The other day I was rereading an article written by Michael Hawn “Singing Across the Generations: is there Hope?”1 and I came across this statement on page 20, “congregations that are virtually all African American or Latino most often worship together as multigenerational families.” He goes on to say that Anglo-dominated, middle-class congregations from 200-400 in attendance were more likely to offer two or three different patterns of worship (based on musical style). According to Hawn, minority-dominant congregations tend to worship intergenerationally. Hawn does not aim to explain why this data exists, but focuses on strategies for how churches can find unity in their musical worship.
I’m curious as to why. Why are Anglo-dominated congregations more likely to have multiple types of styles of services? The argument that a new, improved, more energetic contemporary service in the name of attracting new or de-church people will bring young families in doesn’t seem to be the answer in the non Anglo-dominated church. Many of our minority-dominated churches are thriving The African American and Hispanic dominated congregations I’m familiar all over the with all over the world aren’t dying…in fact they are growing! I’ve been to several Latin American churches (all intergenerational) that are THRIVING and the gospel is proclaimed and received.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking, praying, strategizing about how to bring musical elements that transcend generations into our worship context. I’m very interested how minority-dominated congregations have managed to avoid the “worship wars” and what I can learn from them.
This post is not designed to find ways to bring multi-ethnic elements into a particular church content. Anyone with Google can find hundred of articles and books on the subject. However, to begin the conversation, I want to discuss some traits I’ve found in minority-dominated churches that might give a few clues as to why these types of churches have chosen to worship intergerationally. I have a few ideas I’d like to share–all anecdotal although observed many times. As always, there are doubtless others.
- Minority-dominated congregations are made of families that VALUE being together. Go to any Latin American country and you’ll see multiple generations living together. They value all; church is no different. Most non-Anglo cultures are ultra family-centric. The “it takes a village” mentality is evident. My observation is women in minority-dominate churches are taking care of many generations of children and raising in a “pack-mentality.” It’s not uncommon to find many Hispanic and African American grandmothers helping raise their own grandchildren.
- Minority-dominated congregations are not afraid of emotionally-driven, passionate times of worship. One of the reasons many Anglo-dominate churches have decided to add “contemporary” services alongside their “traditional” services has been that some feel that traditional worship is stuffy, uninspired, boring, and lacking passion. Those who find comfortable in the predictable liturgy of a traditional service find contemporary services irreverent. Minority-dominate churches just don’t have (my opinion) boring or dispassionate music. It’s always been passionate and will continue to be. Ergo, there is no need to separate services based on style.
- Minority-dominate churches cling to their ethnicity while embracing new. The musical worship in these churches is rooted in who they are historically. While they aren’t afraid to embrace new styles of music, they would never create a worship service that excluded one musical style over another. They know their culture and context.
- Participation comes from all generations in minority-dominate churches. Some of this is due to the size of the church. Many are small churches that need everyone to work together. However, my experience has been that even as these churches have gotten larger, (some of our largest churches in America are African- American and Asian dominated) they have not lost their intergenerational nature. All have a role in worship leadership.
- Choir participation in minority-dominate churches is still HIGH. I can’t think of an African-American dominate church today that doesn’t use a choir. This could be said for many other non-Anglo ethnic groups as well. While authors of the “National Congregations Study” (Chavez and Anderson 1998 and 2008) reported that choirs in all types of churches has decreased from 72.3% in 1998 to 58% in 2008, there is no evidence of decreased participation in minority-dominated congregations in this study. In fact not only does it remain common, it is intentionality intergenerational (not just choirs of members with with white hair)! These churches have figured out how important a choir can still be relevant. In fact many leaders of these churches depend on the energy that the choir brings to musical worship, an energy that cannot be replicated by any other means.
I’m positive I’ve only scratched the surface and there are always exceptions to these comments, but I can’t help but notice that it seems to me that only Anglo-dominated churches (and generally in America) think creating separate worship events which contains only one style of music and liturgy is ultimately healthy for the church. This can lead to generational separation, but more importantly, separate services also prevents the fusion of multi-ethnic musical variety. It is only through cooperation and inclusion of multiple styles that we may paint of picture of how heaven will truly be—all peoples worshiping together in many different ways, but worshiping…together.
1Liturgy, 24 (3), 2009: 19-28.
