200227925-001 During Sunday’s worship the pastor called forward children who would be attending children’s camp the next week.  A 70-year-old man wearing coat and tie raised his hand as one of the volunteers who would be working at the camp.  Other adults were wearing wristbands with the names of one of these camp-bound children for whom they would pray in the week, including specific prayer for their coming to faith in Christ.  Corny? Small church stuff?  Not to me!  My grandson was one of those standing in that row attending camp this week.  I welcome the prayer support of the church.

In consulting with church leaders I often hear concern expressed rooted in generational issues.  Concern for reaching young people is a prevalent theme.  Popular remedies related to worship run the gamut from segregating worshipers according to age or music preference to tossing out the old music for all worshipers and replacing it with the latest.  In a previous post I began to address multi-generational, or intergenerational worship, and closed that post expressing my intention to further address the topic and also to post some resources and ideas for intergenerational worship.

First off, let me say that generational differences are real, and can hardly be ignored when planning worship.  Whether considering art forms or technological factors, there is a vast difference in those who grew up with only black & white television and those who have never known a world without computers or cellphones.  In the face of generational differences in present-day culture, churches tend to respond in one of three ways when it comes to planning congregational worship:

  1. Inherited tradition, in which the congregation seeks to conserve past practices, working to maintain inherited norms.
  2. Blended congregation, where a conscious effort is made to appeal to all generations represented in the congregation and community
  3. Generation-specific, where worship is designed to address the cultural characteristics and needs of a particular generation or age group.  Worshipers from other generations may either be simply discounted, or provided for through separation into their own age-specific alienated environment.

Each of these methods is inherent with inevitable tensions and conflicts.  Likewise there are strengths and weaknesses in each approach.  I am personally aware of churches who use each approach.  Rather than rehashing the pros and cons of each, in keeping with the point of this post I want to contend for the blending of multiple generations worshiping together in a purposefully intergenerational atmosphere, nurtured as such by church leaders and worship planners based upon biblical, theological, and historical values.  I am of the deep conviction that true relevance to any generation is rooted in the Gospel itself.

Biblical Values of Intergenerational Worship

The unity of the church – in John 17 Jesus prays that his disciples would be unified as one.  Generations worshiping together reflect a spirit of intentional unity.  The apostle Paul writes to the Ephesians of one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all in Ephesians 4.  Overcoming challenges of preferential differences and generational divides through purposeful bridging demonstrates a desire to be the answer to Jesus’ priestly prayer and to follow Paul’s instruction and admonition to make every effort to maintain unity.

The pattern of worship – worship throughout scripture included all ages (Exodus 12:26, 13:14, Deuteronomy 29:10-11, Joshua 8:35, 2 Chronicles 20:13, Nehemiah 8:3, Psalm 148:12-13)

A Covenant Community– God’s established relationship with His people includes the generations (Genesis 17:7)  Praising and teaching are passed from generation to generation throughout the Old Testament.  In the New Testament children not only are welcome, but display the very spirit of receptivity as example (Mark 10:13-16) At Pentecost Peter concludes his sermon making clear the inclusive nature of the Spirit (Acts 2:38-39).  God deals with people as family units (Acts 16:15,31-34 and 1 Cor 1:16).

Formation– worship forms us as disciples, aligning affection and attention in keeping with the Word of God, the prayers of His people, and the expressions of praise recognizing Who He is.  As children we are not born fully formed in faith and character.  Maturation occurs best in an intergenerational environment.  Moses addresses the need to recite to our children in Dueteronomy 6:6-9.  Likewise the psalms are replete with instructions like Psalm 78:1-8, where the passing on to children is heightened.  The spirit of relating among generations is seen in Paul’s instruction to Timothy in 1 Timothy 5:1-2, where he suggests how to treat older and younger men and women, as he refers also for Titus in Titus 2:1-15.  Historically weekly worship is at the core of forming our life in Christ.

Continuing Community– the church is promised continuation rooted in Christ.  The church is built on the rock and Christ will build it (Matt 16:18).  Matt 28:19 tells us to go in the authority of Jesus’ Name, and Acts 1:8 reminds us that He supplies the power for our mission.  Our mission is rooted in bringing together in a ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:16-21)

Worship that is genuinely intergenerational is best practiced in a setting where leaders are committed to create an ethos or culture of intergenerational relationships.  In those settings genuine caring across generational lines becomes the norm.  Each age group considers and expresses value of others intentionally.

Some Ideas for Intergenerational Worship Services and Aids to Encourage Intergenerational Thinking

Worship Services

  • Scripture Reading by representative ages – children, senior adults, adults
  • Juxtapose things that do not seem to readily go together: example, have an older singer sing Jesus Loves Me, or even a contemporary worship song.  Have a teen to sing a traditional hymn
  • Children’s lesson delivered by older adult
  • Stanza of song or hymn led by children
  • Intergenerational choir
  • Purposeful cross generational song learning/teaching with testimonials
  • Teen teaches youth song and testimony of use
  • Senior adult teaches hymn or gospel song and testimony of us
  • Prayers written and prayed by children
  • Prayers in worship prayed by senior adults
  • Testimony of Christian journey by senior believer
  • Responsive reading led by teenage student
  • Have a child compile a child’s prayer list – “as I grow, please pray for me to….”
  • Worship song led (each stanza) by persons of different ages
  • Sermon introduction offered by senior, child, or shared by different age groups
  • Interactive seasonal emphasis – example: children and senior citizens gift exchange at Christmas, walk-thru stations of the cross pairing guides representing generations
  • Worship music sampling of songs of generation – Sermon focusing on generation to generation unity

Aids to Encourage Intergenerational Thinking

  • Fellowship for the Ages – design a churchwide fellowship with games and activities that integrate age groups (mixer getting list of favorites from different age group representatives, demonstrations of “can do,” and “cannot do” from different generations, share samples of favorites lists)
  • Create photo journal of worship participants of different age groups (children, seniors, adults, teens) and publish them on website or include them on a bulletin board in a prominent hallway
  • Shoot a video of age groups talking about their affections for the church and show result in a service or as part of a church fellowship

Reading for further consideration

Howard Vanderwell, ed., The Church of All Ages: Generations Worshiping Together (The Alban Institute, 2008)

Holly Atterton Allen and Christine Lawton Ross, Intergenerational Christian Formation: Bringing the Whole Church Together in Ministry, Community, and Worship (InerVarsity Press, 2012)

Kara Powell and Chap Clark, Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Child (Zondervan, 2012)

Ross Parsley, Messy Church: A Multigenerational Mission for God’s Family (David C Cook 2013)

Explore posts in the same categories: Choir Ministry, Church Music, Congregational Singing, Leading Worship, Music Ministry, Singing Worship, Spiritual formation through singing, Worship Leaders, Worship Pastors, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts, Youth Worship

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