Your grandparents think and act differently than you do. So do your parents and so do your kids. But we all attend the same church. We all probably have the lurking suspicion that this introduces some difficulties. I gained a lot of insight into just how pervasive those difficulties are reading Sticking Points: How to Get 4 Generations Working Together in the 12 Places They Come Apart (Tyndale Momentum, 2013). The author is Haydn Shaw, a Franklin-Covey consultant who teaches managers and executives how Traditionalists (born before 1945) and Boomers (born 1945-1964) should manage Gen-Xers (1965-80) and Millennials (1981-2001). The whole discussion seems terribly relevant to the LDS Church, which has just taken the rather dramatic step of shortening the Sunday meeting block in the hope that more Millennials will keep their butts in the pews for two hours. I suspect the recent combining of Elders and High Priests into one quorum on Sunday (I call it the High Elders) has also highlighted some generational differences. Young Elders think high priests pontificate too much. High Priests think Elders spend too much time looking at their cell phones.
Let me just quickly indicate why this generational thing is more of a problem for the LDS Chruch than for others. First, we have really old leaders. Eight of the Big 15, including all three of the First Presidency, are Traditionalists (sometimes called “the Greatest Generation” as they fought and won WWII) and the rest are older Boomers. So the gap between the older leaders and the youngest adults is four generations in the Church, but only three in most organizations. Second, the older leaders are very integrated into the day-to-day teaching and practice of the Church. Third, apart from YSA branches, LDS wards are determined geographically. There is little flexibility to tailor an LDS ward to meet the needs of older folks or younger folks or seekers or progressives or conservatives. You find more variation between McDonalds outlets than between LDS wards.
I think you get the general idea. Let me just spend one paragraph each on four of the areas addressed in the book and see what you think. No doubt you have your own generational observations to share in the comments. Keep in mind the author’s analysis relates primarily to the workplace, but the four areas I will talk about (communication, dress code, meetings, and policies) translate directly into the LDS environment.
Traditionalists write a memo or send a letter. Boomers pick up the phone or set up a meeting. Gen-Xers write an email. Millennials text or do a group chat thing (you left me a voicemail? Are you kidding?). At least corporations can standardize their communications technology, so everyone has a phone and a cell/text number and an email address, all of which are available in the company directory. Have you found the simple task of communicating with ward members trickier than it used to be? My ward gave up printed programs on Sunday a few years ago. Communications within the Church does seem to mirror the simple outline above. GAs send a “First Presidency letter,” a piece of paper delivered to the bishop and read (or not) on Sunday. Your Boomer Stake President sends emails to his bishops. Your Elders Quorum President probably texts his elders to coordinate meetings or projects.
Do I even have to spell it out? Traditionalists wear suits and probably sleep in them. Boomers go casual the minute they get home. Gen-Xers want casual at work. Millennials expect casual at work. The Church seems stuck in a 1950s approach to what we are expected to wear to church, which matches the Traditionalist view of Traditionalist GAs who run the Church and set the LDS dress code. If you really want to keep Millennials around, make a generational LDS dress code: New High Priests (local leadership) wears suits, elders wear business casual, and if you’re not an elder you can wear whatever you want as long as mom washed it recently.
Traditionalists didn’t grow up with meetings, but when they had them the boss did all the talking, then it was over. Boomers like meetings, it’s their chance to show how smart they are, network, and angle for a promotion. Gen-Xers will start multitasking with their laptop or smartphone if the meeting is not doing anything useful. Millennials hate boring meetings and want interactivity so bad they’ll start interrupting to make it happen. Two kinds of LDS meetings: (1) Three-hour block meetings. Boredom is the problem. Maybe cutting down to two hours might be a partial solution. I think Sunday School and PH/RS do pretty well on interactivity. If you want to say something, just raise your hand. Sacrament meeting is tougher to upgrade. Like any other Millennial, younger LDS just find something interesting on their smartphone if they are stuck in a boring meeting. (2) Other meetings. Honestly, 95% of the extra meetings I have been to are just a waste of time. Training meetings do almost no training. Just send an email. Stakes are run by Boomers and Boomers love meetings. So there are lots of stake meetings. Just get rid of them (the meetings, not the Boomers).
Traditionalists: Everyone needs to do what they’re told. Boomers: Let’s make a policy so things work well and everyone is treated fairly. Gen-Xers: Rules are made to be broken. Millennials: If it doesn’t make sense, I’ll assume it’s a just a guideline. So “hot drinks” includes iced tea but not hot chocolate. A Traditionalist says, “okay, I will avoid iced tea but enjoy hot chocolate.” A Millennial says, “uh, that really doesn’t make any sense.” So if senior leadership wants to make Millennials a little more happy with the Mormon checklist, the leadership ought to appoint a committee (cross-generational membership would be a real advantage here) to identify the top ten LDS policies and practices that don’t make sense, then suggest changes and modifications that do make sense. If the glory of God is intelligence, surely the policies and practices of God’s church can at least make sense.
The other topics addressed in the book are decision-making, feedback, fun at work, knowledge transfer, loyalty, respect, training, and work ethic. Most of those are relevant to the LDS context as well, but there is only so much I can squeeze into a blog post. Do you have your own churchy generational story?
Last thought: The first post-Millennial turns 18 and enters an MTC in 2020. If President Nelson lives to be 95, we will be a five-generation church.