extensive research to try and understand the mindsets of different generations, and how each mindset was shaped, and the way it can affect how they think about their faith. Without any knowledge of such differences, misunderstanding and even conflicts can easily arise.

With such knowledge, the older leaders can understand the world of the young better so that they can minister to them in the way the young can appreciate. On the other hand, the young can also better understand the older ones, and perhaps some of the struggles they are facing in a high-tech world, which is a familiar territory for the young to navigate and thereby render help.

Wei Hao shared with us the following generations:

Silent Generation (Born 1928 – 1945)

Baby Boomer (Born 1946 – 1964)

Generation X (Born 1965 – 1980)

Millennials (Born 1981 – 1996)

Generation Z (Born 1997 – 2012)

Generation Alpha (Born 2013 – Present) *

He went on to share with us the unique characteristics of each generation in the way that they relate to the Christian faith and their experience in church. He also highlighted some areas of church life which the different generations might have varying opinions on due to their differences.

Of course, he also quickly caveated it by saying that there would always be exceptions, but these were the norms being observed as they conducted the interviews.

Let me cite some examples.

Gen X seems to be the missing generation in church. This is because they tend to give more priority to their families. Growing up, they were not close to their parents, especially when their dads spent a lot of time at work, bringing home the bread. When Gen X become parents themselves, they spend a lot of time figuring out how to become good parents; they want to be there for their children.

They might have been very involved in church life when they were youths but when they start to have their families, they stop their service altogether, and they also feel that their church stop caring for them. They may then look for another church which has a stronger ministry supporting young parents and children.

With the missing Gen X, the church would ask the Millennials to step up as leaders. However, the Millennials and Boomers clash in their views and ways of doing things, causing the Millennials to also start leaving their home church.

The Millennials care a lot for community needs. They want to make the world a better place. They are very big on creation care, standing up for the marginalised, being socially just. They are also hyper-connected due to social media. They have the knowledge, the energy and the resources.

They will bring up good ideas to the church leaders on how to be a better neighbour but if they think the church is too slow in their decision making process to respond to the needs of the community, these Millennials will have no qualms picking up the ball and running ahead by collaborating with like-minded people outside the church.

They are no longer confined to the ministries within their church to do what they feel God has placed upon their hearts.

Wei Hao also spoke on relational ministry and mentoring. We had a good start at the camp when people from different generations were placed together for group discussions. We also had a forum where the young and old shared their views on LGBTQ. In this way, they got to hear from each other their take on various issues, and surely that was a right step towards building trust.

I hope that these conversations will continue now that we have returned to church. I pray that the young and old will not try to awkwardly avoid each other but will look forward to enjoying each other’s company at the cozy corner.

If we want to take this further, the Boomers have a lot of bandwidth to do mentoring because they have wisdom, expertise and time (since many are retiring or have retired). The Millennials and Gen Z are open to be mentored, to have the older ones to look up to, those who have walked many miles before them.

However, generational differences must be understood. It won’t work if the Boomers think they have all the answers and they are there to instruct the younger ones. A Millennial may be traumatised if his opinions are neither sought nor respected and the mentor is always teaching and correcting him.

The Millennial is looking for authenticity, not a perfect hero. She is keen to learn from the struggles the Boomer faced while growing up. She will be encouraged to know that the Boomer didn’t always get her act together but God still showed up despite the mess.

There are so many more examples to cite, but space doesn’t permit me to share further. I’d strongly encourage you to tune into the camp messages uploaded onto our church website. This perspective only serves as a teaser.

After attending the church camp, I am even more convinced that we are treading on the right path. Many suggestions that the visionary groups came up with on building intergenerational trust can be supported by what we have heard in the camp.

As a church, we do not want to leave anyone out where worship and discipleship are concerned. Regardless which generation we belong to, we are one in Christ. We don’t want that oneness to remain as a cliché, but we truly want to live it out so that the young and old can help each other follow Jesus more faithfully.

*“Age Range by Generation,” Beresford Research, https://www.beresfordresearch.com/age-range-by-generation/