Gen Y and the LCA

20 Sep

It’s interesting to note that Generation Y is labelled as wanting to ‘pick and choose beliefs’.  Eureka Street’s article, Gen Y free for anything except belonging, report on a survey where around 75 per cent of young Catholics believe it’s OK to “pick and choose” beliefs without accepting the teachings of their religion as a whole.  My guess is that there’s no reason to think that young Lutherans are any different.

In the article, a Catholic researcher says that faith-based traditions have been replaced by, “a skeptical, cynical and narrowly empirical view of life”.  As a teacher of literacy, I would rephrase that to say, individuals are thinking critically for themselves, reading church practice critically and deciding for themselves on what they believe.  No longer does church dogma dictate what the individual believes.

Critical Literacy is a component of education these days.  Students are required to think beyond the superficial layer, to look at power structures, to look at what is implicit, what is unspoken in the text, to look at who is exercising power, who has no voice, whose agenda is being served, who is being oppressed, how the reader is being persuaded by non-textual components of images, colours, movement etc.  Readers are encouraged to form an opinion, to disagree with authors, and to view things from another perspective.  Viewing things from other perspectives is common-place in primary school today.

We are people who are trained to think critically and progressively.  Faith is no longer a matter of accepting or rejecting our parents’ faith.  There are other nuances.  Where do I sit on the fundamentalist / progressive spectrum? How much am I driven by law / grace?  How much am I motivated by authority / freedom in Christ, and tradition / change?  Eventually the big question that we all have is, “How much do I feel a part of this congregation, faith community or denomination?”

Generation Y (born ’77-’91) answers these questions differently to Gen X (born ’62 – ’76), Baby Boomers (born ’42 – 61) and The Builders (born before ’42).   This paper, from the 2006 National Church Life Survey (NCLS), provides a brief introduction to some of the generational differences among church attenders.  The main differences focus on opinions of how they think church ‘should be done’.

Older generations are more likely to:

  • attend worship services weekly
  • prefer traditional styles of music in worship services
  • spend regular time in private devotional activity
  • have a strong sense of belonging to their denomination
  • be involved in church-based community service, justice or welfare activities
  • be involved in community-based service, care or welfare activities

Younger generations are more likely to:

  • be involved in small groups
  • prefer contemporary styles of music in worship services
  • feel that their gifts and skills are encouraged
  • have helped others in a range of informal ways
  • value outreach, be involved in evangelistic activities, and actually invite others to church
  • be newcomers to church life, have switched denominations or transferred congregations in the previous five years

Is any of this relevant to women’s ordination in the LCA?  Certainly!  We are dealing with generations which have fundamentally different outlooks on life.  Gen Y is immersed in electronica: iPods, DVDs, internet, social networks, mobile phones, sms etc.  They have a myriad options in their life.  They are not compliant consumers of tradition and old methods of doing things.  I predict, in the same vein, that young Lutherans are not passive acceptors of Lutheran exclusivity.  Older readers will be painfully aware of how isolationist the LCA has historically been, as demonstrated by its reticence to embrace ecumenism.   While conservative theologians may still propose that we should preserve Lutheran purity in this manner, Gen Y especially will scoff at such an approach.

The NLCS asks the question of Gen Y, “Will they change as they age? Not likely… Some may hope that as younger attenders age, their preferences will change, to become more like those born pre WWII, who currently make up the majority of church attenders. While time will tell, the trends to date do not support the idea that younger generations will, en masse, decide that they like traditional worship or music. Even if the volume gets turned down, do not expect they will take up these styles of music.”

It is plain that Gen Y will make up their own mind.  They will vote with their feet and their wallet to create a different social and Church world.  While young women may not talk about women’s liberation, they argue strongly for the same opportunities in leadership as any of their male friends and colleagues.

The implications for the LCA in 2010 are clear. We can ordain women now and risk offending some older generational members or we can postpone women’s ordination indefinitely, and risk losing Gen Y and many other groups who decide to find a setting that better meets their needs.

As our budgets grow smaller and smaller I suggest that the accountants of the LCA may eventually provide the final push that has the LCA re-examining its options.

The old Australian slogan, ‘populate or perish’ may still be relevant for the LCA as we determine what level of membership we are willing to live with.  Might that be, ‘ordain or perish’?

Feedback and suggestions are welcome.

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Posted by on September 20, 2010 in Uncategorized


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4 responses to “Gen Y and the LCA

  1. Ian Graue

    September 20, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    Interesting info about the different generations. Thanks

    I have just read the following article on Catholic Women’s Ordination in the latest edition of Time in the USA. Maybe worth a read


  2. gormlessfool

    September 21, 2010 at 3:23 am

    I wonder if there’s another pragmatic thing to consider. It’s along the lines: “If my friends aren’t welcome then I don’t want to be there either,” or, “If my friends are treated badly then I don’t want to be connected into that place.” Is friendship valued above dogma? Do gen’s X and Y approach causes differently to Baby Boomers and Builders because they know that they’ve menu of dogmas to choose from, and dogma never seems to change much anyway? Relationships are what really matters. They get you to the next day.

    • katieandmartin

      September 22, 2010 at 12:50 pm

      Yes, I agree. Relationships are even more important than dogma, for without them we go unsustained and fade away. Where the Church doesn’t get it, is in the fact that Jesus’ emphasis on relationships was greater than on tradition, religion and law. It seems to me that law is never constant and serves the purpose primarily of offering protection and good order. We suggest that certain ancient elements of law may not be appropriate today when society and democratic values are so much more advanced.

      The first response must always be about relationships. Any Christ-like response will consider law at a later stage.


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