Tips for Adding Band and Orchestra Kids to the Worship Team
by Dr. Brian Reichenbach
Believe it or not, there are excellent ways to engage a variety of instruments in a contemporary style ensemble. But if you don’t have any experience with band or orchestra instruments, this can be be daunting, and making it accessible for young musicians can be even more challenging. What follows are some general guidelines and places to begin:
- Provide the right written tools. As I mentioned in the first post, we must be mindful of a young (or old) instrumentalist’s proficiency in reading written music or lead sheets. The most common challenge (and one that often stops band kids from even trying this) is transposition or clefs. For example, a clarinetist typically reads music transposed up a step and a violist typically reads alto clef. You may have to do a little bit of homework with the help of Google, a local music teacher, or music notation software.
- Ask them to do something within their ability. An acoustic wind or string instrument adds color unlike anything else in the typical worship band. For that reason, what they play does not need to be anything super technical. A simple lick adds a lot to the texture and prevents the student from becoming overwhelmed.
- Reimagine electric guitar, pads, or other lines. Oftentimes, these are simple and repetitive lines of music that can be easily played by a wind or string instrument. Also, a string instrument’s line on a recording might work for a different wind instrument. For example, a violin layer could work well on flute, or a cello pad could be covered by a good euphonium player.
- Find the jazz band kids. Once a jazz band student has learned the basics of improvisation with chord charts, a typical church leadsheet will be well within their ability.
- Don’t play all the time. My biggest pet peeve (and the reason string and wind instruments often sound bad when used in contemporary worship) is that they play too much. Use the colors of these instruments sparingly. Add the instruments just like any other layer and perhaps on only one or a few songs in a given Sunday morning. It’s okay if they don’t play a lot of notes. After all, it’s about serving the church not playing lot of notes, right?
- Add an instrumental verse. Many contemporary songs have very simple melodies. Be sure to select the key and range appropriately. And unless a student is accustomed to playing by ear, give them music written in their key to read at first.
A final word of caution: Avoid making much of the young people themselves in the worship service. Don’t stand up and say something like, “Aww, wasn’t that sweet?” Sure, before and after the service you can affirm their contribution to the worshipping community. But make it less about them and more about their giving of God’s gift back to Him and the congregation.
Involving more people and young people in whatever we are used to doing in our worship services can be hugely time consuming. But I believe it is worth it, not only for the students involved, but as a model for the entire congregation and an investment in the future of our churches.
Lest you think that only adults can invest in children and students– think again. One of the main areas where children and students seem to be more proficient is technology. While there are doubtless many more areas of life children and students are capable of helping adults, there is no greater gap than in technology. Even I, as a Gen Xer, remember what it was like not to have a computer in my home, let alone the internet in the palm of my hand at any given moment. There are times I rely on my own children to help me navigate certain aspects of technology unfamiliar to me…and that’s totally okay.
I constantly hear from older adults in my church that tell me that their grandchild has helped them set up their phone or computer. It got me to thinking: I wonder if there are others in our church that might need the help from someone younger and more technologically savvy. I bet there are. Regularly offer opportunities or time frames for adults in your church who need technological help to get the help they need. While many adults are frustrated with technology that doesn’t seem to make sense to them, many young people don’t remember a world without technology at their fingertips and can help easily. It’s interesting to watch young people work with older adults when they know more than they do. Many young people don’t understand an older adult’s frustration and need to be coached on how to be patient and thorough when working with older adults on training them how to use their technology. Most of the time the result is a very grateful older person who is thrilled to be able to use their phone or computer and a young person who feels validated from helping someone. It’s a win-win.
- Recruit willing technology helpers (can be all ages, so look for variety of ages).
- Decide what technology helps you might offer (help with phones or tablets or even computers. Could even be training to run audio, visuals, or lighting in your church.
- Publicize a time for technology training for older adults (or anyone who needs help).
- Prepare the trainers to ask specific questions not only about the problems they have with technology but other engagement questions to build relationships. For instance, where did you grow up? When did you come to faith? What is your favorite worship song? The list is endless…get creative.
- Make sure the trainers and trainees exchange contact information on a card that also includes at lease one prayer request for each person.
- Follow up
This is just one example of how young(er) people can serve older adults with some intentional steps to foster relationships between old and young in a very practical way. In fact I regularly depend on young people in my own church to train all ages with certain audio, visual, and lighting throughout our church campus. Young people want to serve; give them opportunities. The church of all ages seeks ways to promote ways that all people can serve each other through their own strengths.