How to Foster Interactions Between the Generations in your Music Ministry

If you serve a church with a music ministry where various generations “rub elbows” with one another each week, you know that intergenerational relationships don’t often magically occur. Left without some intentional steps and practices, we worship pastors would probably be content to rest on the fact that we actually HAVE multiple generations. I suggest that to be truly intergenerational, one must craft experiences, situations, moments, and the like, which ensure inter-relatedness happens.

Many years ago, when I was researching choral ministries that are intergenerational in philosophy, I discovered several helpful “methods” that help in fostering intergenerational interaction in music rehearsals. Many more than I include here were offered, but these were the most prevalent ones discovered when researching this area of study. I am including them in hierarchical order based on frequency of response. The most prevalent answers first.

  1. Choir fellowships- The most frequently offered, many leaders found that simply allowing the generations within their choir to interact in an informal, yet fun, setting allows genuine interaction to occur. People get to know one another and friendships are formed. These fellowship times can be in the way of social events, but it can also be less structured and built into the context of the rehearsal itself. Some creativity is needed, especially if your choir has over 35 in attendance. I’ve found that people tend to gravity towards people they know (generally those around them in their vocal section), so find (or invent) ways/games to allow people to mix up and get to know others they don’t normally know.
  2. The leader(worship pastor) actually teaches about the importance of interacting and encourages them to do so. I do believe that it’s important to regularly celebrate the generational diversity of your music ministry. While not the most practical suggestion, encouragement to be intentional is definitely better than nothing.
  3. Seating configurations- Make intentional steps about who sits next to each other  it can also be a catalyst for forging new friendships. I’m 100 percent for balancing the vocal blend in the choir, but often I can achieve this just as well by sitting a Boomer next to a Millennial, which has a dual purpose. It takes some time and finesse (if people are reluctant to move after 100 years in the same spot), but it’s worth it.I suggest regularly moving people around so new friendships can be formed. It’s amazing how easily this works. I’ve watched practically new friendships form right in front of me.
  4. Corporate time of prayer- This could be beneficial by having small groups huddle together for a short time of prayer before a corporate prayer. Quick prayer requests can offer much insight into the lives and struggles/joys each is facing. In this way the older gave give counsel to the younger and the younger can give support to the older in this mutual exercise of praying and accountability.
  5. Create a family atmosphere– While this may seem evident, intentionality is the key. How do you create a family atmosphere? At my church, we have created family care groups in the choir. Each leader is responsible for caring for each group member. I have 6 care group leaders who have about 12 choir members in their groups. It’s kind of like a small group in a larger group. They are like a small family in the context of a larger family.I also value pairing younger and older folks together in leadership positions. For instance, in our orchestra we pair seasoned (usually older generations) with budding players for support, encouragement, and accountability. I always say to people, someone(s) invested in me and poured into me, treating me like family, and I became who I am because of their influence. In short, we do life together, each in mutual submission to one another.
  6. 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 ESV- For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
  7. It is important to take steps to foster interaction among the different generations in your choir. Too often we age segregate our groups ( think children’s choirs, youth choirs, etc.). These segregations are fine for musical purposes, but finding ways to bring these groups together in worship leadership is the key. Perhaps having joint musical selections for the groups to combine with for worship services or special events can bring interaction among the various ages in your music ministry. Perhaps have choir members “adopt” younger children in your children’s choir ministry so there is a familial feeling among the generations in your church.  The list goes on.

What else would you add? 

What is Modified Intergenerational Worship?

I believe there are leaders who truly desire to be intergenerational in their approach to worship but have multiple types of services in their church. These leaders sincerely believe their church fits the definition of intergenerational in every context, except the part where services should be mirrored in terms of content and style. These churches are not a “pure” form of intergenerational, but truly believe in the biblical concept that intergenerational behavior, interaction, and philosophy is important. These churches are what I refer to as modified intergenerational.

Some reasons why modified intergenerational churches are necessary:

  1. The church with space issues. Sometimes a second worship team is necessary because there are more people than seating.
  2. The church with aesthetic issues. Worship spaces that are very traditional make it difficult to achieve more diverse styles of worship. This may also include acoustic issues as well.
  3. The church with programming issues. I’ve found this particularly common in large churches with multiple Bible Study times, etc.

Here are the non-negotiables to being modified intergenerational:

  1. The leadership must always seek ways to integrate the generations in worship and in other ministries of the church. A regular opportunity for the church to worship together can be quite effective for integrating the generations.
  2. The decision to create (or maintain) different services cannot be based primarily on music preferences of those in charge. I think a better approach is to find what musical styles your particular congregation does well, and capitalize on them. Consider the talent pool of your church and start there. That doesn’t mean not to branch out and take a few risks, but don’t be something you’re not to try to reach certain people. Inauthentic and mediocre worship services do not attract anyone in the long-term.
  3. The decision to create (or maintain) cannot be based on a power struggle from staff and/or key leadership to “get what they want.”
  4. The decision to create (or maintain) cannot be based on what some “other church” is doing that seems to be growing. Every church context is different and what works for one doesn’t necessarily work for all.
  5. The leadership of the church doesn’t move service times with the specific purpose of trying to target families and then decide/assume that young families prefer a certain type of music. We’ve all read the research that says that services that start before 9:30 on a Sunday will be mostly older generations and not families. I’ve seen numerous churches that “assume” that young families are only interested in modern worship music so they may a flip-flop long standing traditional worship with a new contemporary service at 11 am. Guess what this does? If 11 am is still the highest visiting hour for new visitors, it almost assures that visitors to your church will be getting a skewed view of the whole church. Likewise, if it’s targeted for families, the Bible study hour for children may only be offered opposite this service, which makes it almost necessary for any family wanting to worship together to attend 11 regardless of what the family might desire to do. Moving what was traditionally the “church” hour for many Boomers and Builders to another time can be a slap in the face. It screams, we don’t care about you, we only care about the new people who might be here…or our young families…so because you are more mature in your faith, you need to take one for the team and submit your desires to the new believers. Okay, there is merit to this argument to a degree, but if every time you turn around your submitting and there is nothing on the other end, then we’re missing the part in Philippians 2 about being MUTUALLY submissive.
        *A better solution is to make sure that members and visitors alike aren’t hindered in service choice based on other (controllable) factors such as Bible Study/Sunday School choices. Other factors, such as time, location, and music will vary from congregation to congregation in the modified intergenerational church, but the emphasis is again ALWAYS on valuing ALL generations and making the best choices with what you have.

