Is Multigenerational Worship Even Possible?



In an effort to appease multi-generations and minimize conflict, leaders either attempt to seek stylistic and musical common ground or they divide themselves along age and preference lines.  Except in rare instances, it appears from both efforts that the worshiping community suffers and all generations lose.  The impasse is a result of trying to accommodate the musical tastes of a congregation made up of both 20th and 21st century leaders, learners, and worshipers.

Gary Parrett and Steven Kang wrote, “Churches must realize that it takes the whole community of faith to raise the children of that community in the faith.  But, many American churches have moved with fierce determination to separate the generations from one another to provide more generation specific ministry.  Tragically, such an approach to ministry can easily have the effect of encouraging the segregated ‘generations’ to be unduly absorbed with their own needs and to have little concern for others.  This runs both ways – from older to younger and younger to older.  But it is the younger who suffer most in such an arrangement.  And it is the older who will have to give account for shirking their God-appointed duties toward the young.”[1]

Differences between 20th and 21st century worshipers:

  • 20th century worshipers are linear, written text, and physical; 21st century worshipers are multi-sensory, hypertext, and virtual.
  • 20th century worshipers are independent…independent is owned; 21st century worshipers are collaborative…collaborative is shared.
  • 20th century worshipers are stationary…for a lifetime; 21st century worshipers are mobile…for a season.
  • 20th century worshipers are deductive…deductive is top-down; 21st century worshipers are inductive…inductive is bottom-up.  Note:  The weakness of inductive is its limitations in building doctrine.  The weakness of deductive is its susceptibility to being infected with dogma.
  • 20th century worshipers are local; 21st century worshipers are global.
  • 20th century worship is routinized…it has worked for generations…why change? 21st century worship is creative…it has been around for generations…why not try something new?  Routinized is predictable; Creative is often unpredictable.

Obviously, the previous list is a generalization.  If however, even a few of the differences are evident in the cultures of our congregations how can we ever hope to find common ground?  The answer is…we probably can’t…at least not in those differences.

Multi-generational worship is only possible if our common ground is deference instead of preference.  Deference is a learned and practiced submission based on conviction…preference is based on feeling and tradition.  Deference encourages worshipers to respond in spite of the circumstances of the tradition and embedded theology that previously influenced their thinking and actions.  Deference offers a common ground that style and musical preferences never will.

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 and future 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.

[1] Parrett, Gary A. and S. Steve Kang, Teaching the Faith, Forming the Faithful: A Biblical Vision for Education in the Church (Downer’s Grove: Intervarsity, 2009), 152.


3 Responses to “Is Multigenerational Worship Even Possible?”

  • John Hollan Says:

    You may steal anything I have!

    I was just chatting with Derrick about your post. I’m going to copy parts of it into my own blog later this week as fodder for our congregation to ponder… In our conversation this morning Derrick was wondering if the list of contrasts between 20th & 21st century worshippers in your original post are observations based on a particular source or if they are observations you submit from various readings and study on your own. I completely agree with it, but have never seen such a concise comparison on the topic.

    I enjoyed meeting Bob on Sunday morning; it was great to have him here. We appreciate the work ALL OF YOU do in facilitating Kingdom work on behalf of KNCSB churches.

  • David Manner Says:


    Great comments…worth a lot more than two cents. I love your term inclusive worship…can I steal it. I think we often mail it in by offering what we have referred to as blended worship. It is too easy to select a couple of these and a couple of those and assume we are meeting the needs of our congregation. What you are doing with inclusive worship is much more difficult because you have to actually consider the individual needs of individual worshipers. But, how much more will they engage with worship that has included them, their needs, their hurts, their anger, their sin, their joy, etc.

    I also appreciate the last paragraph. It is easy for us to assume others need to defer when we are the ones getting to pick the songs. Does that mean I have to use some country songs?

    On a separate note…our exec. Bob Mills visited one of your services on Sunday. He commented to me that you do an outstanding job of leading worship. Blessings as you continue to make a difference in the KC area and beyond.

  • John Hollan Says:


    You continue to light my fire!

    I’ve long understood that it’s inherent in my personal calling to ministry that I plan and lead not just “blended” worship, but what I’ve come to call “inclusive” worship. It’s about so much more than merely an ecclectic musical style. As I define it, “inclusive worship” is intentionally diverse, so as to reflect the people in the pews… generationally, cuturally, socially, etc. As you stated in your original post, such a worship setting could serve simply to make everyone unhappy at some point in each service! (That’s one reason worship leaders must be CONFIDENT of the God’s leadership in where they serve. For example, there aren’t many churches that are ready for someone who leads in the way that I do!)

    I’m not saying my way is the only way to do it, nor am I implying that I think it’s the best way, but I AM confident that it’s the best way for God to use my gifts and talents and that it’s the best way to minister in the congregation where He has led me.

    A key is the part of the puzzle that most worship planners miss when trying to plan multi-generation (aka blended, inclusive) worship is without a doubt educating your people about DEFERENCE! Such teaching is not an event. It’s a process and it happens over time.

    I learned years ago that the best barometer of my effectiveness in educating congregants about worship is the spirit in which they engage in worship elements that don’t necessarily reflect their own personal preferences. When people ask me about our church’s conviction toward inclusive worship, I explain it this way:

    Look across the pews… You’ll see every hair color, clothing accessory and even Bible translation you could imagine. If the complexion of our congregation is so diverse, why shouldn’t our worship reflect that?
    In regards to using songs that don’t necessarily speak the “heart-language” of an individual worshipper, you will know that I’ve done my job well when someone moves from tolerating “that song” to embracing it based on its scriptural truth, its connection to the message/theme of worship for the day and its value to other worshippers in the room.

    On another note, I believe worship planners must also practice deference. If I’m not choosing worship songs outside of my own likes and dislikes, then I do a disservice to those in our congregation to whom such songs might minister or be a blessing.

    Just my two cents,

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