Not too long ago, I was asked to explain how our church went from a more traditional format to an intergenerational/or multi-gen format in our worship services. My first thought was, we never actually transitioned into a inclusive intergenerational format, it just happen to be who we were (and are); we just worked hard to protect that philosophy. Maybe that’s your scenario. Maybe you’ve always tried to by musically diverse, but the pull to separate services based on musical style ever confronts you. What do you do—how do you find that balance?

There are several items to consider when protecting/moving towards a multi-gen/intergenerational worship format. Because of the number of items, I will write several posts over the coming days. The first, and most important, issue to consider is your cultural context and history.

Context and History 

Every church has history; music is a big part of what binds congregations together. This history is constantly evolving. Knowing where we’ve come from and where we’re going is essential. As your community changes, your church must make strides to adapt without losing her identity in the process. Here’s what I mean:

My church has always been an intergenerational congregation.

In fact the church was what I’ve called an “organic” intergenerational congregation. As we’ve grown, we’ve had to be intentional about being intergenerational. (for more info on these terms, see Organic vs. Intentional Intergenerational Worship). This intergenerational philosophy guides everything we do. We aim to get people of all ages serving and building relationships throughout our church life. Simply, we aim to do this by asking ourselves one simple question, “how may I best demonstrate that all ages in our church are valued and important?”

Being intentionally intergenerational is certainly not easy, especially as it relates to music. Because of my background as an educator, I’m very committed to training our next generations to become worship leaders as well as giving our adults a place to use their gifts. Would it be easier to use only the most talented people in our church all the time in worship leadership? Probably, but it’s way more gratifying to me to see over 200 of our church involved in worship leadership regularly.

Our context has changed and so has our music

It’s vital that any worship leader know the “heart songs” of the church they serve. Ask around and you’ll probably get an idea of where your church has been musically. In my case my church was rooted in more traditional hymnody and gospel hymns. When I arrived, they were singing all kinds of songs from new to old, but really the song of the congregation was rooted deep in traditional/gospel hymnody. I was not surprised by this information. Our church, and the surrounding community, has seen enormous change in the last two decades. The construction of the largest mall in the state has brought countless thousands just to a 3-5 miles radius of our church. This growth demographically has had a profound affect on our church and the hundreds of people who’ve join in the last several years. Our affluence has risen. The new members were not born and raised in this church and came from backgrounds where more contemporary music was used. The question became…what do we do with all these new people now that we are all unified together in this place? How do we preserve the history and incorporate the new without losing our history? Slowly…the answer is slowly and methodically…change shouldn’t happen overnight.

When I arrived, I was charged with expanding the music ministry to involve more people and raise the level of excellence. My goal was to add to the orchestra and the choir. I was also charged with taking our deep rooted hymnody and add to that body of music, songs that our congregation will sing for years to come. We employ a choir/orchestra/praise team format that works well for us. It may seem antiquated to some since our area is full of churches who’s worship services look more like rock concerts, but I’ve found no other format in which we can involve people of various levels of musicianship to use their talents for the glory of God. In terms of excellence, I can tell you that the higher I raised the bar—the more I asked for and “demanded” musically, it’s been amazing how our folks have risen to that challenge.

Here are a few ways I have tried to accomplish this, while involving as many people from all our generations. It’s a long way from our church’s roots with a worship leader and organ and piano only:

  1. Choose new hymns/worship music with strong biblical texts, singable keys, and memorable tunes, but always celebrate the classic hymns of your church. On another note regarding new songs, it’s important for me to intentionally stay behind what some would consider the newest worship music and watch to see if the song will remain apart of the hymnody of the evangelical church. I never want to learn anything new that won’t stay around.
  2. Whatever instrumentation/vocalization enhancement we use, I make sure the congregation can hear itself sing.
  3. Involve students in our orchestra. Our most intergenerational group in the church is our church orchestra.
  4. Give priority to Youth Choir and Children’s Choirs as they lead in worship throughout the year, and also learn the skills to be involved musically the rest of their lives.
  5. Use Intergenerational Praise Teams specifically for congregational song enhancement, but not to cover up the congregation herself.
  6. Commit to the proclamation ministry of the choir. Some have done away with the choir singing anthems/specials, but this very important ministry is rooted in biblical precedent.
  7. We are committed to the most excellent offering of music we can to the Lord. We sing all kinds of music, with as much authenticity as we can. We are humbly imperfect and committed to not overproducing. We are a family—we celebrate the overly talented and the marginally talented and spur one another on in the praise of our Father.