overloadIn my last blog post I wrote about the Baby Boomers and the Millennials.  I received a few requests to write about the generational cohort labeled Gen X (rough birth years 1960-1985), sandwiched between the two and much smaller than either.  Most of the ministerial settlements last year were Gen Xers.  I wonder if this may be a sign of a sea change in the UU movement.

Bad Reputation?

First a little background on the how the media has maligned Gen Xers for the past couple of decades:

In a recent Salon article,  writes:


Around the time Richard Linklater’s film “Slacker” came out in 1991, journalists and critics put a finger on what they thought was different about the young generation of emerging adults – they were reluctant to grow up, disdainful of earnest action. The stereotype stuck – and it stuck hard. Business school management books define our generation as adaptable but reluctant to make decisions; and boomer managers call on Xers to finally take on leadership roles. Wake up and step up, X! the culture seems to be saying.


The article goes on to quote Neil Howe, the leading national expert on generational theory:

It’s about time, [Howe] says, for Xers to acknowledge limits and step up to the plate. “These Xers spending their lives with this sardonic view, never taking anything that’s happening in public at face value, but always to find the failing, that expresses a bigger problem with X — they are always outsiders,” he says. “These boomer CEOs say that they are maturing to the extent that they should be heading into leadership roles, but they simply don’t want to accept responsibility to the bigger community.“

A Different Lived Reality?

UU Gen X blogger Kimberley Debus responds to Howe:

What Howe misses here is that we WANT to step up. We WANT responsibility. We CARE DEEPLY about the bigger community. But we keep finding there’s no room from the Boomers above and we’re being pushed from the Millennials below. We are the Prince Charles of generations.

The Gift of Adaptation

I see gifts that Gen X brings to our congregations. They a generational cohort that has learned to live their lives faced by adaptive challenge after adaptive challenge.  They are quick to see the broken parts of our governance and the “stuck” parts of our culture.

Another key difference of the Gen Xers is that instead of pooh-poohing all things Christian, they are learning strategy and skills from the missional evangelical churches. The Red Pill Brethren are an example of what missional UU church might look like.

When Gen Xers find they can’t break into leadership, they often creatively “hack” the institutional homeostasis when they don’t have the power to change the system. Congregations that actively recruit Gen Xers into leadership increase their own adaptability to the changing context.  I invite you to look at the composition of your board of trustees.  What percentage is under the age of 50?

Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, CERG Leadership Development Consultant

About the Author
Rev. Renee Ruchotzke

Leadership Development Consultant, Central East Regional Group (CERG) of the UUA.

I have a vision of Unitarian Universalist congregations being led by thousands of diverse, spiritually mature and passionate people ready and willing to spread the good news of liberal religion.  I believe ministry is best when shared between lay and professional leaders. More information about me can be found on the UUA website.

  • Dan Flippo

    Renee, great article! As a GenX, I have engaged with Boomers for much of my work life and have seen firsthand the challenge of breaking into leadership when many Boomers delayed retirement. I believe GenX are key to congregations because we are the current parents and have the best chance to create fun environments for the youth. I also agree that even our stronger congregations need to shore up the balance of generations on boards. Keep up the good work.

  • robynmorton

    *sigh* I’ve been trying for nearly two hours to come up with a response that is mildly productive. I appreciate that the author is attempting a sort of apology for my generation, but I rather wish she hadn’t. It may be true that there are difficulties with us breaking into leadership, but please don’t underplay the reality that, in fact, the boomer’s (derisive, whiny) perceptions are often correct–we often do NOT want leadership roles. If churches wish to woo us into leadership, it might help if they take seriously exactly why we do not want to step up, rather than complain that we’re a bunch of slackers. That might offer some insight into what would actually have traction on us.

    So let me offer a few insights into why we are not stepping up to the plate in droves here (beyond the fact that there simply aren’t droves of us in the first place). Most of us don’t even live in the same state–much less the same city or neighborhood–as our family. We do not enjoy grantparent-driven childcare on a regular basis, nor can we look to our dads for help with house & car maintenance, or our cousins for networking and dinners. Most of our friends are working as many or more hours than we are. On an inflation-adjusted basis, we are making barely more than *half* of what baby boomers made when they entered the workforce, and yet are contending with costs spiraling way out of control in every corner (big ones that are vastly outstripping rate of inflation, like healthcare, childcare, college, and more). Few of us are able to have one parent at home, or even at home part time. Many of us are working between 2-6 jobs per couple (assuming we’ve been legally allowed to marry). Our schools are crumbling, our social safety net is crumbling, our infrastructure is crumbling. We have a governing body that can’t even tie its own shoes by itself, and we (quite rightly) perceive that we are utterly powerless to affect the events of our lives in any significant way. Please do not give me platitudes about “it only takes one person” or other nonsense, I don’t have time, I have to get to work. And when we do step up, when we do try, we become even more tired, more stressed, and more alienated, watching the monied baby boomers who are the “real support” for our congregations (i.e., they pledge a lot).

    Our kids, our families, our lives are scheduled into the ground, and then we’re chastised for not making more time to do more? If you want us to participate, then give us what we really need–SUPPORT. How many church board/trustee meetings offer childcare? Or *any* committee meetings? How many congregations offer “parent’s night out”? How many congregations are engaged in local, community events that my generation is interested in (e.g., the local food movement, funding community pools, keeping schools well-funded, etc.)? Anyone out there have a way for people to job network at their congregations? How about ways to quietly ask for financial assistance when the paycheck won’t outstrip the rent bill, or the electricity is about to be turned off? We don’t have families or friends who can offer any of this to us anymore–those days ended before we were born. We turn to our congregations for this support, and I’ll tell you what–so far, I ain’t seen much of it. For many reasons (both what I’ve said here, and others), not only are we not currently in leadership, but we’ve never been closer to leaving this faith altogether. We have too little time and too little resources, and other community groups often support us better, and give us more spiritual satisfaction than we ever find in our seats on Sunday. I heartily encourage working to change this, but it takes some honest recognition of the situation. We aren’t just being shut out of leadership–we’re in hiding from it.

    • vitalleaders

      Thank you Robyn for sharing a different GenX experience!

    • Edris Goolsby Harrell

      I agree with an awful lot of this, as a Gen X’er. I am, in fact, in a leadership role at church. But I had to choose to be more active in the church and less in my neighborhood organization, my children’s school, and other organizations important in our lives. And constantly I am hearing that people are needed in those areas too–but I cannot do it all, especially since I need to work outside the home. So, I’m sure other Gen X’ers are choosing to engage more in their children’s school or little league, but can’t choose them all either.
      I also agree that the church does not support families well. It is very difficult to get multigenerational activities going at our church, for one. And very few of the Baby Boomers have interest in volunteering for CYRE. So, the parents have to make sure their children are getting a religious education, which becomes a large part of our church volunteer hours, leaving us less time to do other church activities. We belong to a large church, and I bet my children could not even name five members who are a part of the Baby Boomer generation.