I have been a fan of generational history almost since Neil Howe and William Strauss published their book, Generations: The History of the Futures, 1584 to 2069, back in the early 1990’s. For forty years by that time, the Baby Boom generation had been touted as a socio/cultural phenomenon largely the result of the post-World War II birth explosion. The Baby Boom was always something “big.” We were and are idealists who take up causes we believe in. We can be totally self-absorbed. We are possibly the first generation to feel entitled to just about everything. Contrary to Tom Brokaw’s book about the G.I. Generation (those born in 1901-1924), Boomers have largely believed that they are the “greatest generation.” And we probably will think that to our dying day.
In Howe and Strauss’ research, they came to the conclusion that there are four generational types and that human history itself cycles through these four types on a recurring basis. Each generational type has a peculiar role that helps define each cycle. And, Howe and Strauss demonstrate how that works through the history of the United States. The four generational types identified in The Fourth Turning by Howe and Strauss are:
- Prophets, characterized as values driven, moralistic, focused on self and willing to fight for what they believe in, exemplified in the Baby Boomers born around 1946-1964.
- Nomads, characterized as rebellious, pragmatic, unwanted, adventuresome and cynical about institutions, exemplified in Generation X, born around 1965-1982.
- Heroes, characterized as conventional, powerful and institutionally driven, trusting authority, exemplified in the G.I. Generation, born around 1901-1924 and the current Millennials, born around 1983-2000 and
- Artists, characterized as conformist, sensitive, indecisive, compromising and cultured, exemplified in the Silent Generation, born around 1925-1945 and the current generation, born since the turn of the century.
It is fascinating to read through. But, it’s not like there’s a script each generation must follow. Each generation has its own quirks and nuances. For me, having spent 40 years in youth ministry, it’s especially fascinating. In my career, I worked with the tail end of the Boomer generation – a group very much like myself, one of the first wave of Boomers. Then Gen X’ers began to populate youth groups in the early 1980’s. They were an edgier group – one reviewer calls them “picaresque” which means “of or relating to rogues and rascals.” Since the late 1990’s/2000’s, we have been working with Millennials, so named because the first Millennials graduated from High School in the year 2000 – or so the theory goes. But more about that in a future blog.
These days, it seems like everybody has discovered the Millennials. They are a huge group of folks, not unlike the Boomers. They are the major demographic of 18-40-year-olds that marketers seem to have their eye on. Articles and research about Millennials are everywhere.
BUT, if you’re in youth ministry, you need to know that the next generation after the Millennials is probably entering your confirmation class this year. They are an “Artist” generational type. According to Howe and Strauss, they have grown up overly-protected. They are described by adjectives like “subtle”, “indecisive”, “emotional” and “compromising”. Other words like “collaboration”, “cooperative” and “consensus builders” can describe them. Some have suggested that, compared to Boomers and Gen X’ers, they may be more inclined to identify with institutions like the church, a trend that also seems to be a part of the Millennials’ maturation process.
And, they have a name – “The Pluralist Generation.” The name was coined by Magid Generational Strategies of Sherman Oaks, CA. They have been called other things like Generation Z, Generation We and the iGeneration. But Plurals seems to really fit.
“Pluralism” refers to the reality that this group will be the last generation with a Caucasian majority. Besides 54% white, the Plurals are 24% Hispanic, 14% African American, 4% Asian and 4% other. By 2019, live Caucasian births will be less than 50%. The Plurals value diversity (and they notice when the church doesn’t reflect their world). Some have suggested the Plurals will gravitate towards tradition and ritual in part because it has stood the test of time. Others have noted a sense of pessimism perhaps nurtured by their largely Gen X parents. (Check this link to see the full Magid report: http://magid.com/sites/default/files/pdf/MagidPluralistGenerationWhitepaper.pdf)
Whatever their characteristics, they are entering our confirmation classes. They’ve already been students in our parochial and public schools. They have attended our vacation Bible schools and participated in our Christmas programs. Yet we can’t assume we should teach them and nurture them the same way we did with the Millennials. Or Gen X’ers or Boomers for that matter. That means youth ministry with the Plurals will be one of our recurring topics in the Youth Ministry Leader Blog. It’s like Psalms 22 was written for us. For as the Psalmist said,
“Posterity shall serve Him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; They shall come and proclaim His righteousness to a people yet unborn.” (Ps 22:30-31)
Listen to Terry Dittmer share more on the topic of the ‘Next Generation of Youth’ on KFUO’s Faith and Family. Click here to listen now. His interview begins around the 32-minute mark of the show.