Senior/GI Generation (Born 1900-1924) - What are this generation's values, achievements, challenges?

One of the biggest challenges that exists in both the church internally and in the church's outreach or mission is that for the first time in modern history, six generations are now alive at the same time in the church.

This includes Seniors/GI Generation (1900-1924), Silent Generation (1925-1945), Boomers (1946-1964), Gen X (1965-1982ish), Millennials (1983-2000ish), Digitals (2001-).

The Seniors/GI and Silent generations grew up in an overwhelmingly churched culture/mindset, a culture that began to break down for the Boomers in their teen and young adulthood years and which has fallen off the map for younger generations.

Here are some of the major characteristics of the Senior/GI Generation, dubbed by Tom Brokaw as The Greatest Generation due to their incredible hard work, sacrifice and accomplishments--from defeating evil in World War II, to fighting and winning the Cold War, to inventing the Atomic Bomb, to landing a man on the moon and other great scientific breakthroughs and achievements. (Source Material - Generations by Strauss and Howe.)

Seniors/GI Generation (1900-1924)
- 63 million (9% immigrant)
- Children - Silent and Boomer Generations
- Grandchildren - Typically Gen X

  1. Well-Known/Significant Seniors
    1. US Presidents - John F Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush
    2. Walt Disney, Bob Hope, John Wayne, Katharine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart, Joe DiMaggio, Walter Cronkite, Billy Graham, Judy Garland, Lee Iacocca
  2. Shaping/Coming of Age Events for Seniors
    1. Grew up in churched society 
    2. Radio age
    3. Founding of Boy Scouts (1910) and Girl Scouts (1912)
    4. Charles Lindbergh completed first transatlantic flight (1927)
    5. World War II (1941 - Pearl Harbor; all men age 20-44 subject to conscription; 1945- D-Day); 50% of GI men served in wartime
    6. Creation of Atomic Bomb
    7. GI Bill - provided benefits and education
  3. Later Events/Accomplishments of Seniors
    1. Empire State Building, Golden Gate, Hoover Dam
    2. McCarthy hearings, anti-communism
    3. Apollo 11 Lunar Landing
    4. Cold War
    5. LBJ’s Great Society; Medicare
    6. Watergate scandals
    7. Fall of Berlin Wall
  4. Characteristics/Values of Seniors
    1. Leaders and incredible achievers; optimistic; belief in human progress
    2. Winner of 99 Nobel Peace Prizes; especially prominent in Science and Economics
    3. “Masculine”; followers of authority; authoritative; defenders of “good” and fighters of evil 
    4. Believers in government and patriotic; civic-minded
    5. Believers in conformity (GI men); unity=uniformity; 
    6. Value doing things all together
    7. Disdainful/skeptical that next generation(s) could carry on torch
    8. Far advanced their parents in health, education, prosperity, homeownership, longevity
    9. Stayed active in retirement for years (Sojourners)
  5. Significant Quote - General George Marshall called the GI Generation “the best _____ kids in the world.”

This generation of incredible leaders, with their faith and optimism and scientific approach, achieved so much, creating the many gains that we today now take for granted. As with culture, many churches stayed with these leaders from this generation for a long, long time, being somewhat skeptical of passing the mantel on to other generations. 

Some of the culture clashes for today's generations include:

  • Their overt male-dominated thinking and approach (they were dubbed "Mocho-men")
  • Authority/authoritarian thinking and approach
  • (In others' minds) the overstating of America's role in God's plans and ignoring of God being at work in and caring about all nations
  • Difficulty in thinking of multiples or at different times, places, etc.
  • Difficulty in thinking of doing things in different ways

On the latter issue, Reggie McNeal in his The Present-Future DVD set talks about how this generation values being together so much because that is how they won World War II--by everyone doing this together. So, for instance, having multiple services is hard for them, as well as small groups. "Going to church" was a duty, a service, so not meeting at those regular Sunday evening or Wednesday evening times is disturbing to that sense of duty. That is why this group must be given "permisssion" to not go or explained to why something like small groups could be helpful to the church.

Also, this group--made up of GIs or "Governement Issue" folk--equates unity with uniformity. So if people are doing different things at the same time, even if there is no dispute or disharmony, that to this group equals not being unified.

There is, of course, value in doing things together. In Nehemiah 2-4, Israel re-built the wall of Jerusalem by all working together and each family building beside their home. Our splintered, fractured lives could use more of this rolling up our sleeves and working together. Unity in Scripture, however, does not come from uniformity--we are people with many different backgrounds, views, races, socio-economic levels, gifts, etc.--but from Christ and the Spirit, who give us unity (Eph. 4:1f). Our role is to seek to reflect the unity that we have been given, despite our differences.

What do you think of this generation? What are its strengths and challenges?

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Comment by James Nored on June 4, 2013 at 12:11pm

Of course, Bob. No problem at all. Thanks for the note.

Comment by Bob Young on June 4, 2013 at 12:06pm

You may recall that I wrote my Master's Thesis on generational factors and issues in the church, so this is of interest, not meaning to question.

Comment by Bob Young on June 4, 2013 at 12:02pm

Thanks, James, for the clarifications.

Comment by James Nored on June 3, 2013 at 2:58pm

Re: "This generation still exists in the church, perhaps at a higher percentage than in the general population, but is quite small with a waning influence."

True, Bob. But since the Silent Generation inherited many of the same values--and that generation was taught to treasure the gains of the GI generation--it is important to understand the GI Generation. Even if they are largely gone in the pews, the blazed a trail that can still be seen--even if that trail is now being covered over in many ways.

Comment by James Nored on June 3, 2013 at 2:55pm

Bob, this is number born or immigrated in this generation. Most of this group has passed on, unfortunately.

Comment by James Nored on June 3, 2013 at 2:52pm

Today, of course, not many of this generation is left. But many of their values were maintained by the Silent Generation, though, as we will see, they have their own set of values and characteristics.

Comment by Bob Young on June 3, 2013 at 2:50pm

Is the reference only to the US population or US church?  63 million (~20%) of the population sounds high for people 89 and over. (US Census) says 1.9 million were 90+ in 2010, which would be less than 1% of the total population.  This generation still exists in the church, perhaps at a higher percentage than in the general population, but is quite small with a waning influence.

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