Transitions and the multigenerational reflection of God’s image

Jim Capaldo

District Executive Minister, Converge Heartland

  • Church strengthening

Transitions are made and batons are passed in ceremonial ways at nearly every life stage.  I can still hear the nostalgic chorus of my kids’ elementary school graduates emphatically singing with incoming first graders, “Remember that seed in the little paper cup? First the root goes down then the plant grows up!”  Though 2023 school graduation ceremonies have all but ended, generational transitions are in full swing, especially in churches. 

Many church families currently have seven distinct generations of people ranging from century-seasoned saints to newborns. These generations include the Greatest Generation born between 1901-1924, the Silent Generation (1925 – 1945), the Baby Boomer Generation (1946 - 1964), Generation X (1965-1979), Millennials (1980 – 1994), Generation Z (1995 – 2012), as well as a growing number of Alpha Generation (2013 – 2025) sprouts.  Each member from each of these generations is bearer of God’s image and has an image-reflecting role to play in church life.  

Local churches are regularly experiencing ministry transitions in which batons are primarily being passed from the seasoned, retiring, and refocusing Silent and Boomer Generation leaders to qualified Generation X, Millennial Generation, and Generation Z leaders.  Having worked with scores of churches through pastoral transitions, revitalization efforts, and ministry planning processes, we can boil these inevitable and necessary transitions down to the intentionally actionable concepts of Letting Go and Taking Hold

How Older Generations Can Responsibly and Honorably Let Go

Many older generation pastors, church leaders, and volunteers recognize that they must pass the baton to younger generations. They have been faithfully serving for decades and can responsibly perform their duties without giving them a second thought. Their experience has granted them exceptional competence in their areas of service.  However, many are expressing fatigue, are often performing too many roles, and desire to see younger generations serving and leading. Simply quitting or letting go would be irresponsible and go directly against their sense of duty, calling, commitment, and/or ownership.

Responsibly letting go requires older generations to accept the posture, capacity, potential, and perspective of younger generations.  They must not overly assume that these generations unquestioningly know what to do nor demand that younger generations do it exactly the way they have done it. Furthermore, older generations would do well to treat the expressed ministry aspirations of younger generations as something to be intentionally celebrated, cultivated, and optimized rather than something that is too ambitious or even threatening. They must empathetically and relationally mentor younger generations into service and through the extreme time and value tensions of family, employment, congregational commitment, and extracurricular activities.  Here are a few concepts to help you pass the baton intentionally and responsibly.

·       In writing, clearly define your volunteer, deacon, and elder roles, expectations, policies, and anticipated time commitments. In other words, help new volunteers understand how to “win” as in their area of service.

·       Establish a visibly felt culture of volunteer appreciation in your church through testimonies and seasonal celebrations.

·       To empathetically work with the schedules of busy families, restructure long-term volunteer commitments into once or twice-per month rotations.

·       Regularly communicate volunteer blessings and opportunities through testimony, church ministry fairs, and written announcement.

·       Commit to intentional training and mentoring of new leaders and volunteers.  For some roles this is a one-time class, for others it is a defined season of equipping. Many church boards develop younger “junior elders” by inviting them to intentionally observe and learn during board meetings.  Be willing to let go and yet remain available to give input upon request.

·       Invite assistance, such as your district’s pastoral search services, to facilitate your church’s pastoral transitions.

How Younger Generations Can Responsibly and Honorably Take Hold

Younger generation adults and teens tend to have more things pulling their attentions.  Family and cultural busyness is a regular challenge that comes up in most church assessment and ministry planning efforts.  For younger generations to responsibly take hold of opportunities they need to understand the values they are expressing and ensure that their local church involvement is a part of those values.  Too often, I have heard the sad and empathetic observation that younger families are consistently struggling with busyness and choosing to prioritize their and their children’s extracurriculars over church life.  The bottom line is that responsibly taking hold requires a reliable commitment to your church family (see Hebrews 10:25).

The posture by which we take hold is also important.  The various generations have much to learn from one another.  While new methods and tools may become available, younger generations can learn much from older generations about relational connections, congregational care, tenacity, as well as helpful tactics for maintaining structure and avoiding chaos.  Intentionally serving with older generations helps younger generations value intergenerational inputs and ideas while avoiding a tendency to be dismissive of older concepts or strategies.  Remember, there is nothing new under the sun!  Here are a few concepts to help younger generations take hold of the needs and responsibilities of their local church family.

·       Examine your life and inventory your values.  What values are you modeling to your children and others? Ensure that the church participation is actively and visibly included in your values, even if something else gets de-emphasized.

·       Make your availability and desire to serve known.  Establish your own church participation calendar.  Be clear and reliable regarding your volunteer service availability. 

·       Approach older generation volunteers and ministers with a patient learning posture, learning about them, their journey, and their contribution to congregational life and kingdom work.  Do this and soon enough your newer ideas and leadership will be more than welcome.

·       Seek to serve intergenerationally with those older and younger than you.  Invite your teens to volunteer at church with you. 

·       Begin by intentionally discipling your own kids.  Ask your kids about their walk with Christ. Pray with them. Explore the things God is laying on their heart.  Celebrate and encourage a ministry calling in their life, even a calling to full-time ministry.  

Christ’s church is a beautiful modality!  By this, I mean that she is meant to nurture members of every generation toward maturity in Christ.  Christ’s church is not merely a nursery, a daycare, youth group, college ministry, young marrieds’ class, parenting group, or senior saints’ fellowship.  The local church is for every living generation.  May God richly bless you and your church as you enjoy the fullness of His image reflected through multigenerational service to Christ!

Jim Capaldo, District Executive Minister, Converge Heartland

A graduate of Baptist Bible College, Western Seminary, Novosibirsk State University and the University of South Dakota, Jim served 11 years establishing a church planting movement among the formerly unreached Tuvan tribe of Siberian Russia. Besides church planting, he has pastored at ChangePoint Church in Anchorage, Alaska, and at Central Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, facilitates StratOp retreats, serves on various ministry boards and regularly instructs for the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course.

Additional articles by Jim Capaldo