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.

 

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.