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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Cracking the Multi-Generational Worship Nut

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?

staying current

If you lead a modern worship ministry, you are probably concerned about staying “up” on current musical and cultural trends.  Churches particularly focused on reaching people through modern culture have the unique challenge of keeping a finger on the pulse of society, and the worship pastor or creative arts pastor carries a large amount of that load.

Incidentally, if you are not concerned about being aware of pop culture and music, I would guess (I could be wrong, of course) that either you are at a church which does not engage culture or you have yet to realize the value of being relevant.  For more on the differences in how churches treat culture, read one of my more popular blogs, “two kinds of churches.”

Over the past 10 years working at both Browncroft Community Church and Lakeshore Community Church in Rochester I faced the challenge of somehow staying current while managing all of my tasks.  I do not have it figured out completely, but here are some things that have worked for me.

1.  If you haven’t already, clarify the top style(s) of music that fit your church.  For some churches this choice is easier than others.  The senior pastor, worship pastor, creative arts pastor, and elders, if necessary, must agree on where you are headed.  When I worked at Browncroft this choice was much harder because we had both classic and modern services, and both were in transition.  Isolating where we needed to focus musically was hard.  When I worked at Lakeshore, a seeker focused church that unashamedly said it was a rock ‘n’ roll church, we still had some clarifying work to do.  Here is a chart I used to help me.  You may want to create your own.  In the end having clarity will save you a lot of time.

Worship Genre Worksheet

2.  Visit the Billboard website.  Today, Sunday, when I am writing this blog, Kelly Clarkson’s tunes Stronger is at the top of the Hot 100.

3.  Cruise iTunes.

4.  Start a suggestions group made up of people from your target demographic.  At Lakeshore I needed to get in touch with where the teens and early twenties were at, so I created a private Facebook group where I could interact with them.  Then I asked them about their favorite albums and songs to get a start.  After that I would occasionally post a topic I was researching and see if they had a suggestion.  Usually they had very good ideas.  Two things are important with groups like this. 1) Make certain you choose the right people.  2) If they make a suggestion, do everything you can to use it.  Only say no if the idea is completely off base.  If you choose the right people, you will be able to have a high rate of success.  If you say no often, you will burn them out and they will pay no attention to you.

4.  Check out Relevant Magazine.  Relevant is very good at staying on top of what is happening musically and spiritually in the younger generations.  Here is a recent article on Cultural IQ.

5.  Watch new movies.  Lots of them. In a brainstorming meeting a year ago we were discussing the upcoming series on EGR’s, or “extra-grace-required people,” which is Lakeshore’s kind way of describing difficult people.  The first message was going to be a on people who are just mean, and I immediately thought of Despicable Me.  Lakeshore was nuts enough to begin the first service with the opening clip to this movie.  If you have seen the movie, you know that it is a spectacular and hilarious portrayal of someone thrilled with being mean.

6.  Pay attention to news topics.  ‘Nough said.

What do you do to stay on top of current musical and cultural trends?