Using the Gradual Release Model to Develop Next Generation Leadership

One of the core values of any intergenerational church should be developing new leaders. While all generations are valued and important, perceived value must be shifted during the development of new talent and leadership. Often seasoned leadership must take a “back seat” to let emerging leaders develop the necessary skills and traits to be able to lead forward. However, each person (the “teacher” and the “student’) still have valuable roles, albeit at times different generations will be more visible than others.

Because we value all our generations in worship so much, we regularly schedule time for our children and youth to share their gifts and talents in worship leadership. It’s an intentional process. We don’t just teach them music performance, but also the importance of modeling worship behavior for congregational participation. For our students that show great musical potential and feel the call of God to vocational ministry, we work hard to invest in them specifically. We accomplish this by using the “Gradual Release Model,” developed by Pearson and Gallagher in 1983. This model (seen below) does exactly what the term suggests, it allows the “student” to assume responsibility as they get more opportunities to serve. Ultimately, it is our prayer is that the Lord will call some from our church to vocational music ministry and because they’ve been leading throughout their lives, they will already be equipped to lead elsewhere.

Obviously, the role of the “teacher” changes as the students are developed. This “passing the torch” approach is not without its difficulties. Obviously, the budding leadership still needs guidance along the way, especially if something the emerging leader does something that might be perceived as a mistake or cause embarrassment to themselves or others.

Here’s a practical example of how we are using the Gradual Release Model. One of my personal piano students has a desire to use her gifts further in accompanying for choirs and worship services. Currently, we’re using the model with her and using our Youth Choir to give her a safe place to test her wings. Our pianist for the Youth Choir is an excellent mentor herself. This fall, we had my student sit in on rehearsals and watch our pianist at work. During rehearsals they would discuss important things such as playing parts, anticipating director’s movements/gestures, playing techniques for a choir, etc. (Focused Instruction). By Christmas they had moved to Guided Instruction, both sitting at the bench, working together. They even played a four-hand accompaniment to one of our songs for Christmas. Since January, they’ve entered the Collaborative Learning phase. Our student has learned the parts and accompaniment to one of our songs and she is taking “lead” in the rehearsal on that tune. Our pianist is sitting with her and helping make sure she doesn’t miss anything and is successful, but it’s basically the student playing for me. By the end of the Spring, I hope that we’ve moved her more and more to her to the Independent playing phase where she becomes our pianist for the Youth Choir by this fall.

This process helps the student be successful, but also keeps the pianist and me on our toes as we strive to make clear what we need from our student. It’s a gratifying process, especially if the student is quite good and practices before rehearsals! The value we place on investing in next generations will be evident as we develop new leaders who will “carry the torch” after we are unable to.

Thoughts on 2017 Lifeway Research Study on Why Young Adults Drop Out of Church

Today my mother-in-law sent me an article about why 18-22 year olds drop out of church from Lifeway Research. She knows I enjoy reading about what other researchers have found related to church worship, discipleship, and the like. The article she sent me led me to find the actual report, which includes the methodology, data, and results. Here is a link to the report:

Lifeway Research Study 2017 on why Young Adults drop out of church.

As I read the data, I couldn’t help but notice a few things that really stood out to me. While there are many points of data worth discussing, especially related to the “life changes/situations,” I want to focus on just a few that really should cultivate further conversation related to church and pastor related issues.

  1. Relationship issues mar the dropouts. The top responses for many of the questions related to church/pastor related issues include “church members seemed judgmental or hypocritical,” or “I didn’t feel connected to anyone in my church or others weren’t welcoming and friendly.” I have no doubt this is an issue; I hear it all the time. One solution, although not the only one? Make intergenerational ministry your church’s priority. Create a family atmosphere and build relationships among the various generations in the church. Model mutual submission in all you do. If unity is the aim, and I believe it is, then the 18 year old going to college will feel LOST at college without the support of a church that values intergenerationality.
  2. Very few (13 percent) indicated that worship style is what kept them from coming. To me this just continues the point I’ve made for years—worship style is NOT the most important factor of growth/retention in a church. Worship style should be based on the church culture, actual culture/demographics of your area, and the resources and talents of all ages God has brought to you. Intergenerational worshiping churches will not look exactly the same and that’s GOOD. What will be the same? Use of various generations in worship leadership.
  3. Of those who stayed in church, among the top answers was “church activities were a big part of my life.” I agree that those youth who are connected to the church in other ways outside of worship and Bible study (i.e. serving) have a purpose/”skin in the game.” My personal experience is that all ages are more connected when they are pouring into the life of the church. We’re in this together—the church needs me to be there. I’ve found this especially easy to accomplish by involving as many in music ministry as I can. I’ve watched many, many students grow in their faith because they loved to play and/or sing and felt compelled to be here every Sunday. Yes, we are teaching “holy habits,” but we are also reinforcing the ideology of not simply being a consumer Christian, but part of the BODY of Christ. I think those students who leave for college who’ve been serving for years will be more likely to do so into young adulthood.

 

Involving Multiple Generations at Christmas Music Presentations

One of the easiest times of the year to bring multiple generations together in musical worship is Christmas. Most churches have special Christmas times of worship/presentations, no matter what style of music they use. Our event, Christmas at Ivy Creek, has been both multi and intergenerational for many years. Here are a few things we do to make sure our event reflects our intergenerational philosophy:

  1. We make sure there is a representation of all ages of our music groups in the presentation. By making “platform time” available to children, youth, adults, etc. you, as a leader, are demonstrating you value and appreciate all generations in this important event. We see involving all ages in our Christmas presentation an opportunity to invest in younger generations as they have the opportunity to lead in worship. We desire to raise up new worship leaders, orchestra members, and choir members that will lead the church in the coming years.
  2. Find literature/create or arrange literature that brings generations to the platform together for a song(s). We’ve enjoyed many years having children and/or youth sing with the adult choir on literature specifically written to feature multiple generations together.
  3. The process of rehearsals with multiple generations gives opportunities for various ages to build relationships. I make sure there are times of fellowship before and in between rehearsals and presentations for the purpose of relationship building.

 

We believe that creating an intergenerational worship event is a strong testimony of who we are to our community. Christmas at Ivy Creek is well attended for each of our three presentations. Many of those who come are not members of our church. While the message of salvation in Christ alone through faith alone is our aim, we also reflect to our community that families and people of all ages are valued here. Our visitors notice this and often we have the opportunity to explain our desire to reflect the entire body of Christ in our worship leadership.