Intergenerational yet have multiple styles of services. Is it possible?

This question is asked of me all the time from my colleagues who serve churches who, because of a myriad of reasons, have multiple types of services in their church. These leaders sincerely believe their church fits the definition of intergenerational in every context, except the part where services should be mirrored in terms of content and style. These churches are not a “pure” form of intergenerational, but truly believe in the biblical concept that intergenerational behavior, interaction, and philosophy is important. These churches are what I refer to as modified intergenerational.

Here are some criteria that should exist if a church is to be considered a modified intergenerational church:

  1. The leadership of the church must believe in the philosophical and biblical merits of intergenerational ministry even if the worship services are varied. Just because all the main services aren’t identical doesn’t mean that the leadership is anti-intergenerational ministry. As I mentioned before, often space issues, programming issues, personnel issues, and timing issues play into worship service decisions. It’s not always practical for every church to have the same worship leadership lead for every service. Likewise, some churches have many wonderfully talented worship leadership that can (and should) be used. So, what if the church has 3 or more worship services on Sunday with some running concurrently? Can the worship leadership be identical in all venues? Most likely not. The point is, does the leadership take intentional steps to ensure that generations are valued, seen as important, or engaged in mutual activities? If so, then the church is likely to be a modified intergenerational church.
  2. The leadership of the church realizes the limitations which prevent the church from worshiping together and takes intentional steps to involve all generations in EVERY service on campus. This will take creative planning, but it’s doable.  Here are a few ideas.  There are obviously many more.  1) Have children’s, youth, and adult choirs rotate through the different services so they are participating in all services. 2) Have instrumental groups also rotate through services. 3) Use different age groups as ushers and greeters. 4) Have various age people read scripture in the worship services. 5) Have different age groups give testimony to what God is doing in their lives. 6) Have various aged singers sing special solos, etc. 7) Have various aged solo players play offertories. 8) Have a children’s sermon. 9) Have regularly schedule times where the WHOLE church can come together to worship, which features the different generational musical or ministry groups. The list goes on, but the idea is the same; get thinking about how various age groups can get involved in worship leadership.
  3. The leadership of the church doesn’t create services based solely on musical style or the desire to appease one generational cohort over another. The decision to create other services (or continue them) is based on other factors rather than simply appeasing one group or another or trying to evangelize young families because so and so church you read about does it this way. I hear this argument all the time and I’m sure many of you do as well. The leader who claims that starting a “contemporary” service to look like some other congregation that has seen success will allow them to grow. The argument that music alone is the driving force in any generation’s decision to worship in any congregation is quite myopic. I’ve watched this happen in two of the churches I’ve served. I’ve grieved (yes, grieved) over how I watched what was working well turn into a divisive tool that hurt those congregations. In both cases, the main issue was the new services weren’t staffed appropriately. By the time the third service was added in one church, all the best talent in the church was being used elsewhere. Further, the leadership from pre-existing services, which by my estimation were thriving, were being pulled and stretched to either serve on multiple teams or because of their own time constraints, forced to choose one. In the name of variety, we became not so great at two of the three services.  Which one grew?  The one that was thriving with the most talented people who used to be utilized throughout our ministry. And you know what? That MOST contemporary service became the most intergenerational because those parents and grandparents wanted to worship with their kids and grandkids. Deep down they desire community!                                                                   *I think a better approach is to find what musical styles your particular congregation does well, and capitalize on that. Consider the talent pool of your church and start there. That doesn’t mean not branch out and take a few risks, but don’t be something you’re not to try to reach certain people. Inauthentic and mediocre worship services do not attract anyone in the long-term.
  4. The leadership of the church doesn’t move service times with the specific purpose of trying to target families and then decide that young families like a certain type of music. We’ve all read the research that says that services that start before 9:30 on a Sunday will be mostly older generations and not families. I’ve seen numerous churches that “assume” that young families are only interested in modern worship music so they flip-flop long time standing traditional worship with a new contemporary service at 11 am. Guess what this does? If 11 am is still the highest visiting hour for new church visitors, it almost assures that visitors to your church will be getting a skewed view of the whole church. Likewise, if it’s targeted for families, the Bible study hour for children may only be offered opposite this service, which makes it almost necessary for any family wanting to worship together to attend 11 regardless of what the family might desire to do. Moving what was traditionally the “church” hour for many Boomers and Builders to another time can be a slap in the face. It screams, we don’t care about you, we only care about the new people who might be here…or our young families…so because you are more mature in your faith, you need to take one for the team and submit your desires to the new believers. Okay, there is merit to this argument to a degree, but if everytime you turn around your submitting and there is nothing on the other end, then we’re missing the part in Philippians 2 about being MUTUALLY submissive.                                                         *A better solution is to make sure that members and visitors alike aren’t hindered in service choice based on other (controllable) factors such as Bible Study/Sunday School choices. Other factors, such as time, location, and music will vary from congregation to congregation in the modified intergenerational church, but the emphasis is again ALWAYS on valuing ALL generations and making the best choices with what you have.

There are several more items that could be added to this list, but I wanted to bring out a few of the top ones. The point is, leadership can be intentionally intergenerational even though they have services that differ in content and style. I believe this; I really do. I don’t think there are many who are actually doing this, however. Ultimately the proof is in what is actually happening in the churches. Some of the churches that I would put into this category do some things to promote intergenerational behavior, but their service participants are far from generationally diverse. Ding, ding, ding–is that really intergenerational? Further, take a look at their Bible study classes and most of the time, the leadership only offers classes based on what the demographic of the surrounding services are. One could argue that they are just creating them based on need, but I would suggest, what about creating an intergenerational class or targeting a missing generational cohort from that Bible study hour?  Additionally, if one of these churches has a choir, I’ve noticed almost all of the choir members are Builders or Boomers whereas, albeit not drastically higher (but higher!), purely intergenerational church choirs are more generationally diverse. Why are the modified intergenerational church choirs less generationally diverse? Because the young families are not coming to those services (traditional or blended, mostly) save a handful. I believe if utilized correctly, the choir has the greatest potential to mirror the generational diversity of the church. More on this later…

In my next blog, I will deal with the church that is a “pure” form of intergenerational, but   not intentionally so. These churches are generally small, but make up such a large portion of our churches today. I will explore what can be done to help them celebrate and be more intentional about being intergenerational so that when faced with the temptation to add new services based on style, they recognize the value of worshiping together. 

3 thoughts on “Intergenerational yet have multiple styles of services. Is it possible?

  1. Art Forrest May 29, 2017 / 9:18 pm

    Perhaps a better term for the church that runs 2 different service styles would be “Multi-generational.”

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    • Dr. Will Whittaker May 29, 2017 / 9:44 pm

      Perhaps, but I believe all churches are multigenerational to some degree. What I wanted to delineate was the church that is multigenerational, has an intergenerational philosophy, but for other reasons is not a pure form of the term. It might be all semantics, but I think people still associate multigenerational with what we do at ICBC, which is purely intergenerational.

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