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 every time 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. 

What does it mean to be Intergenerational?

Over the past several years, you’ve probably heard a lot of conversation about generations. We hear about Millennials, Boomers, and Xers and how different each group not only views the world, but how conflict arises when these generations try to co-exist. Unfortunately, general literature on generations is not abundant; most of what exists deals with how leaders in the workplace and the church can improve relationships among the generations. Within the context of the church, a few authors have begun writing on how not only can the church leader may understand the different generations in the church, but how specific ministries may be more intentional at intermingling the generations. One such area is the area of corporate worship. I believe of all the experiences within the local church setting, the Sunday worship service has the greatest potential to bring generations together.  Why? The answer is easy, because generations are already coming to worship together…well, at least the adult generations (but that’s another story). Often, our Bible study is age-segmented, our age-related affinity groups are too, but worship has great potential to involved multiple generations. I not only believe this, I’ve witnessed it and I celebrate it every week. In fact my job is to ensure that multiple generations are involved in our worship experiences each week.

Before I say much more, I want to clarify two terms that I believe get tossed around synonymously, but are actually different in some ways. You will hear me use the term intergenerational differently than the term multi-generational because I believe intergenerational is a step beyond being a multi-generational congregation. Multi-generational (multi-gen) simply means what is says: multiple generations are present in your church/worship service etc. However, it does not imply that they are interfacing in any way. You must be multi-generational to be intergenerational, but you can be multi-generational without being intergenerational.

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:

  1. Two or more adult generations should be present regularly in mutual activities (ministries).
  2. These activities should encompass a broad spectrum of experiences such as worship, fellowship, study, missions, outreach, etc.

As I mentioned earlier, what’s the first activity/experience at church where multiple generations can be engaged in mutual activities that comes to your mind?  That’s right, corporate worship. This makes the worship service a perfect way to study intergenerational practice as a microcosm of the whole church.

Because of the purpose of this blog, I will only focus on the area of worship and what I’ve found through anecdotal and original research, what it means to have an intergenerational worship service. In this blog post, I will not go into specific ways of how to achieve a more intentionally intergenerational worship service, but define and describe them generally. More will be unpacked later.

If you are reading this blog, I hope you are either interested in knowing more about intergenerational worship or completely convinced of it. I am convinced of the biblical and historical precedents of intergenerational ministry/worship. Look at scripture (Deut. 6:6-7, Psalm 145:5, Isa. 51:7-8; Matt. 19:13-15, Matt. 18:1-6, Acts 16:15 and 16:33, Acts 21:5-6; 1 Tim. 5:4; Titus 2:3-5) to name a few passages that speak of its importance.

From my reading, research, and study on the subject, I devised a list of “must haves” when it came to being considered not only an intergenerational church, but having intergenerational worship services. I consider these churches to be a “pure” form of intergenerational. I will discuss in a later post how churches can be intergenerational in their worship approach, but because of other extraneous factors, cannot be a purely intergenerational church (i.e. the large church with multiple service because of space). Hint: It’s an overall ministry approach rather than separating service specifically because of musical style or to appease one generation or another.

Purely intergenerational churches with intergenerational worship (like mine) must meet the following criteria:

   1. Must have multiple adult generations represented. Really, three is the minimum. It’s easy to meet this criterion if you have Boomers, Xers and even older Millennials.

   2. These multiple generations must be engaged in mutual activities. Once you get them together e.g. in worship, it’s actually EASY to do this. If they’re singing, studying the Word, participating in the Lord’s Supper together, then they are engaged in mutual activities. A step further (and this will be unpacked in great detail later) is make sure multiple generations are serving on your worship teams (music—especially the choir and orchestra/AV/ushers).

3. All generations in the service must be valued and understood to be equally important. This one can be tricky because it might be harder to know if everyone feels valued or important. However, as a leader you MUST be continually listening to all generations as they share their thoughts and figure out ways to value each generation. This goes beyond just listening to your choir/music team and orchestra/band members. Listen to the congregation. Make sure they feel valued and understood (listen)!

