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.

There is no “Generation Gap” in God’s Kingdom

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:5-6 (ESV)

Maybe you’ve noticed it as I have. Popular music really hasn’t changed much in the last forty to fifty years. Sure there are new fusions of multicultural influences, and techno influenced styles that have formed new sub-genres, but by in large, popular music is generally the same. Pop bands are often still dominated by a rhythm section with one or more singers. These male and female singers generally sing in about the same register (much too high for most males and often too low for females). We can expect simple harmonic structure and repetitive lyrics that provide a “hook” needed for mass audiences. Contemporary Christian music is no exception. Musically, there has been little change.

While many trained musicians often think this makes popular music (secular or otherwise) boring, I think it means that there is more common ground musically than there used to be among our living generations. For instance, when I was growing up, my Boomer parents loved music from the 50-60s-especially doo-wop. There were beginnings of rock in some of the music I heard, but there was a major shift during the formative years of the Boomer generation in popular music. As my parents aged, the popular music of their day shifted. Much of the music I (as a Buster/Generation Xer) listened to growing up is similar in many ways to what’s currently on the top 40 radio stations.

Why is this important? Well, I believe that the youngest living generations have more in common musically than our older generations. This realization can help bridge gaps in the church as well. This is good news as we move forward, especially since the quality of both text and music in contemporary worship music has risen exponentially in the last decade.

Even so, your church may be filled with people who do not listen to any form of popular music. In fact that are stuck musically in a decades-old musical style. They couldn’t care less that popular music hasn’t changed much. What they want from church is FAMILIARITY!

Familiarity is two fold:
First, familiarity means what you’d expect it to mean…it’s something you know. For instance, I had a long conversation with a gentlemen regarding this a few weeks ago. He wanted to know why we didn’t sing more old hymns. He’s argument was our people sing with more enthusiasm when we sing old gospel hymns. I simply said, “yes, that’s true, but that’s only because the songs are very familiar.” What I explained to him was while the energy is not AS high on newer tunes, I am careful to choose newer songs that I believe will LAST and will eventually become FAMILIAR parts of our hymnody.

Second, familiarity is a general feeling of “this sounds like something I’ve heard before.” This is what I’m referring to in regards to how music has stayed similar-ish over the last several decades in both popular secular and Contemporary Christian music. The mood, the affect, the instrumentation, the vocals all play into creating familiarity that are “familiar” to our youngest generations (remember this is now adults 50s and younger).

Capitalize on both types of familiarity to make inroads into closing that generation gap because all people are vital in the Kingdom of God. Living in harmony means being even more creative as a worship leader in how you create familiarity in a worship service with many varied backgrounds and experiences. A great way to bridge this gap (as an example) is to use a familiar song with instrumentation/popular musical “style”/ vocals that are more in line with what’s present in popular music. Updated “contemporary” hymns are often great ways to accomplish this, but there are others. What would you add?

Ways to Demonstrate Value to the Builder Generation

In my last post, Finding Value and Purpose for the “Builder” Generation in Your Music Ministry, I discussed the impact being in an intergenerational choir had on a choir member from the Builder generation. Because the post was getting a little long due to the narrative from the daughter of this choir member, I decided to wait to write about some practical ways leaders can demonstrate value to Builders in our choirs.  Here are a few ideas, although there are doubtless many more:

  1. Encourage them to be a part of the choir. While this may seem axiomatic, you’d be surprised how many Builders simply don’t feel wanted in the church choir. I’m not sure who has made them feel inferior, but several Builders I’ve been in contact with recount a similar story—they simply felt no longer valued. Just making them feel welcome, inviting them to participate, etc. will go a long way Builders (or any generation for that matter).
  2. Find a seat that allows them to sit if they need to. Many Builders have health issues that prevent them from standing for long periods of time. Make it easier for them to participate by allowing them to sit when they need to, providing a stool if needed, or anything to make them feel less “inferior” to other members. These members don’t want to feel awkward about needing physical concessions, so be sure to not draw attention to that need with the other choir members. Side note: these concessions don’t only apply to Builders, there are others who need help or assistance with physical limitations and you should aim to make it as easy for them as well. Getting in and out of the loft (if you have one) or risers may be challenge. Figure out a way to make it easier for those needing assistance. Perhaps have them come to the platform earlier than the rest.
  3. Sit Builders next to helpful choir members. I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating, where people sit in your choir is important. Yes vocal timbre and height are important, but strategically mixing generations may prove to be even more important. I almost never put Builders by other Builders. More often than not, I make sure there are helpful choir members on either side of our Builders for various reasons, which include things such as:
    *helping them find their place in the score- mobility and dexterity are certainly not what they used to be even if they’re good music readers.
    *Be their ears– hearing in a large choir may be problematic at that age; others can tell them what they missed.
    *Help them physically– getting up and down out of their seat, helping pick up dropped folders, etc.
    I depend on these helpful choir members more than they know. I want them to tell me when there are concerns with our older adults. Usually there are issues that I can resolve once I know.
  4. Consider the tessitura/range of the musical literature. Let’s be real; as we age, our voices just ain’t what they used to be! Most older adults have weakening of breath control, loss of range, and if not careful–that widening vibrato that can lead to a wobble. While the purpose of this post is not to diagnose and correct vocal faults, it is something that should be considered. An EASY way to make concessions for literature that has extreme ranges is to re-work/re-voice parts so those unable to sing the parts as written have alternatives. Be careful when mentioning the changes—don’t imply that only older adults have these issues with their range, just simply say, “these notes are alternatives for those uncomfortable with how high this part is.” This gives everyone who can’t an “out.” Do mention that all those who CAN should sing as written.
  5. Start a Senior Adult Choir. While this might seem counterintuitive to being intergenerational, I think that age-stratified groups are helpful as long as they exist in intergenerational ministry-settings. What better way to show value to your Builders than to give them a mission-minded, ministry group that allows them to have some ownership of their own in worship leadership. This group doesn’t have to be just your church members, it can be open to the community, which really create in-roads into being a light in your community. This group usually has more free time (when not headed to doctor’s appointments) so get them out and singing in the community- sharing the gospel and building the Kingdom.

Builders who can still WANT to be involved in the life and ministry of your church. Make it as easy as possible for them to participate…just as you would anyone else.