Perhaps one of the most overlooked generations, the Silent Generation (born 1928-1945), lives up to their name. These people were born after the Greatest generation, the “GI Generation” (1901-1927). The Silent Generation makes up nearly 23 million people in the United States, ranging from their mid 70’s to mid ’90s. The GI Generation now only makes up 1.3 million people or just under 0.5% of the population, all of which are above the age of 95. Due to World War II and the Great Depression, the Silent Generation was relatively small. Although small in number, they were often referred to as the “silent majority” this term popularized by President Nixon comes from this group’s general preference to not voice opinions publicly. This comes from how they were raised in the McCarthy era, where it was thought unwise to speak out. Not all in this cohort however were “silent” as their name suggests. This generation invented Rock n’ Roll and were leaders in the Civil Rights Movement.
The Silent Generation is characterized by the Artist archetype. This generation and archetype are known for being born during a great war or crisis otherwise referred to in Strauss-Howe Generation Theory as Fourth Turning. Strauss and Howe define this “turning” as: “an era in which America’s institutional life is torn down and rebuilt from the ground up—always in response to a perceived threat to the nation’s very survival. Civic authority revives, cultural expression finds a community purpose, and people begin to locate themselves as members of a larger group. In every instance, Fourth Turnings have eventually become new “founding moments” in America’s history, refreshing and redefining the national identity.” Examples of these occur roughly every 80 years and were the Revolutionary Wary, Civil War, WWII, and (hopefully behind us now) the Global Covid-19 Pandemic. Artist generations grow up overprotected by their parents who are often distracted by the current national crisis. In adulthood, they become leaders with a focus on inclusivity and ensuring consensus on issues that often leads to indecisiveness. As elders, they are sensitive and advocate for equality for others.
When it comes to the church, this generation is best reached by traditional forms of media. They are still reading physical newspapers (often daily). They also tend to be very receptive to direct mail. A trend we have discovered across all generations has been the recent increase in direct mail receptivity during the pandemic. The reason behind this was that during the lockdowns and throughout the pandemic, our physical interaction with others has been limited especially for the elderly in this generation. We gave new value to physical direct mail that both allowed us to get out of the house and have a form of physical interaction with others through the card. As the world tries to return to “normal” this increase in receptivity for direct mail may not stick for all generations but, will always be one of the best ways to reach this generation. This generation feels more valued and will be more trusting of your church if the relationship is built via direct mail or in person due to their general skepticism towards technology and the internet. If you are communicating to this generation digitally e-mail will often be your best chance as many have adopted this portion of “technology” into their daily routines.
While recent polls show Generation Z as feeling the most lonely, this feeling is especially true for the “Aging Alone” seniors found in this generation. These seniors often look to the church as one of their few or only forms of social interaction. Many in this generation will be apt to join bible studies and Sunday School. They look forward to the time between services where they can catch up with friends they have made at church. Creating both time and environments for this type of interaction will be vital to reaching these people and filling a ministry need of this generation. You can view examples of how churches have done this successfully here.
Many in this generation if physically able are willing to serve as volunteers, those who may not have the physically ability to volunteer are often willing to trade volunteer hours for donor dollars. That said, from our work with churches across the country the term “Morality with Minimum Sacrifice” characterizes some in this group. A real-life example to illustrate this from a church we worked with in Southern California sounded something like this: The congregation would say, “We need to reach the next generation, our church should do everything it can to reach the younger generations, but…. do not get rid of our 7 am worship time and I am not sure I like the people the new skate park in the parking lot is bringing to our campus, let’s get rid of that.” These people have good hearts and want to help the church. This characteristic of morality with minimum sacrifice obviously does not apply to everyone in this generation, for those that it does apply most of them are not aware of what they are doing and just need to be challenged on it. We have found that this is a great opportunity for church leaders to present a challenge and purpose to their congregation in this generation, something that they can stand behind. With this generation, once these issues are presented in the form of a challenge many are willing to make the sacrifices needed to see it to completion. This generation is the foundation of many churches and often whether they know it or not the key to reaching younger generations, their kids, and grandkids.
Andrew Esparza is the founder of Kingdom Analytics. This company has served over 300+ organizations doing good globally by helping better connect them to their community, congregation, or customers using advanced demography research. He also has experience in the church world working for the largest high school ministry in the country at North Point Community Church. Andrew graduated from Arizona State University with degrees in Design Management and Tourism Development and is CITI certified in Social and Behavioral Research.