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?

Choral Music in the Intergenerational Church- An Overview of What’s to Come

I’m passionate about several things. I love my family, music, running, and most of all knowing the sovereign God of the universe also calls me friend. It is my desire that these blog posts not only glorify God, but edify and instruct the Body of Christ in the biblical truth that corporate worship should be experienced together–all generations worshiping in Spirit and Truth.

I serve an intentionally intergenerational church just about 30 minutes outside the city center of Atlanta. Our church is only about a mile and a half from the largest mall in the state, which when built in 1999, ushered in a large-scale housing and population boom to the area. While the population has exploded in our area, not every established church saw increases. I say this specifically because I don’t want the reader to immediately assume our growth is strictly due to greater population in our area. Yes, our church is very visible, but the majority of our visitors say they come because they heard about us or were invited by a friend. Generally speaking, only the largest churches in the area (we are surrounded by at least 5 megachurches within a 15 radius) saw any significant growth. Our church, once a small church of just a few hundred members from her inception in the early 20th century until the 1990s and early 2000s, saw only modest growth until the latter part of the first decade of the 21st century. When the current pastor arrived in 2010, more significant gains in attendance continued to be realized. We believe this is attributed in part to his desire for our church to embrace her intergenerational roots. Because of this desire, our church makes very specific steps in ensure our members at every level have a place to serve and invest in other generations.

The result has been a large increase in membership and active participation in the church. I’ll give you a snapshot of some of the growth. Since our pastor  arrived in 2010, we’ve had 600 new members, multiple baptisms, Sunday School growth that has doubled, and an average worship attendance that has grown from the high 200s to over 600 on a Sunday. When I arrived in January 2013, our music ministry had a adult choir 30-35 (if they were all there), and a pianist and organist. Fast Forward 4.5 years and we now have an adult choir of 72, and orchestra of 26, a fully-graded children’s choir ministry of about 50 children, and a youth choir of 25. This is not the type of growth you’d expect to see in a church that is not one of the high-profile churches in our area. But what we hear every week from our visitors is they’ve been searching for a church like ours for a long time and wished they’d found us sooner. They love that the music is varied, the preaching is expositional,  and that ALL generations are present with many in worship leadership.

In the first of several blog posts, I will attempt to share what my research has shown me about how leaders of intergenerational music ministries have attempted to bring generations together through the musical portions of corporate worship. Specifically, my research focused on the leaders of choirs, their choir members (who they are generationally and their function in the corporate worship experience), and the choral literature they sing. I will answer questions about how we’ve managed to “appease” all generations musically without using contrived, inauthentic methods in corporate worship. Stay tuned!

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