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?

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.