Finding Value and Purpose for the “Builder” Generation in Your Music Ministry

Being an intergenerational music ministry means that we value and find places of services for ALL ages. While this sounds easy to write, it can more challenging than one might think. Folks from each generation are at different stages of life, which affect their ability to participate. The question that runs through my head for all on my team is: how can I make things easier for folks at different stages of life to participate and make a valuable contribution to the kingdom of God? This may mean helping the young mother who has to miss so much for her kids understand she is wanted and valued while she is away. This also means not making the older adult feel guilty because they have to miss so much for doctor’s appointments or illness. Someone once told me, people always make time for the things they love and are committed to. I’ve found making our people feel valued and appreciated means they’ll be here as OFTEN as humanly possible. We leaders must be open and embrace the strengths each generation brings to the table while learning to manage the weaknesses of each as well. For the next few posts, I want to highlight some perspectives from folks in our ministry from different generations.

In this post I want to share of the JOY it is to have music team members from the Builder Generation. Builders, as defined by Pete Menconi in The Intergenerational Church: Understanding Congregations from WWII to http://www.com, were born from 1925-1943. Our youngest Builders today are 75 years old. If what I found in Georgia is true, no more than about 10-15% of any music ministry is made of folks from this age group. Most have simply “retired” out of being in music ministry or, sadly, have been made to feel inferior and simply dropped out when they simply didn’t feel valued anymore. Issues folks from this generation face in music ministry include: sickness, loss of mobility (standing, balance, getting in and out of loft), breath support—vocal issues, etc. It’s our responsibility to help minimize and alleviate these issues as much as possible. Otherwise, they will simply drop out.

In our church we have several folks from the Builder Generation in our choir and orchestra. Today I want to share about one particular lady in our choir who God has used to encourage me countless times. It is a double blessing that she gets to sit next to her daughter in the choir…serving alongside. Here’s a bit of her story from her daughter’s perspective:

Mother grew up in a musical family so music is very much a part of her DNA.  As a child, she was attending “singing schools” led by her Dad.  He would lead and her mother would play the piano.  Part of the requirement of each singing school was that each participant got to lead the group as a music director.  Mother began doing that before she was a teenager. 

Music has been one of the dominant themes/patterns of her life.  She majored in music in college and has had piano students, vocal students through the years.  She has also served as pianist, organist and minister of music in many of the churches and military chapels.  Her love and passion for music makes her heart sing. Again, music is in her DNA and God has used that in her life.

She has and continues to dedicate herself to serving God.  As she is aging, there are many activities she can longer participate in and/or lead. The opportunity to sing in a choir again has allowed her to reconnect to her joy of music and her sense of value.  It is filling a void that existed since music is so much a part of her life.  Some comments she has made:

  • I am so thankful to be singing in a choir again.
  • I didn’t think I would ever get to do this again.
  • (to me) You don’t know how much this means to me that you make this possible.
  • I know all these songs! (She does know many due to her vast knowledge of music however not 100%!)
  • I prayed and prayed that God would allow me to sing in a choir again.
  • At least there still something I can do.
  • I bet I am the oldest one in the choir! (to which I have told her she is not!)

Will, I think I have shared with you that I was not sure how well she would do and if she could manage to keep up as she ages.  When she is in her seat with her folder, she is in her “sweet spot!”  Although she has difficultly following some of the scores (that’s where I come in as her guide!), she is spot on with diction and notes.  Her voice is not strong but it is on key. Being part of the choir reinforces her call to ministry and allows her to continue to serve God.  Not all choirs would welcome her (and others of her age) that you so willingly embrace. You find value where they are in their lives and in their musical experience. 

For me, it’s an honor to be a small part of how God is answering Mother’s prayers and seeing her engaged in what is so much a part of the very fabric of her life.  It has, for now, altered some of the ways I am able to engage and interact with others in the choir as I am her guide and support.  I am good with that.  I can only imagine there were many times when I was growing up that she was in the same place, sacrificing some of herself for me and my brothers for that moment in our times of growing up.  The fact that you embrace people where they are and find a way for them to fit is a leadership characteristic I value and appreciate about you.  It’s one of the many characteristics that sets you apart from your peers. 

