Re-Post: Cracking the Multi-Generational Worship Nut

Throughout the month of April I am taking a break from writing in order to focus on other things.  As a result I am re-posting some of my most popular articles.

Recently I enjoyed listening to a Worship Team Training podcast dealing with the issue of multi-generational worship, and it got me thinking about my own experiences in dealing with multi-generational worship.

Multi-generational usually means multi-stylistic, because every generation has “their” music.  More is at stake here than music, but we will keep to music for now.

Every church has to decide how they are going to approach this issue.

Here are a few approaches to multi-generational worship:

One service, many styles

Some churches call this style of worship blended.  Add two parts rock, 1 part hymns, and 3 parts country, mix with ice and good old Gospel, and purée.  What comes out is blended, but not much of anything else.  Bland comes to mind.  Spiritually this can look a lot like unity=uniformity.

Other churches go for a more eclectic style of worship, attempting to mix authentic styles side by side in the same service.  At a previous church we once performed Bach and U2 in the same service.  Challenging, but rewarding.  Unity does not equal uniformity in this model.

Still other churches have a radio station style of worship: one style one Sunday and another the next.

Many services, many styles

Many churches choose to have preferential worship: multiple services catering to individual styles.  Modern and Classic; Contemporary and Traditional; Contemporary, Rock and Traditional; many mixtures exist, each attempting to accurately match the primary preferences of the congregation.

The message is the same, but the packaging is different.  More media for the Contemporary worshippers, less media and more liturgy for Traditional worshippers, and so forth.

One service, one style

These churches are usually laser focused on a mission to reach a particular demographic.  They choose to limit their offerings with the goal of providing better quality and connection with less on their plate.  Names like seeker and missional get thrown around here.

One style for adults, one style for youth

Any of the above churches can choose to have simultaneous separate youth services, lessening the pressure to have widely varying styles in the main worship services.

Some churches have separate youth services just so that they can address the same topics in a more youth-friendly way.

What’s right for us?

How can you know which to choose?  Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Who is attending your church?  Always begin with who you have.  If regular attendees are not engaged, guests will not be drawn in.  Find out what kinds of music your core people like and use that music.
  2. Who are you trying to reach?  If you are primarily a church for senior citizens, don’t play David Crowder Band.  Pull out the organ.
  3. What can your church do?  If your musicians consist of a rock vocalist, an accordion player, and a tuba player, you might want to avoid playing Bach.  Just a suggestion.  Work with what you have and be realistic.
  4. What do you, the leader, like?  Do not lead music you cannot authentically own.  This is not to say you should never learn music outside your comfort zone.  You must always be willing to grow and try new things.  You must, however, be honest about your tastes and views.  If you think a piece of music has really bad lyrics and you cannot sing it with a straight face, admit it and make a change.  If the pastor consistently wants you to do music that makes you grimace, either you two need to have a heart to heart or you need to go.

Funny story.

Choir members at a previous church will remember the Easter I decided to end the service with the Hallelujah Chorus, but precede it with a ripping Brooklyn Tabernacle tune.

I have done a number of successful classical + other style pairings, but this one was ill fated.  The Brooklyn Tab tune was a fast paced, big band Gospel number with screaming high trumpet parts and a full jazz horn and rhythm section.  It was hot.

The Hallelujah Chorus was not.

I should have known.  When I did the two songs back to back in rehearsal I started involuntarily laughing to myself, and when I led it on Easter Sunday several weeks later I cringed each service when I made the transition.

Picture it: loud, raucous, upbeat praise song slams to a halt with a big hit, and then . . .  Ba-dum-bum ba-da-dum . . . In comes the polite, Baroque-styled strings announcing with starched collar, “Hallelujah . .”

You won’t always get it right, but don’t avoid the issue.  Make a choice about how you are going to deal with the multi-generational issue and see how it goes.  You can always change it.

How do you deal with multi-generational worship in your church?

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