What is “multi-generational worship,” you ask? Well, let’s start with some very basic definitions for the sake of this article:
The word “multi” is often used as a prefix and means many or much.
The word “generational” refers to the concept of a generation. A generation (especially in the Biblical sense) is basically the time that spans between parents and their offspring. In a more general sense, it means the grouping of those in your family or peer group who are roughly the same age as you are.
So, with that in mind, we can generally approach the phrase “multi-generational” to mean something ( a group, a focus, a ministry, etc.) that includes more than one age group.
Let’s also recognize at the start of this discussion that our modern church tends to approach ministry programs in a mostly uni-generational manner. That is, we segment our worship services into age appropriate groupings with each respective group receiving teaching, ministry, musical worship and such in a very compartmentalized environment.
I’m not here to debate whether that approach is right or wrong, but to just stir the pot and hopefully the discussion towards the importance of multi-generational environments.
Generation to Generation
In Deuteronomy 6, Scripture shows us that multi-generational “worship” is of utmost importance. Worship in this sense is related to the teaching and learning of God’s Word. I don’t want to limit our discussion to the modern usage of the word worship which is limited to musical worship. So throughout this article when I use the word worship, I will be referring to WORSHIP, not musical worship. Of course, musical worship can be a bullet point under the heading of worship.
Scripture tells us to pass on the Word of God, teaching the generations that come after us to place God’s Word at the center of our life. Deuteronomy 6 tells us to “worship” alongside other generations ALL THE TIME – while we’re out and about, while we’re at home, while we’re laying down to go to bed, and while we’re waking up to start the day. Basically, God is encouraging (commanding) us to “worship” Him at all times.
If this is the case, then we should also apply this to our worship elements in our church services. Why? Because it’s important to God. Here are some thoughts that we can apply to a multi-generational approach to worship (including musical worship):
Heaven is multi-generational
Not only is Heaven going to be filled with worshipers from every tribe and nation (Revelation 5), but it will also be filled with worshipers from EVERY generation! Imagine worshiping alongside your great-great-grandfather! Or that loved one who passed too soon. Or YOUR great-great-grandchildren. Worshipers from EVERY time and place will be there. So, as we pray as Jesus taught us, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven,” we can fight for our times of worship (whether at home or in a church gathering) to be multi-generational.
Multi-generational worship brings UNITY
One of the simplest ways that we can live the truth of Psalm 133:1 is to worship together, old and young. This verse says that it is wonderful when God’s children live together in unity. When we segment our environments by age and shuttle them off to be taught “age-appropriate” curriculum we probably do a lot of good for them individually. But what we also do is probably unintentionally teach younger generations that it is acceptable to worship in a segregated manner. We use terms like children’s church and “big church.” Not saying they’re wrong, but we definitely need to find something that ALSO reinforces UNITY.
People learn to LOVE and PREFER one another (it’s actually called deference)
One of the great benefits of worshiping together is that people are given a great opportunity to learn and grow in their preference of others. When people are taught and begin to understand that there is really no such thing as “adult worship” or “youth worship” they begin to see the different approaches as valid and beneficial to the Kingdom.
For example, when we teach our congregation that we are all unique and diverse and that there are so many valid approaches and styles of worship (including music), and that it’s ok to have preferences, we can experience some beautiful moments of unity. What happens is, people are OK with an approach that isn’t necessarily their cup of tea because they understand unity. Using musical worship as an example, it’s ok when the children sing a song at the top of their lungs because it’s fun and goofy. The adults join in because they PREFER unity and want the children of the family to learn and grow in their excitement to worship OUR God. And we also teach our children to join and sing when the grandparents bust out their favorite arrangement of Leaning On The Everlasting Arms. Deference. It’s God’s way.
Dr. David Manner sums it up nicely in this guest post:
Deference is the agreement that although we may not always love the music of our children and grandchildren…we love our children and grandchildren. Deference is the willingness to set aside our preferences for the good of those children and grandchildren. Multi-generational worship will occur when the only battle is over who can offer/give the most instead of who deserves/demands the most.
We Teach Our Children That FAMILY Matters
In this day and age of fractured families, it’s hard to teach our children that family matters. One of the best ways to exemplify that family matters is when we worship together. Don’t get me wrong, as an associate worship director on staff at a large church who oversees many different age-based worship venues, I totally understand the challenges of “bringing everyone together.” My suggestion is not to just throw everyone into the same room and let it rip.
Generally, I like the idea of special times, intentional times built around smaller gatherings (especially in homes) where families come together and eat and spend time in worship together. But there are times that we can even build into our church calendar where we bring every generation into the same room for worship. These are sweet and special times and should be treated with great care and intentionality.
Psalm 145 talks about older generations telling younger generations about the goodness of God. When we’re able to intentionally make this happen, we reinforce family. God loves family. Jesus was brought into the world into a family. The early Church was a BIG family. The Old Testament reiterates the importance of family through stories and genealogical listings. Whether we come from a healthy family or a dysfunctional family, whether our family is large or small, we ALL can come into the family of GOD! Worshiping together helps us see and experience what that family is supposed to be all about.
Again, I’m not saying that we should never utilize graded ministry or age-appropriate worship sets, but that we should be willing to incorporate gatherings, elements, services, etc. that allow us to worship in a multi-generational manner.
It Reinforces Discipleship
Whether it’s as simple as worshipping together with music or something more involved, multi-generational worship provides the opportunity for discipleship. Discipleship usually doesn’t happen in the context of peer-driven ministry.
We NEED older generations to share their life experiences, their faith-building stories, and their wisdom. We NEED younger people to inspire with their zeal and youthful energy. True discipleship happens in a LIFE oriented approach…not in a meeting or program oriented approach. Can we learn to approach worship as an everyday part of the journey? Are we willing to learn how to worship with our families (biological and extended) in a context outside of a church service? Are willing to grow in our desire to defer to one another?
Multi-generational worship isn’t an optional approach on a buffet of different program styles. It’s a Biblical mandate. God WANT us to worship with our parents and grandparents. He is exalted when we worship with our children and grandchildren.
What are some ways that you’ve experienced true multi-generational worship? Share in the comments!
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Russ Hutto is the Associate Director of Worship & Media at St. Simons Community Church, where he mentors, oversees and helps lead Family and Student worship environments. He is also the content curator and editor here at The Worship Community and at HighestPraise.com.