Excerpted by permission from ReGeneration Quarterly.

To understand the power of "generation" talk in America, you've got to think like a marketing executive.

One of the cornerstones of modern marketing is the theory of segmentation. Once upon a time, soap manufacturers made soap, a product that pretty much everyone needs. Then along came Proctor & Gamble, who realized that they could make several different kinds of soap and market them to different audiences. In the process, they could sell not just soap but also an additional intangible sense of quality.
I don't understand why so many people think that segmentation can save the church.

The goal of the modern marketer is to identify, or to create brand-defining differences, and sharpen their distinction in the mind of the consumer until he is unwilling to cross that sacred line between Ivory and Camay--because that other product just isn't "for him."

Segmentation works. Ford sells more station wagons by selling two versions, one called the Ford Taurus and the other called the Mercury Sable, than it would if it sold just one.

What I don't understand is why so many people think that segmentation can save the church.

"Generation" is, to use a popular term these days, a construct: an artificial convention by which a society agrees to divide up a continuous range into segments. With one significant exception, which we'll get to in a minute, birth rates are a continuous phenomenon. So what is it that has made Americans so uniquely preoccupied in recent years with the construct of "generations"--whole groups of people who move through life, monolithically, with a common identity based solely on their date of birth?

The answer comes down to the Baby Boomers.

The Baby Boomers are the significant exception to the continuous shape of the birth-rate curve in the U.S. since its inception. We may all be tired of hearing about the Baby Boomers, but the Baby Boom was a genuine, and exceptional, event in American history, precipitated by and accompanied by cataclysmic historical events.

By contrast, the so-called "millennial" generation, which includes the babies being perambulated down your neighborhood street, will be numerically larger than the Baby Boom--but there is no similar confluence of events that contributed to this new boom. Rather, it is a mundane convergence of trends that include the Boomers' own delay in having children.

But while these features of the Baby Boom are well known, what's less often remarked is how, for the Baby Boomers and those who marketed to them, generation became a key means of market segmentation. One famous slogan captures that strategy in its early stages: "Not your father's Oldsmobile." For the first time, a car was being sold as the best for a particular age group.

Madison Avenue must have breathed a huge collective sigh of relief when a young Canadian writer hit the best-seller charts with a novel called "Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture." Within a year, Douglas Coupland was being offered five-figure fees to speak to corporate marketers about the new "generation" and how to "reach" them--offers which fell on ears strangely deaf to commercial success.

Many generationally targeted ministries are responses to our culture's effectiveness at convincing kids that they shouldn't be caught dead in their father's church.

Undaunted by Coupland's unwillingness to sell his generation's then-tortured identity, consumer culture went to work defining a generation whose principal characteristic was its resistance to being defined.

Now America is suffused with generational consciousness, even though whole generations have little in common in a country as diverse as the U.S. If you doubt this, put a 10-year-old from Palo Alto in the same room with the daughter of a migrant farmworker from the Central Valley, and see what they have to say to one another.