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.

 

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).