Bringing the Church Back Together- Part 2- First Steps

In my last post, I discussed some of the biblical foundations that support intergenerational worship and why multiple services driven by musical style may be a detriment to the unity of the local church. If you missed that post, click here to read it: Bringing the Church Back Together- Part 1- Biblical Foundations.

In this post, I will begin the journey of how any local church, who has divided for musical reasons, may begin the process of coming back together into a unified worship plan. While I spoke with several worship leaders who have led local churches through a transition such as this in order to prepare to write this, I am especially indebted to the experiences of two men: Slater Murphy (MS Baptist Convention) and David Hasker (FBC Melbourne, FL). Thank you!

Because there is much to cover in this process, I’m only going to cover the first steps to getting the transition started. In my next post, I will get into more detail on the practical ways worship leaders (and all church leaders) should utilize to ensure a unified transition, especially as it relates to synthesizing multiple music/worship teams.

FIRST STEPS

PRAY. This is the most important thing to do. Without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, nothing will be accomplished. You, as the leader who is convinced intergenerational worship is the key to longevity of the local church, must be educated in what the biblical, philosophical, and practical implications are in order to inspire others to catch the vision. Your passion is necessary to cast the vision of what a healthy intergenerational church should be.

The common theme of all I spoke with about this transition is that it MUST BE SENIOR PASTOR LED. As the chief shepherd of the local church, if your senior pastor isn’t 100 percent on board, then the transition will ultimately fail. This doesn’t mean that a Senior Pastor cannot be confronted (IN LOVE) with the philosophical argument that multi-styled worship services are more divisive than unifying. Perhaps you, as worship pastor, should speak truth from the scripture in order to encourage your senior pastor to consider unifying worship services at your church. Continue to have candid, respectful conversations in order to “educate” of the merits of unified worship.

BE PATIENT. Convincing a senior pastor to make a paradigm shift is not easy. If the current pastor initiated multiple services years ago based on the Church Growth Model, your suggestion to return to a unified worship approach will likely mean the senior pastor has to admit they were wrong. Further, if the senior pastor only created multiple types of service to appease certain groups of people, those same people will likely share their disdain with you. It may take months or years even. Keep praying and keep educating.

Once the Senior Pastor is on board, the next step is to have conversations with the rest of the staff, key leadership, and deacon/elders. While it’s always best to have everyone totally on board with the idea of bringing the worship services back together, it might not happen easily. As with most decisions involving a wide range of personalities and experiences, there will always be late adopters. David Hasker says that a few on their staff did not agree initially on the return to a unified worship style, but in the end the decision was made by the majority and they supported it. Anticipate possible questions and do your homework before the meetings to make sure you are able to explain what the transition might look like.

After the key leadership, other key groups in the church must be “educated” in the next steps of what will happen. Some key groups  include: the music ministry team (especially since this involves them a GREAT deal), Bible study leaders, etc. Make sure communication is frequent and clear and all involve persons have a chance to voice concerns and have questions answered. It’s essential that the key leadership be unified before the church body itself is presented with the plan. Additionally, remember to always be respectful and kind when dealing with folks who are passionately against returning to a unified worship style. Love them and ask them to support you as you try to live out the vision God has given the church. Remind them that a unified worship style is NOT anti-evangelistic or anti-contemporary worship.

Once the decision to bring the unified plan to the congregation is made, allow multiple opportunities for the church to hear the vision and ask questions. The pastor and worship leader should share the biblical and philosophical merits of a unified worship approach. Once these meetings are finished, then your church should vote (or whatever process you use to implement change).

One more thing…

Any change comes at a cost. You may have to “cash in” quite a bit of “people collateral” in order to make this happen. For the worship leader just 6 months to a year into their tenure somewhere is going to have a much harder time convincing the pastor/congregation of this paradigm shift. Many will only believe you are there to stir things up without any regard for the actual people you serve. It takes time (no matter how talented you are) for people to trust you as a leader. Even if you have decades of experience, people simply need to know you not only have Kingdom work on your heart, but you understand and value them as people and the church culture and context of the local body.

In my next post, I’ll deal with the practical side of how the musical styles and teams can work together in a new context. You’ll need to have a detailed plan of how to integrate your teams before the vision is shared because people are going to want to know exactly how the change will affect the overall ministry of the local body. Let me be clear: You MUST find a way to integrate the instrumentalists, vocalists (choir, praise team), teach teams, actual venues-if different, from ALL worship services/styles into one. Remember, one of the key parts of what intergenerational worship is—-everyone must feel valued and important. More soon!

 

Multi-generational or Intergenerational?They DO NOT mean the same thing.

I’ve written on this before at length (What does it mean to be Intergenerational?), but I continue to read and hear some very well-intentioned people use the term multi-generational in the same way as intergenerational. They are not the same. While both celebrate generations, one means there are many generations present, while the other means they are doing something together. I am careful to make the distinction because while the terms are not mutually exclusive, the term intergenerational is a step beyond being a multi-generational congregation. Let me explain further:

*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.

*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. You may wonder why I want to make the distinction. I believe it’s in the inter-relatedness of the generations that we find the most biblical definition of community. All local churches should ask themselves: 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.

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 intentional intergenerational worship services. I consider these churches to be a “pure” form of intergenerational. Intentional intergenerational churches with intergenerational worship must meet the following criteria (based on the above definition):

   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. 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. 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.  I discuss this one at length in another blog article you may read here: Intergenerational yet have multiple styles of services. Is it possible?

