Finding Value and Purpose for the “Builder” Generation in Your Music Ministry

Being an intergenerational music ministry means that we value and find places of services for ALL ages. While this sounds easy to write, it can more challenging than one might think. Folks from each generation are at different stages of life, which affect their ability to participate. The question that runs through my head for all on my team is: how can I make things easier for folks at different stages of life to participate and make a valuable contribution to the kingdom of God? This may mean helping the young mother who has to miss so much for her kids understand she is wanted and valued while she is away. This also means not making the older adult feel guilty because they have to miss so much for doctor’s appointments or illness. Someone once told me, people always make time for the things they love and are committed to. I’ve found making our people feel valued and appreciated means they’ll be here as OFTEN as humanly possible. We leaders must be open and embrace the strengths each generation brings to the table while learning to manage the weaknesses of each as well. For the next few posts, I want to highlight some perspectives from folks in our ministry from different generations.

In this post I want to share of the JOY it is to have music team members from the Builder Generation. Builders, as defined by Pete Menconi in The Intergenerational Church: Understanding Congregations from WWII to http://www.com, were born from 1925-1943. Our youngest Builders today are 75 years old. If what I found in Georgia is true, no more than about 10-15% of any music ministry is made of folks from this age group. Most have simply “retired” out of being in music ministry or, sadly, have been made to feel inferior and simply dropped out when they simply didn’t feel valued anymore. Issues folks from this generation face in music ministry include: sickness, loss of mobility (standing, balance, getting in and out of loft), breath support—vocal issues, etc. It’s our responsibility to help minimize and alleviate these issues as much as possible. Otherwise, they will simply drop out.

In our church we have several folks from the Builder Generation in our choir and orchestra. Today I want to share about one particular lady in our choir who God has used to encourage me countless times. It is a double blessing that she gets to sit next to her daughter in the choir…serving alongside. Here’s a bit of her story from her daughter’s perspective:

Mother grew up in a musical family so music is very much a part of her DNA.  As a child, she was attending “singing schools” led by her Dad.  He would lead and her mother would play the piano.  Part of the requirement of each singing school was that each participant got to lead the group as a music director.  Mother began doing that before she was a teenager. 

Music has been one of the dominant themes/patterns of her life.  She majored in music in college and has had piano students, vocal students through the years.  She has also served as pianist, organist and minister of music in many of the churches and military chapels.  Her love and passion for music makes her heart sing. Again, music is in her DNA and God has used that in her life.

She has and continues to dedicate herself to serving God.  As she is aging, there are many activities she can longer participate in and/or lead. The opportunity to sing in a choir again has allowed her to reconnect to her joy of music and her sense of value.  It is filling a void that existed since music is so much a part of her life.  Some comments she has made:

  • I am so thankful to be singing in a choir again.
  • I didn’t think I would ever get to do this again.
  • (to me) You don’t know how much this means to me that you make this possible.
  • I know all these songs! (She does know many due to her vast knowledge of music however not 100%!)
  • I prayed and prayed that God would allow me to sing in a choir again.
  • At least there still something I can do.
  • I bet I am the oldest one in the choir! (to which I have told her she is not!)

Will, I think I have shared with you that I was not sure how well she would do and if she could manage to keep up as she ages.  When she is in her seat with her folder, she is in her “sweet spot!”  Although she has difficultly following some of the scores (that’s where I come in as her guide!), she is spot on with diction and notes.  Her voice is not strong but it is on key. Being part of the choir reinforces her call to ministry and allows her to continue to serve God.  Not all choirs would welcome her (and others of her age) that you so willingly embrace. You find value where they are in their lives and in their musical experience. 

For me, it’s an honor to be a small part of how God is answering Mother’s prayers and seeing her engaged in what is so much a part of the very fabric of her life.  It has, for now, altered some of the ways I am able to engage and interact with others in the choir as I am her guide and support.  I am good with that.  I can only imagine there were many times when I was growing up that she was in the same place, sacrificing some of herself for me and my brothers for that moment in our times of growing up.  The fact that you embrace people where they are and find a way for them to fit is a leadership characteristic I value and appreciate about you.  It’s one of the many characteristics that sets you apart from your peers. 

I wept as I read this.

I have to tell you, not a week goes by that my Builder generation member doesn’t grab me lovingly by the arm and thanks me for letting her sing in the choir. She keeps me in check, friends. She reminds me we’re in this together till the end; we are spurring one another on, submitting our own needs to those who need it most for the sake of the gospel and the kingdom of God.

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).

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.