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).

Normal is Different for Everyone

Normal is different for everyone. In the context of intergenerational worship, our normative worship practices look quite different from church to church, denomination to denomination, and even cultural contexts. But, if you think about it, everyone has a preconceived (or experienced) notion of corporate worship. In the last twenty years, the churches I’ve served have had different forms of normal worship practices…and that’s okay. I’ve also been overseas to several Baptist churches that are theologically similar to me, yet their worship expression vary!****Disclaimer- I am firmly theologically Southern Baptist and I am not espousing that anything goes in worship. I am merely suggesting that some of the elements of our worship experiences will differ globally, yet still retain the word-centric, theologically conservative foundation essentially of the evangelic church.

Within the last year, I’ve been reading a book by author Sandra Maria Van Opstal entitled, The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World. The emphasis of the book is on worship practices in multi-cultural settings, which has become a hot topic of discussion due to the ever-changing landscape of ethic diversity in our communities and churches. Because my mind is always seemingly “geared” towards intergenerational worship and how best to involve all ages in worship leadership, I couldn’t help but read this text and find similarities between the struggles of multi-cultural and intergenerational worship. Here are some points of salient points related to diversity in worship and how they might intersect with the conversation related to intergenerational worship:

  1. We are all ethnic. There is no “normal! Good doesn’t mean the same thing in all cultures. Outside of biblical mandates of worship and our denominational theology based on biblical truth, our normative practices of worship are no better than anyone else’s.
  2. Worship involving people from many nations and cultural contexts is as important/biblical as interrelating all generations. Both multi-cultural and IG worship are biblical in that God calls ALL to the table of grace from every tribe, tongue, and nation. It’s not our personal preferences or normative practices that make worship authentic, but our response to the One who has initiated the relationship.
  3. Worship must be intentional to be spiritual formative. In 2 Corinthians 3:18, Paul instructs the church (the community of faith of all ages and races) to be shaped by worship as he writes, “but we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” Yes, it is important that we worship authentically and with discipline. We must practice intentionality so our worship is organic and flows naturally. Without intentionality, we simply go through the motions. As I talk with other leaders, I find those that are disciplined in their approach to spiritual formation (especially in corporate worship) there is a FOCUS on biblical truth that cannot be swayed. I believe those churches (and leaders) who are pulled into the gimmicky trends of church movements and fads are often unintentional. This was especially true when I talked with leaders of intergenerational worship ministries. The more intentional they were, the greater the focus on the biblical merits of worshiping together. This includes cross/multi-cultural contexts for the same reasons…intentional inclusion of music from various global sources (and inclusion of folks in your ministry from various races) will help your congregation see that we are all part of larger body of connected believers.
  4. Worship has a communal focus. The aim for corporate worship is NOT individual expression, but communal formation of faith. I’ve already written about the need more community- based lyrics in the intergenerational church here:Building Community in the Intergenerational Church through Music- Selecting We-Centric Songs, but the same thing could be said for music from other cultural contexts and expressions. When we ONLY use expressions of worship that reflect our church’s “normal” or personal preference, then we alienate ourselves from being culturally and generationally diverse.

There is more that could be mentioned, but in closing, remember that worshiping outside your own “normal” and personal preference causes personal transformation and spiritual formation. When we experience worship expressions from other cultures or “generations,” we begin to see how our own worship experiences are part of the larger, global church. It’s in this process that we become more unified as the community of faith.