What Missionaries Ought to Know about Generational Differences

  • Approximate Time Commitment: 20 minutes
  • Partner: MissionaryCare.com

What Missionaries Ought to know… does not mean that the author sat down and decided what missionaries ought to know, but that missionaries themselves asked about these topics. During the author’s 35 years of college teaching he learned that if one person asks a question, others probably want to know the same thing—and if two people ask, it was certainly a topic that others need to know about. These are things missionaries need to know because several missionaries have asked about each of them at one time or another.

To read more from the What Missionaries Ought to Know series

Partner: MissionaryCare.com

Resource Description


A dozen years ago at the turn of the century I wrote about three generations: builders, boomers, and busters. At the time they were the only three generations involved in missions. However, since then a new generation, the millennials who matured as the new millennium began, have begun serving as missionaries. At the turn of the century, On the basis of the results reported by the Barna Research Group, I concluded that differences between the generations were basically cultural.

However, during the first decade of the new millennium, the Pew Research Center has done major research on the differences between the generations, and this research has revealed that those differences include far deeper issues, those of morality and religion. These differences can compromise cooperation and cohesion between missionaries of different generations.

What are the generations?

Although they differ on the exact years and disagree on the names used to describe them, most researchers consider a generation as covering about 20 years and name that generation after something that happened during that time.

  • Builders (Also called the silent generation). Born before 1945, most builders are now 70 or more years old and are minimally involved in missions.
  • Boomers. The many people born during the twenty years following World War II (1945-1964) were called the “baby boomers.” Now 50 or more years of age, the boomers were born into prosperity. They became well-educated, questioning, protesting, idealistic, and tolerant of many different lifestyles. As missionaries they brought specialized knowledge, a desire to continue their personal and professional development, and an emphasis on family.
  • Busters (also called generation X). People born during the next two decades (1965-1984) were called the baby busters because there were fewer of them. Now 30 years of age and older, the busters, grew up in a world different from that of any previous generation. Many who came from broken homes and were victims of violence felt alienated, forgotten, cheated, and disillusioned with life. As missionaries looking for meaning in life, they were interested in spiritual things, open, honest, and aware of their needs. As such they make good team members.
  • Millennials (also called Generation Y, Generation We, and Generation Next). People born between 1985 and 2004 were called millenials because they were the first generation to come of age in the new millennium. They grew up in the digital age with computers available to many of them. They communicated through cell phones, Skype, Facebook, and texting. They had high expectations and are characterized as confident, connected and open to change.


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