By Dr. Will Whittaker
Romans 12:5 (ESV) so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
Over the last several years, I’ve noticed a huge push in choral literature for churches with the specific purpose of using multiple generations in a specific song. Adult choirs, student choirs, and children’s choirs are often given parts of songs to sing alone and with each other. I applaud each and every of these composer/arrangers of these songs as a great resource for our churches to involve multiple generations together on the platform. In fact many of my colleagues will devote specific Sundays each year to what they call “Multigenerational Sundays.” These Sundays generally highlight various age groups in their church or music ministry as a way of reminding their congregation, “we value the different age groups in our church and we want to give you a visual reminder of generations in worship together.” Again, I applaud and celebrate each and every person, church, and colleague who does this on a regular basis, but even a church whose attempt to bring generations together only on these Sundays a few times a year may be missing the most critical part of having generations together–the continual, on-going, weekly, interrelatedness of multiple generations serving together in mutual activities.
Instead of simply bringing multiple generations together every so often, I believe a better, more long-lasting approach is an intergenerational approach. An intergenerational church aims for regular, sustained interaction among persons from all generations. Interaction is the key!
To parade multiple generations onto a platform to give the appearance of multiple generations in your church is fine, but what is paramount is that older generations invest at regular intervals in the lives of our next generations.
Likewise, our students desperately need the wisdom and care of the older generations.
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 at a minimum:
- Two or more adult generations should be present regularly in mutual activities (ministries).
- These activities should encompass a broad spectrum of experiences such as worship, fellowship, study, missions, outreach, etc.1
Please do not misunderstand me–I’m certainly a champion for any chance our children, students, and adult can share the platform to lead worship. However, these moments are just moments if multiple generations aren’t serving alongside each other on a continual basis. I liken the multigenerational approach to Thanksgiving gatherings with extended family…you know what I mean? These are family members that you know casually. You will see them once or twice a year. You catch up and share about how things are going; you are connected by blood, but not “family.” I feel this approach is a good starting place for connecting generations together, but not the ideal approach.
Conversely, I liken an intergenerational approach to your immediate family members. These types of homes may include three or more generations in some instances. But the family members you live with day in and day out have the most influence on you. As many irritating, frustrating, and hopefully beautiful moments you share with your immediate family, those same family members will teach you about things such as sharing space, respecting others opinions, and learning to love others. Families are by nature intergenerational. It is next to impossible to live life in a silo in a family. I suggest that our churches should MODEL our nuclear families. It’s the biblical model! As we live side by side, struggling to love each other more than ourselves, we have the opportunity to learn and grow with each other as we move on our journey of faith—each person in the family with strengths and weaknesses helping our mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters when they are weak—and they in turn reciprocate. We were made to live together, to be shaped by one another…not simply co-existing, but together—in the messy times and the beautiful. Leaning on each other as the intergenerational church.
1William T. Whittaker, “Exploring Characteristics of Choral Ministry Within Georgia Southern Baptist Churches Committed to Intergenerational Ministry.” (D.M.A. dissertation, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, 2015), 3-4.
This article first appeared at drwillwhittaker.org and was reposted here with permission.