Minority-Dominate Congregations are More Likely to be Intergenerational.

The other day I was rereading an article written by Michael Hawn “Singing Across the Generations: is there Hope?”and I came across this statement on page 20, “congregations that are virtually all African American or Latino most often worship together as multigenerational families.” He goes on to say that Anglo-dominated, middle-class congregations from 200-400 in attendance were more likely to offer two or three different patterns of worship (based on musical style). According to Hawn, minority-dominant congregations tend to worship intergenerationally. Hawn does not aim to explain why this data exists, but focuses on strategies for how churches can find unity in their musical worship.

I’m curious as to why. Why are Anglo-dominated congregations more likely to have multiple types of styles of services? The argument that a new, improved, more energetic contemporary service is going to bring the young families in doesn’t necessarily apply if the church isn’t an Anglo-dominated church. Many of our minority-dominated churches are thriving. The African American and Hispanic dominated congregations I’m familiar with aren’t dying…in fact they are growing! I’ve been to several Latin American churches (all intergenerational) that are THRIVING and the gospel is proclaimed and received.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking, praying, strategizing about how to bring musical elements that transcend generations into our worship context. I’m very interested how minority-dominated congregations have managed to avoid the “worship wars.” This post is not designed to find ways to bring multi-ethnic elements into a content. Anyone with Google can find hundred of articles and books on the subject. However, to begin the conversation, I want to discuss some traits I’ve found in minority-dominated churches that might give a few clues as to why these types of churches have chosen to worship intergerationally. I have a few ideas I’d like to share–all anecdotal although observed many times. As always, there are doubtless others. I’d appreciate feedback so the conversation may continue.

  1. Minority-dominated congregations are made of families that VALUE being together. Go to any Latin American country and you’ll see multiple generations living together. They value all; church is no different. Most non-Anglo cultures are ultra family-centric. The “it takes a village” mentality is evident. My observation is women in minority-dominate churches are taking care of many generations of children and raising in a “pack-mentality.” It’s not uncommon to find many Hispanic and African American grandmothers helping raise their own grandchildren.
  2. Minority-dominated congregations are not afraid of emotionally-driven, passionate times of worship. One of the reasons many Anglo-dominate churches have decided to add “contemporary” services alongside their “traditional” services has been that some feel that traditional worship is stuffy, uninspired, boring, and lacking passion. Those who find comfortable in the predictable liturgy of a traditional service find contemporary services irreverent. Minority-dominate churches just don’t have (my opinion) boring or dispassionate music. It’s always been passionate and will continue to be. Ergo, there is no need to separate services based on style.
  3. Minority-dominate churches cling to their ethnicity while embracing new.  The musical worship in these churches is rooted in who they are historically. While they aren’t afraid to embrace new styles of music, they would never create a worship service that excluded one musical style over another.
  4.  Participation comes from all generations in minority-dominate churches. Some of this is due to the size of the church. Many are small churches that need everyone to work together. However, my experience has been that even as these churches have gotten larger, (some of our largest churches in America are African- American dominated) they have not lost their intergenerational nature. All have a role in worship leadership.
  5. Choir participation in minority-dominate churches is still HIGH. I can’t think of an African-American dominate church today that doesn’t use a choir. This could be said for many other non-Anglo ethnic groups as well. While authors of the “National Congregations Study” (Chavez and Anderson 1998 and 2008) reported that choirs in churches has decreased from 72.3% in ’98 to 58% in ’08, I do not see evidence of decreased participation in minority-dominated congregations. In fact not only does it remain common, it is intentionality intergenerational (not just choirs of members with with white hair)! These churches have figured out how important a choir can still be relevant.  In fact many leaders of these churches depend on the energy that the choir brings to musical worship, an energy that cannot be replicated by any other means.

I’m positive I’ve only scratched the surface and there are always exceptions to these comments, but I can’t help but notice that it seems to me that only Anglo-dominated churches (and generally in America) think creating separate worship events which contains only one style of music and liturgy is ultimately healthy for the church. This can lead to generational separation, but more importantly, separate services also prevents the fusion of multi-ethnic musical variety. It is only through cooperation and inclusion of multiple styles that we may paint of picture of how heaven will truly be—all peoples worshiping together in many different ways, but worshiping…together

1Liturgy, 24 (3), 2009: 19-28.

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).