What does it mean to be Intergenerational?

Over the past several years, you’ve probably heard a lot of conversation about generations. We hear about Millennials, Boomers, and Xers and how different each group not only views the world, but how conflict arises when these generations try to co-exist. Unfortunately, general literature on generations is not abundant; most of what exists deals with how leaders in the workplace and the church can improve relationships among the generations. Within the context of the church, a few authors have begun writing on how not only can the church leader may understand the different generations in the church, but how specific ministries may be more intentional at intermingling the generations. One such area is the area of corporate worship. I believe of all the experiences within the local church setting, the Sunday worship service has the greatest potential to bring generations together.  Why? The answer is easy, because generations are already coming to worship together…well, at least the adult generations (but that’s another story). Often, our Bible study is age-segmented, our age-related affinity groups are too, but worship has great potential to involved multiple generations. I not only believe this, I’ve witnessed it and I celebrate it every week. In fact my job is to ensure that multiple generations are involved in our worship experiences each week.

Before I say much more, I want to clarify two terms that I believe get tossed around synonymously, but are actually different in some ways. You will hear me use the term intergenerational differently than the term multi-generational because I believe intergenerational is a step beyond being a multi-generational congregation. Multi-generational (multi-gen) simply means what is says: multiple generations are present in your church/worship service etc. However, it does not imply that they are interfacing in any way. You must be multi-generational to be intergenerational, but you can be multi-generational without being intergenerational.

The term intergenerational differs from that of multi-generational in that while a church might have multiple generations present in worship services, the generations may never interact with those from other generations.

I would agree that most churches, to some extent or another, are multi-generational. Some might even celebrate the fact that there is much generational diversity present. However, in what ways will these generations have the opportunity to interact in mutual activities with those from other generations?

Intergenerational churches (ministries) should meet the following criteria:

  1. Two or more adult generations should be present regularly in mutual activities (ministries).
  2. These activities should encompass a broad spectrum of experiences such as worship, fellowship, study, missions, outreach, etc.

As I mentioned earlier, what’s the first activity/experience at church where multiple generations can be engaged in mutual activities that comes to your mind?  That’s right, corporate worship. This makes the worship service a perfect way to study intergenerational practice as a microcosm of the whole church.

Because of the purpose of this blog, I will only focus on the area of worship and what I’ve found through anecdotal and original research, what it means to have an intergenerational worship service. In this blog post, I will not go into specific ways of how to achieve a more intentionally intergenerational worship service, but define and describe them generally. More will be unpacked later.

If you are reading this blog, I hope you are either interested in knowing more about intergenerational worship or completely convinced of it. I am convinced of the biblical and historical precedents of intergenerational ministry/worship. Look at scripture (Deut. 6:6-7, Psalm 145:5, Isa. 51:7-8; Matt. 19:13-15, Matt. 18:1-6, Acts 16:15 and 16:33, Acts 21:5-6; 1 Tim. 5:4; Titus 2:3-5) to name a few passages that speak of its importance.

From my reading, research, and study on the subject, I devised a list of “must haves” when it came to being considered not only an intergenerational church, but having intergenerational worship services. I consider these churches to be a “pure” form of intergenerational. I will discuss in a later post how churches can be intergenerational in their worship approach, but because of other extraneous factors, cannot be a purely intergenerational church (i.e. the large church with multiple service because of space). Hint: It’s an overall ministry approach rather than separating service specifically because of musical style or to appease one generation or another.

Purely intergenerational churches with intergenerational worship (like mine) must meet the following criteria:

   1. Must have multiple adult generations represented. Really, three is the minimum. It’s easy to meet this criterion if you have Boomers, Xers and even older Millennials.

   2. These multiple generations must be engaged in mutual activities. Once you get them together e.g. in worship, it’s actually EASY to do this. If they’re singing, studying the Word, participating in the Lord’s Supper together, then they are engaged in mutual activities. A step further (and this will be unpacked in great detail later) is make sure multiple generations are serving on your worship teams (music—especially the choir and orchestra/AV/ushers).

3. All generations in the service must be valued and understood to be equally important. This one can be tricky because it might be harder to know if everyone feels valued or important. However, as a leader you MUST be continually listening to all generations as they share their thoughts and figure out ways to value each generation. This goes beyond just listening to your choir/music team and orchestra/band members. Listen to the congregation. Make sure they feel valued and understood (listen)!

When I did my research on choirs in intergenerational churches, the leaders I interviewed shared what they did to ensure those from various generations felt valued and important. Here are the top four answers (1 being the most frequently offered):

4. Soloists and Praise Team members are intentionally selected from                       various generations. I cannot stress the importance of this as an easy tool to incorporate multiple generations in worship leadership. If your congregation has multiple generations, then the “face” of the music ministry should mirror them as well.

3. Encouragement from the leader (verbal and written). The people with whom you serve and those you serve need to know that you appreciate them—all of them!

 2. Treat all the same. Don’t show favoritism based on age. This can be harder than it sounds. The young, attractive singer is easy to use, but is it the “best” choice for the context you’re in. Conversely, don’t try to “appease” older members to the degree that the younger generations feel that their own “voice” is not heard.

    1. Use of varied literature. Easier to write and less easy to implement in some cases. While it makes sense that different generations will have certain song choices that speak to them, it shouldn’t be the main influence on your literature choices (more later on this!). In a nutshell, base your song choices on clarity of text and always, always figure out what is the “voice of your congregation.” There are songs that every congregation is drawn to…find them and use them along with excellent new things.


4. If multiple weekend services are offered, not counting separate services such as a Sunday night service, they must be mirrored in terms of content and musical style, rather than offering separate services based on style. 

This is where the conversation will expand in later posts. Services split for musical style are not a healthy option for a church. It can (and I’ve seen countless times) create divisiveness.

For now, I want to briefly discuss about how this plays out for my church. We have two identical services, choir and orchestra sing/play for both. We’ve figured out how to make it work. We have youth through octogenarians in our choir and orchestra for all services. They are engaged in mutual activities. My youth-aged sons sit next to guys that could be their grandfathers in our orchestra and it THRILLS me to watch those guys pour into my boys. In our choir and orchestra, we have an older gentlemen, his daughter and husband are also in our choir, as well as their three sons (and two of their wives). These are just two of the many examples.

We play and sing a WIDE variety of music, some hymns (a bank of about 25 timeless hymns) and much newer stuff too. I watch every week to see what our people are responding to. What do they seem to like? What falls flat? I try to evaluate each thing to figure out what works well for our church, in our context, for this season.  The point is, things are changing and evolving all the time. Music will change and evolve, but the philosophy of listening to all generations, valuing them, loving them and their families, will create a more authentic conversation of how we may co-exist.


Next up! So I’m not purely intergenerational by your definition. How would you define the other churches who have an intergenerational philosophy, but separate types of worship. AND, what can our leadership do to be more intentional?

Also, what’s the difference between churches that are intergenerational because “that’s the way they’ve always been” either because of size or location, and those churches that are intentionally intergenerational? What’s the difference and why does it matter?


4 thoughts on “What does it mean to be Intergenerational?

  1. Love the concept of intergenerational worship! Do you ever have teenagers on your Praise Team? What are your criteria for Praise Team involvement?

    1. Yes. We would use teens, except all our kids that sing also play in our orchestra. We use youth for VBS praise teams, however. Plus, many of singing youth sing solos in worship as well.

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