When I did my research on choirs in intergenerational churches, the leaders I interviewed shared what they did to ensure those from various generations felt valued and important. Here are the top four answers (1 being the most frequently offered):

4. Soloists and Praise Team members are intentionally selected from                       various generations. I cannot stress the importance of this as an easy tool to incorporate multiple generations in worship leadership. If your congregation has multiple generations, then the “face” of the music ministry should mirror them as well.

3. Encouragement from the leader (verbal and written). The people with whom you serve and those you serve need to know that you appreciate them—all of them!

 2. Treat all the same. Don’t show favoritism based on age. This can be harder than it sounds. The young, attractive singer is easy to use, but is it the “best” choice for the context you’re in. Conversely, don’t try to “appease” older members to the degree that the younger generations feel that their own “voice” is not heard.

    1. Use of varied literature. Easier to write and less easy to implement in some cases. While it makes sense that different generations will have certain song choices that speak to them, it shouldn’t be the main influence on your literature choices (more later on this!). In a nutshell, base your song choices on clarity of text and always, always figure out what is the “voice of your congregation.” There are songs that every congregation is drawn to…find them and use them along with excellent new things.


4. If multiple weekend services are offered, not counting separate services such as a Sunday night service, they must be mirrored in terms of content and musical style, rather than offering separate services based on style. 

This is where the conversation will expand in later posts. Services split for musical style are not a healthy option for a church. It can (and I’ve seen countless times) create divisiveness.

For now, I want to briefly discuss about how this plays out for my church. We have two identical services, choir and orchestra sing/play for both. We’ve figured out how to make it work. We have youth through octogenarians in our choir and orchestra for all services. They are engaged in mutual activities. My youth-aged sons sit next to guys that could be their grandfathers in our orchestra and it THRILLS me to watch those guys pour into my boys. In our choir and orchestra, we have an older gentlemen, his daughter and husband are also in our choir, as well as their three sons (and two of their wives). These are just two of the many examples.

We play and sing a WIDE variety of music, some hymns (a bank of about 25 timeless hymns) and much newer stuff too. I watch every week to see what our people are responding to. What do they seem to like? What falls flat? I try to evaluate each thing to figure out what works well for our church, in our context, for this season.  The point is, things are changing and evolving all the time. Music will change and evolve, but the philosophy of listening to all generations, valuing them, loving them and their families, will create a more authentic conversation of how we may co-exist.


Next up! So I’m not purely intergenerational by your definition. How would you define the other churches who have an intergenerational philosophy, but separate types of worship. AND, what can our leadership do to be more intentional?

Also, what’s the difference between churches that are intergenerational because “that’s the way they’ve always been” either because of size or location, and those churches that are intentionally intergenerational? What’s the difference and why does it matter?


Defining the Church Choir

In order to accurately discuss the role of the church choir in the intergenerational church, I think it’s important to understand how I define certain terms related to the premise of this blog.  Today, I will discuss how I define the word “choir” in the context of the intergenerational church.

To the best of my knowledge, I’m the first person to define the term “choir” from a church perspective in any academic document. Believe me, I searched for an accurate description because I wanted some documentation from other experts in the field. I came up empty. Therefore, I had to search for other definitions of the term for choir and apply it to the church setting. Here’s what I came up with from my own research:

“A choir is defined as a group of any combination of singers that provides vocal leadership in corporate worship. The choir may add vocal support only to congregational singing but also may engage in proclamation ministry through choir music alone, which is music designed to be performed with several voices on each part. In comparison to a vocal ensemble or praise team which typically has fewer singers, a choir, for the purposes of this study, must consist of a minimum of twelve singers. Generally, the choir is placed prominently on risers or in a choir loft but not front and center on the platform area. The individual choir participants are not vocally enhanced through the use of microphones.”

I think some of you are thinking,”that’s a mouthful.” I would agree. There are three important things in this definition that I’d like to unpack:

1. The church choir may have a dual purpose in worship leadership, leading in congregational song and/or leading through proclamation (choral music). Most church music ministers leading choirs I’ve spoken with would agree that this dual purpose in worship leadership defines and encompasses much of the role of the choir in worship. Why is this important?

