Romans 12:5 (ESV) so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
Over the last several years, I’ve noticed a huge push in choral literature for churches with the specific purpose of using multiple generations in a specific song. Adult choirs, student choirs, and children’s choirs are often given parts of songs to sing alone and with each other. I applaud each and every of these composer/arrangers of these songs as a great resource for our churches to involve multiple generations together on the platform. In fact many of my colleagues will devote specific Sundays each year to what they call “Multigenerational Sundays.” These Sundays generally highlight various age groups in their church or music ministry as a way of reminding their congregation, “we value the different age groups in our church and we want to give you a visual reminder of generations in worship together.” Again, I applaud and celebrate each and every person, church, and colleague who does this on a regular basis, but even a church whose attempt to bring generations together only on these Sundays a few times a year may be missing the most critical part of having generations together–the continual, on-going, weekly, interrelatedness of multiple generations serving together in mutual activities.
Instead of simply bringing multiple generations together every so often, I believe a better, more long-lasting approach is an intergenerational approach. An intergenerational church aims for regular, sustained interaction among persons from all generations. Interaction is the key! To parade multiple generations onto a platform to give the appearance of multiple generations in your church is fine, but what is paramount is that older generations invest at regular intervals in the lives of our next generations. Likewise, our students desperately need the wisdom and care of the older generations.
The term intergenerational differs from that of multi-generational in that while a church might have multiple generations present in worship services, the generations may never interact with those from other generations.
I would agree that most churches, to some extent or another, are multi-generational. Some might even celebrate the fact that there is much generational diversity present. However, in what ways will these generations have the opportunity to interact in mutual activities with those from other generations?
Intergenerational churches (ministries) should meet the following criteria at a minimum:
Please do not misunderstand me–I’m certainly a champion for any chance our children, students, and adult can share the platform to lead worship. However, these moments are just moments if multiple generations aren’t serving alongside each other on a continual basis. I liken the multigenerational approach to Thanksgiving gatherings with extended family…you know what I mean? These are family members that you know casually. You will see them once or twice a year. You catch up and share about how things are going; you are connected by blood, but not “family.” I feel this approach is a good starting place for connecting generations together, but not the ideal approach.
Conversely, I liken an intergenerational approach to your immediately family members. These types of homes may include three or more generations in some instances. But the family members you live with day in and day out have the most influence on you. As many irritating, frustrating, and hopefully beautiful moments you share with your immediate family, those same family members will teach you about things such as sharing space, respecting others opinions, and learning to love others. Families are by nature intergenerational. It is next to impossible to live life in a silo in a family. I suggest that our churches should MODEL our nuclear families. It’s the biblical model! As we live side by side, struggling to love each other more than ourselves, we have the opportunity to learn and grow with each other as we move on our journey of faith—each person in the family with strengths and weaknesses helping our mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters when they are weak—and they in turn reciprocate. We were made to live together, to be shaped by one another…not simply co-existing, but together—in the messy times and the beautiful. Leaning on each other as the intergenerational church.
I am a Gen-X worship leader. Based on my birthdate, some would classify me as an older Millennial, but I feel like I identify with the Gen X generation more than the Millennial generation. Perhaps I feel this way because I am the third born of four children, born in 1977, and my older brothers are definitely Gen Xers. Recently, I’ve read some articles that have re-classified those of us born between 1977-1985 by grouping us into a new classification, calling us Xennials. Even one article I read called us the Oregon Trail generation. These terms are basically interchangeable because the characteristics described are synonymous. I laughed at the Oregon Trail reference, because it’s true, I definitely froze to death in Oklahoma while on the Apple II computers in the classroom-converted computer lab at my elementary school! Whatever you call us, there is definitely something about being born during a bridge period in generational history. I believe being a Xennial has influenced my own Christmas music memories, but more importantly how it’s allowed me the unique chronological experiences that have helped me bridge gaps among generations in the church.
As a so-called Xennial, I was raised in a family with Boomer parents and Builder grandparents in the same community. I had no idea that my Christmas “traditions” were somewhat broadened by the generational traditions of my elders until much later in life. You know when I realized it? When I started projecting my own idea of what celebrating Christmas should be to my own children. Let me elaborate specifically on the musical aspect of my Christmas memories…
If you grew up in my house, you developed a fondness for Christmas carols and holiday favorites from artists such as Bing Crosby, Burl Ives, Gene Autry, Nat King Cole, the Andrews Sisters and the like. I can still see the record covers today (my absolute favorite is featured here in the cover photo); they are etched in my brain. To this day, I much prefer these renditions of familiar Christmas songs to anything newer. These songs/renditions have been my soundtrack for the season for years. I can’t hear Holly Jolly Christmas or The Christmas Song without being transported to another time and another place; it’s uncanny! However, during my formative years, I learned all kinds of new Christmas songs also that are now “classics,” such as Mary, Did You Know, Welcome to Our World, Breath of Heaven, Emmanuel, and In the First Light, among many others. I grew fond (and still am) of so many “newer” Christmas songs, but nothing “warms my heart” like Bing, Nat, Burl, Gene, and Andy Williams!
I realize that my “bridge” status between generations allows me to “talk the talk” in a broader way than most. In fact I believe it’s a wonderful thing because I love all types of Christmas music and can lead them (generally) with ease. I also identify with both groups so I can understand the differences that divide and try to find common ground beyond our theological beliefs. However, I’ve found that people in general prefer nostalgic Christmas music, which certainly is different for everyone. It is interesting to me that people of all ages have a fondness for more traditional Christmas carols because people who wouldn’t necessarily prefer hearing a choir and/or orchestra any other time of the year are suddenly rushing to services offering just that.
One of the first churches I served had multiple types of worship services with varying music types. On Christmas Eve we would host three worship services with varying styles of music similar to the styles during the rest of the year. Even though at the time our most modern worship service had the most attending, our “traditional” Christmas Eve services were always the packed out ones. I remember asking a few who never came to traditional services why they chose to attend the more traditional service on Christmas Eve. Their uniform response was…”I like singing traditional Christmas carols on Christmas Eve because it brings back many memories…it feels like Christmas to sing these familiar carols.” At the time, I remembered thinking, “of course…I feel the same way” and then just left it at that. It got me thinking later, why is this the case? Recently, I’ve been grappling with the question: what if nostalgia, for nostalgia’s sake, can be hurtful to our spiritual understanding of musical worship? Can our “hold” on tradition limit us from experiencing the joys of “new songs?” Here are a couple of thoughts:
If you’re like me, and newer Christmas music is familiar, but not your favorite, you are not alone. This does not give you a pass to forgo newer Christmas music, however. It’s important to remember that of all the times of the year, Christmas is the most nostalgic, so use it to your advantage to incorporate new and old music in worship services. You’ll find more “modern” versions of Christmas carols than anything else newly composed. Use new versions of older carols, along with new songs to bridge music gaps in your services that speak to all generations.
Read more here about Xennials:
Read here about the Oregon Trail:
We live in a diverse country. One doesn’t have to travel far to see this. In any large city at any given time, people from all races and backgrounds surround us. In early October my family and I spent several days in South Florida where diversity is as common as the grains of sands on the plentiful beaches. Sometimes I think I’ve been transported to another world there because at any given time, one can hear multiple languages spoken simultaneously. I’ve learned also that people from different cultural contexts have different norms. I don’t mean just the different foods they eat, and so forth, I’m talking about differences in social customs as well. What may be perceived by some as rude behavior, is simply normal behavior to folks from other countries. Likewise, preferences, experiences, and taste in music can vary greatly from one cultural context to another. If we are not careful, our own ethnocentrism can creep in. This ethnocentric behavior can creep into the church as well. To combat this trend, I suggest that our churches grow and synthesize our people into multi-cultural musical worshipers while aiming to reach out to the diversity of the community surrounding the church.
Our musical worship should be expanded and enriched through incorporating varying styles of music. As we consider the impact that multiple generations, and their experiences have on a congregation, we cannot forget the fact that many of our people also have cultural differences that reflect who they are. There is a problem, however. Many of our congregations don’t have much ethnic diversity. Therefore, their musical experiences are vastly limited. But, just as I have claimed for other musical reasons, becoming more musical diversified in order to “attract” any segment of your population is ineffective at best. Building generationally and racially-diverse relationships is the key. It’s really all about context. As your church embraces and welcomes folks from all walks of life, THEN make sure what you are singing is also diverse.
How should we build relationships with our community which reach out to the diversity already present?
Much more could be added to this list. The point is to reach outside the walls, especially if the ethnic make-up of your church is not very diversified. Then, LEARN from all and INVOLVE all, especially those with cultural and ethnic experiences different from the majority of your worshipers. Finally, be present in your community with the intention of promoting the gospel of Jesus through acts of service and love. Added bonus: Millennials and Gen Zers LOVE to get involved and put their faith into action (not that other generational groups don’t), but Millennials and Gen Zers are driven often by investing in their community. Get your Millennial and Gen Z leaders involved in helping plan and implement some of these ministries aimed at diversifying your local church community.
“Intergenerational Worship” is worship in which people of every age are understood to be equally important.