The distinction is important not because of syntax or academic “rightness,” but because of the biblical command to live in unity (commUNITY). It’s only through the engagement of all generations in the mutual, unified work of the gospel that we line up with the Lord’s plan for the church (ekklesia).

Stop Trying to Be Something You’re Not

Quite often I’m asked the question, “how does your church do intergenerational worship?” I gather these well-intentioned folks really want to know what tools, music, service orders, etc. we employ to ensure that all generations in our church are “happy.” The truth is…you can’t DO intergenerational worship, being intergenerational is who you ARE. When a church IS intergenerational in nature, the leadership makes sure that worship services are structured with the intention of demonstrating value to all ages in the congregation. This over-arching philosophy isn’t a liturgical formula, nor is just using a blended style of music in your service. It is not a multi-generational approach to service planning where there is a little something for everyone either. It is a guiding principle upon which decisions, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, may be used to increase interaction among the generations within the church. Here are a few keys to creating an atmosphere of intergenerational behavior in worship settings for pastors and worship pastors:

*Know your people. It’s essential to know the make-up and history of the church you are serving. While you may have been hired to move things musically to another level, you’ve got to understand where your people have been. You must peruse the music library and study a few years of used congregational songs to figure out where to start. Any radical shift too soon may result in disaster. While this point may not sound like it should be included in a discussion of intergenerational behavior, remember–demonstrating value of all generations is important. To turn and “focus on a younger generation” without some education and care simply ostracizes the other generations. I’m all for investing in our next generations, but do so strategically. While your ultimate goal might be to push the envelope musically, don’t make a 180 degree turn overnight.

When I arrived at my current church, I asked lots of questions about the music and the people. I wanted to know the stories; I studied who people were and the journey that led them here. What I found out wasn’t shocking, but it was essential: our church wanted to remain family-centric and generationally diverse while being gospel centered. Basically, we want to do life together, to grow, serve, and share the love of Jesus as an intergenerational body of believers. While some of our processes (music included) have evolved, that simple idea rings ever true. This process never stops happening. As your church grows and morphs, the demographic shifts with it. Be ever-vigilant in your pursuit of knowing your people. Love them, shepherd them, and listen to them.

*Know your outside demographic. You SHOULD desire to reach your community with the gospel. You may think your music or preaching alone is going to do that, but I doubt it. What will? Ask yourself, “how excited are your current members about what God is doing in your church?” Strong morale (esprit de corps) is a powerful tool for encouraging your members to get out in the community and invite their lost friends to church.

It is also important to engage with your community at large with your physical presence as a leader. Get involved with the schools and community events as you are able. How you engage with others in the community will make a difference on your impact on the local church side.

As for the demographics within your church, you should aim to reflect the community in which you live. If not, why? I live in a fairly affluent, suburban area with a strong multi-cultural presence. There are people in our church that have lived here all their lives, but by in large, most in our area are transplants; many from all over the world. This is reflected in our area churches as well. We’ve seen more diversity over the last several years as well. This dichotomy affects who we are today, but we must be sure to be welcoming as our diversity blossoms.

Our people’s histories within the church are vast and varied. I’d say at least 60 percent of our members have been members less than 10 years, having lived somewhere else before our community. This means that a lot of our people have established preferences and specific ideas of how to do ministry. You might be surprised to find out that even with this varied experience, most newer folks have gotten on board with who we are. Yet another great reason to be sure who you are as a church. Otherwise, it might be a disaster with so many opinions. I want to say a special word about long time members…you show value to those members who’ve been here a long time is especially important because they’ve literally watched the landscape of their community change within the last twenty years. They get extra points in my book for being welcoming when their once familiar community became a popular place to live. As my pastor reminds our staff often, we’re “standing on the shoulders of their faithfulness.” Value their history and always remember the past as you look forward to the future.

*Worship music should reflect who you are. There is no magical formula for finding a ratio of modern worship songs and time-tested hymnody. It’s not possible on a global level. Gone are the days of simply using the denominational hymnal as our only source for congregational song. Should you sing lots of different music types? Yes. However, you shouldn’t “throw in” a hymn or a modern song just because you’re trying to please everyone. YOU WON’T. Stop trying to please everyone based on perceived wants. As I’ve stated before, it is more important to use songs that fit the make-up of your church. Look around you each week. Are people singing the songs you choose? If not, there’s a problem. My aim is to find a balance of choices (over time, not necessarily in one service) where most folks find something familiar. There are other obvious criteria for selection of music that have been written about numerous times, but the two most important I’ve found are: TEXT and DO-ABILITY. We never sing something that we can’t do well and we never sing something that is not textually strong.

I don’t believe it is necessary to emulate what other churches are doing around you. I don’t think it’s bad to see what they are doing and get ideas from them, but it MUST fit in your context. For instance, we are limited in our ability to do much with lighting in our worship space based on our ambient lighting. Sure, we could block all the windows and create a dark space, but our limitations stem from the fact that we value being able to see each other in corporate worship. We don’t want to create a performance venue space. This limits our ability to do some things that might be pretty neat, but it’s not who we are. We don’t make apologies for it either. We focus on what we do well and leave the rest to the other churches. There are plenty of fine churches around with FAR greater resources and space to accomplish the things that God has equipped them to do–we will be us.