  • The church choir, with its music reading skills, can learn music generally faster than the average worshiper in the pews. This means that new songs, especially congregational songs, may be learned and taught to the congregation quickly.
  • The church choir can proclaim, or present, more intricate choral music that the congregation itself could not accomplish alone.
  • Additionally, the church choir can involve ALL generations interested in music and worship leadership, no matter how talented.

I know there is much more to unpack here, which I plan to do in future posts. 

2. The church choir has a similar, yet very different, role than the praise team in the life of the music ministry of the church.

  • The praise team can also function as a smaller choir in that they can lead congregational music as well as present special choral music in proclamation of the word. However, most praise teams I’ve encountered are full of vocalists with a generally higher level of vocal skill than the average choir member. Why is this important? Using a praise team only limits the abilities of much of the general population in your church choir from participating. This may be related to age (some don’t want too young a sound on their teams, while other might not want an “old” sound on their team) or related to musical skill (many leaders want music readers on their team) even though the vocalist might have a great sound.
  • Praise Teams, because of their size and often ability, can present literature that may be either too difficult for the whole choir, or too musical complex (either rhythmically or sonority of vocal parts).
  • At my church, I use both praise teams as well as the choir. I exclusively use the praise team in vocal enhancement of congregational song while I may use a special vocal ensemble for special choral arrangements. I see the praise team as an extension and representative group from the choir itself. I am also very careful to use praise team vocalists from all adult generations so they also mirror the generational diversity in the congregation. This is not always easy, but it is essential in order to be committed to being intergenerational in worship. 

A side note*****

It’s hard not to lean toward the attractive, younger singers in your choir who have amazing voices. Who wouldn’t want an A-team to lead vocally with every week? I want to caution you right now though, because I struggle with this all the time. If you’re going to be intentionally intergenerational, talent and stage presence must come after two areas:

          1. Generational diversity of the team. 

          2. Investing in new talent. 

Ask yourself, how easy is it to use A-team vocalists? Of course it’s easy. Someone has taught them well and now you get to benefit in your ministry. Then ask yourself this, what am I doing to invest in moderate or lower level talent to bring that person to the point where they might be an A-Team member? I believe my role is to invest in those people and encourage and equip them to be A-team level. I’ve personally invested in several praise team members here at our church who have steadily increased in confidence both vocally and in worship leadership. Don’t be afraid to invest…it’s worth the effort in the long run. 

3.  The church choir has a prominent physical place of worship leadership.

  • I’ll be sharing much more on the function and role of the choir in intergenerational worship later, so I don’t want to say too much yet here yet. However, here are a few things I’ve found to be fairly consistent in those churches I’ve researched in the intergenerational church, which I believe are probably consistent in any church with a choir.

*The church church is often in a loft behind the the pulpit area of the platform or just off to the side. This prominent position means that the choir should be seen as worship leaders and not simply “back-up” for a soloist or praise team.

* The church choir is not vocally enhanced by individual microphones. This simply means that not every choir member has his or her own personal microphone. The use of area or choir mics is most common for the church choir. I believe this function is significant because the sound of the “whole” group is more important than the collective individual, which I believe to be philosophically accurate. That being said, praise team members usually have their own microphones, great care must be taken to ensure the member understands the purpose of their leadership is not more important than the other choir members necessarily; rather, praise team members are simply an extension of the choir (vocally, facially, spiritually, and represent the generational diversity of the church). 



In my next blog, I will unpack what I understand to be a church that is intergenerational in their worship. I honestly believe there is no “correct” formula that contains all the correct criteria to be intergenerational so stay tuned!

My plan is not to blog everyday. I think my goal is to pick a day each week to load a new blog, but I’m energized to get a few blogs in quickly while everything is still new.  Since I’m a new blogger, I’d love to hear some feedback from you all. What would you like to know more about related to the content in this blog post?

%d bloggers like this: