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? 

Let’s Just Call it What it is…

To divide congregations into groups, style groups, and preference groups is to be semi- or even pseudocorporate. The body of Christ is as chronologically and stylistically whole as it is spiritually whole Harold Best in Unceasing Worship (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003).

If music were to be eliminated from so called “traditional” or “contemporary” services, would there need to be different types of services? That’s right, very little. Let’s call it what it is—preference of music is the driving factor for having separate types of musical types at one church. And because music seems to be the driving factor in these decisions, worship becomes less about the preaching of the Word and the proclamation of the gospel and more about preferences of music, which are at best subjective. Hear me, I’m FOR all kinds of music…especially music that fits the cultural context of the church and demographic of your area. Be authentic, but be unified. It’ll take everyone being mutually submissive.

We’ve missed the point of, and driving force of worship, which is the centrality of the Word of God infused in every aspect of our corporate worship. Our churches should crave the spiritual food through the exposition of the Word week in and week out. I don’t want to hear platitudes on how to live my best life, I’d rather hear what the Word of God preached through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit has to say about how I need to be daily humbling myself, taking up my cross, and following Him by  loving my neighbor as myself.

Familiarity is the Key to Selecting Songs for Worship

About a year ago, I had a conversation with a church member who, among other things, wanted to know how and why I chose the songs for worship here at our church.  I asked more specific questions such as: what are some of your favorite songs for congregational singing and why? Do you like newer songs and if so, why? What I usually get in response may be boiled down to one word: FAMILIARITY! In the course of the conversation, I learned that this man wants to be able to participate, but doesn’t always know every song we sing. Isn’t this true of all of us? I don’t think people are necessarily opposed to learning new songs, but what they really crave are songs that are familiar. I think this word should guide the worship planner/leader in choices that are made when selecting songs for the intergenerational church. Here are a few points to consider regarding choices in worship planning for congregational song:

  1. Familiar songs may be new or old. Familiar songs do NOT necessarily mean time-tested hymns. Familiar songs are songs that are sung enough that most in your congregation knows them well enough to participate. Further, familiar songs for one congregation may not necessarily be familiar in another context. Some songs have special meaning to a congregation that might not be on the radar of another congregation. Songs used for special occasions or at special times in the life of the church can have powerful meaning not found in any other congregation. Just remember your context and be sure to include worship music that has special meaning to the congregation often.
  2. New songs should stand the test of time. There have been many new songs that I’ve taught our congregation over the course of many years as worship leader here at the church. In my conversation with the man who asked me about my choices for worship music, I explained that the newer songs chosen for worship here at the church have been very intentional and told him to stick around, he’d know it well enough in time.
    I try very hard to pick songs with memorable text, melodies, and harmonic interest. I told him while there are some very popular songs in our evangelical world, many of them will not become part of what I call “time-tested hymnody.” I always aim to use songs that I believe will be sung by our children and grandchildren for years to come. One more note about this: I try to stay current in what new worship music is out there. Most of the time I wait some time to see if a song is going to “fall off the radar.” By the time we sing the song, it’s usually something that will last.
  3. Familiarity may be taught.  When I introduce new songs, I try make sure we sing it often enough for it to catch on. Many others have offered wonderful ideas for introducing new songs. Have someone sing the song as a solo, have one of your choirs or praise teams sing the song, have the children sing it first, etc. Once the song has been heard, try to sing it with the congregation. The tune should be easy enough to catch on by the end of the song. Continue to use the song judiciously in worship so it becomes familiar enough. If your pastor does sermon-series, or if you have a revival or something where a new song can accentuate that series, try to introduce something then. I’ve found revivals are a wonderful time to introduce  new songs because if it’s used in all those services, the people will have many daily interactions with the songs. Some of our favorite songs here at Ivy Creek were “learned” during this intensive times of worship.
  4. Familiarity may be gauged by watching the congregation. Once of the things I do every week is look at our people as I’m leading. Are the people singing? While I expect time-tested hymnody to have greater participation, I’m watching to see what’s going on with different generations. Here’s what I’ve noticed:
  5. *Unless your people are die-hard listeners of Christian radio, they are not likely to know the newest songs. PERIOD. There is no age stratification here. This is why I’m not convinced that specific generations like specific types of music.
  6. *The songs in which more people participate are the ones that have been around longer. Okay, I get it; this is axiomatic, but I want to clarify. We sang “How Great is Our God” with the chorus of “How Great Thou Art” yesterday in worship. The former song is thirteen years old. I remember when I heard the song for the first time…I remembered thinking, “this one will be around for awhile.” As I watched, the majority of our people (young and old) sang along to both songs. We also sang an even newer song, “Lion and the Lamb” yesterday and I watched as not quite as many sang along. We’ve only sung this one for a few years, but it’s becoming more familiar.

POINT: BE CAREFUL TO “MARRY” VERY FAMILIAR SONGS WITH SONGS THAT ARE EMERGING IN FAMILIARITY! I recommend there be familiar song(s) to most people in your congregation every week. I hope no one in our congregation leaves without being about to participate if they wish to.

I don’t think worship leaders, especially in intergenerational contexts, should strive to arbitrarily insert some hymns and new worship songs into worship services and call it a day. While there is much to be considered in terms of the sermon, the theme (if you have one for the day), the key is to consider YOUR church context when selecting songs each week. Because there are SO many songs from which to choose for worship, be choosy worship leader! If you’re intergenerational in make-up as we are, stop trying to select songs based on your preconceived notions of what each generation prefers.