I wept as I read this.

I have to tell you, not a week goes by that my Builder generation member doesn’t grab me lovingly by the arm and thanks me for letting her sing in the choir. She keeps me in check, friends. She reminds me we’re in this together till the end; we are spurring one another on, submitting our own needs to those who need it most for the sake of the gospel and the kingdom of God.

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).

Are Solo-Driven Choir Songs Anti-Intergenerational?

Have you thought about how many songs your choir sings that feature a solo that “drives” the song you are singing? I don’t mean a simple verse solo or a small section in the song, but a full-song solo where the choir essentially takes a “back-up” choir role. If you are in my choir, you’ll sing plenty of these types of tunes. There are a few reasons this is the case in my choir and possibly yours as well:

  1. Some of the most popular songs for choirs today have solos that drive the song. I’m not in a popularity contest, but there are some great church choral songs (new and not so new) that have solos in them. I want my choir to learn lots of great things that have great texts and are solid musically.
  2. I can because I have lots of soloists. Having lots of great soloists makes it easy to present these types of songs, especially when you have some that really communicate the message in a special way…like Spencer in the feature photo here.
  3. Sometimes they are easier or faster to learn because the soloist has the bulk of the song. Sometimes the hardest part of learning a choral song are verses because of the variances of texts and rhythmic structures that can be tricky. If the choir is learning choruses only, which often repeat, the process of learning the song is expedited.

While we enjoy the flexibility to do lots of solo-driven choral literature, I am often conflicted about over-using these types of songs because of my commitment to value the contributions of all the singers in my choir. It’s a constant battle; one I’ve been contending with for years. When I researched intergenerational choirs in Georgia in 2014, I asked the leaders of those choirs how much of their own choral literature was solo driven.  Here are some results:

  1. Over half of them indicated that they only used solo-driven choral literature in about 20 percent of their anthems.
  2. About another 25 percent of those interviewed said they used solo-driven literature up to 40 percent of the time. 
  3. Smaller church choirs sang fewer solo-driven anthems than the largest church choirs.

A couple of observations from this data…

  1. Solo-driven literature does not “generally” dominate the choral offerings of churches that are intergenerational.
  2. Small church choirs probably have fewer soloists than the largest church choirs. Therefore, it’s plausible that more soloists could possibly equated with more opportunities to sing solo-driven literature. 
  3. There were no indications that age of leader or choir members had any bearing on the percentage of solo-driven anthems used.

One area that seemed to have a bearing on how much solo-driven choral literature was sung was the publishers frequently used. Those leaders who frequently purchased from more traditional publishers rarely used solo-driven anthems. Conversely, those who used only one or two publishers from the evangelical side reported much higher use of solo-driven anthems.  My personal observations (a quick count at any current choral pack from any publisher will reveal) Prism, Word, and Brentwood-Benson publish more solo-driven literature than other evangelical publishers (Lifeway, Lillenas, Praisegathering). I love, and use music from, each of these publishers, so do not think I am speaking negatively about any one publisher. I am simply commenting on what I see when I open their choral club packets/boxes.

The long and short of it? Broaden the number of publishers you listen to as you search for choral music for your church choir so you may find all types of songs—especially if you find yourself leaning towards solo-driven literature all the time.  This it is often hard to achieve, but necessary for balance if your goal is to create an atmosphere where all members of the choir feel valued and important.

Personally, I am guilty of relying on solo-driven literature at least 40 percent of the time, sometimes more. We sing tunes from every one of the above publishers and I love the variety of music types that can be found, but often I find some of the best tunes I can find (in my opinion) are solo-driven. But, since I firmly believe that valuing all in my music ministry is important, I know I must be careful to look for balance, which includes purposely looking for choir only literature that fits our context.

As a side note: thankfully, some solo-driven songs can be adapted to include more of the choir. For instance, verses that a solo would normally sing could be sung by the women or the men. I’ve done that on several songs and it has worked very well.