What would you add? Send me a message or respond and join in the conversation. I’d love to hear what other churches that are modified in their approach are doing to keep generational integration alive.

Bringing the Church Back Together-Part 3-Practical Application

In my last two blog posts (Bringing the Church Back Together- Part 2- First Steps and Bringing the Church Back Together- Part 1- Biblical Foundations) I discussed the biblical foundations of intergenerational worship and the importance of buy-in from the staff and the key leaders of your church. In this post I will speak specifically to the music/worship leader who will have to deal with the musical conundrum of bringing multiple music types together in a unified approach. It will be a challenge to some degree, but it can be done. I hope you’ll find these practical applications helpful. As always, I’m sure there are many more I could add to the list.

  1. Pray! Again, I cannot emphasize this enough. Music and style is often a passionate subject for many in the church. Often, it’s the non-musician who is the most hesitant to any change in the church. Be assured there will be push-back, but pray the the Holy Spirit would cause you to response in gentleness and love as you explain thoughtfully of the plan to integrate the services.
  2. Find a common “set-list.” Many churches with multiple services have at least some common tunes that are sung in each service. Begin by using these songs when the services come together whenever possible. Obviously there will be modifications to the instrumentation or “style” of the song depending on who is leading, but at least find some common ground.
  3. Aim to use players and singers from all teams together. This may be pretty difficult practically and relationally, but remind those how important each person is to the integration of the services. If you have redundancy on instruments, set up a schedule for all to play. If you’re going to integrate the choir into the new service (and if you have one, you should) they will need appropriate time to learn newer songs to help teach the congregation. If you used orchestra in one and only a praise band in another, you must find “charts” that allow all to play together. This process will stretch your players on both ends. Those used to “rocking it out” may feel stunted by the charts they now have to play. On the other hand, the less contemporary service might feel things are “louder” and too “rocky!” Be prepared to alter and make changes as you get started. Remember to keep your personal feelings in check. Listen carefully to the suggestions you hear. Some will be worth altering, while others will just be complaining. Be careful to make all feel valued and use grace as you respond to each comment.
  4. Introduce/Re-Introduce songs carefully and slowly. There are fantastic new songs and timeless hymns that probably have been ignored in the services when they were apart. Pick “new” songs to introduce that are lyrically sound, melodically and harmonically interesting, and memorable. When I’m confronted from time to time about new songs that “no one knows,” I simply say, “I understand we don’t know it well right now, but I believe this song is strong textually and will endure the test of time.” I’m careful to say this because I also know there will be something in just about EVERY service I plan that has something most people are familiar with. In short, FAMILIARITY is more important than labeling something traditional or contemporary. What people want, truly, is something familiar…find that common ground first and work from there.
  5. Remember your church is NOT like the one down the street. I cannot emphasize this enough. Do not try to emulate everything you see working for the church that you perceive to be “doing it right!” You must contextualize carefully. Know your church–be careful to study her history, the demographics, the musical worship expressions over time, and the talent level of the musicians. Also, know your community. Things work differently in a county seat town in rural GA than they do in the white collar suburbs of Metro Atlanta. Study your people. Push them out of their comfort zones when appropriate, but don’t completely eradicate Southern gospel from a church that’s had that embedded in their history for 100s of years just because you don’t like it. The church I am serving is vastly different from most of the churches in our area. We know who we are and what we do well and we capitalize on that. It’s create a niche for us that has allowed us to be who God has called us to be without trying to emulate other churches in our area—who, by the way, do the things they do VASTLY better than we ever could.
  6. Give up your personal agenda and work as a team. You are not the star of the show, worship leader…God is. He likes it all. He LOVES to hear his children worship in spirit and truth. He is not stylistically pulled one way or the other. He just wants authentic praise, offered with all the excellence we have to offer. That said, remember that part of being an intergenerational family means we ALL serve…not just the uber-talented. We are a team; we work together for the goal. This concept will be harder for some than others. You control freaks out there will struggle given up control to others, but it’s necessary. Remember the goal of being intergenerational is that we try to value all and give them a role of importance. This means being very intentional about including “budding” singers and players. It might cost you some in the “excellence” you may be striving for, but if we only use our A-list players and singers, we will lose on on developing new ones. Someone one invested in us when we weren’t so great—we must do the same. Basically, create a culture that aims to nurture rather than simply “perform.”