I believe the conditions are currently ripe for intergenerational worship (for high school age on up) to become, not only a salient feature, but also a driving force in today’s church. My optimism results from the common ground we all share in Christ as well as the openness I sense from the younger generation. I spend a great deal of time mentoring young leaders in their twenties and thirties. The majority of them are serious about following Christ. That’s why I’m very encouraged about the future of the church; I believe it’s in capable hands. There are five reasons why I believe conditions are favorable for the generations to come together in worship.
Reason #1: Busters and Millennials Are Open to Having Older People Around
The next generations value the company and wisdom of older people. They don’t want us older folks to run everything, but they don’t want us to leave. They want us around. They value our presence and wisdom. That’s a far cry from the attitude we Boomers used to have. When my generation was young, we didn’t trust anyone over thirty years old. That was our mantra. The generations after us, on the other hand, don’t trust anyone under thirty when seeking real life wisdom.
A few years ago, I taught a class at Wheaton College on spiritual formation for artists. Toward the end of each class, we broke into small groups and prayed for each other. Before the semester was out, every one of those students voiced the same prayer request for a mentor. I have since found this desire for an older confidant to be typical of young people these days. They value guidance and counsel from their elders.
Reason #2: Busters and Millennials Are Open to Old Ideas and Ancient Practices
The next generations appreciate the value of old writings and ancient rituals. They respect time-honored prayers, liturgies, and creeds. They’re much more open to using hymns than my generation was when we were their age. They don’t want a steady diet of old music, and they’ll perform hymns in a contemporary style. But they’re smart enough to realize that certain forms and practices have withstood the test of time because they are based on foundational Christian truths and are, therefore, relevant and substantive.
For fun, sometimes I’ll pull out a reading from The Book of Common Prayer on a retreat. Whenever I mention that a particular prayer is one that Christians have been praying for several hundred years, I notice all the young people in the room perk up. Most of them are hearing this prayer or liturgy for the first time; the words are completely new to them. Afterward, some even ask where they can find the prayer written by “that old dude,” as they say. Young people these days are fascinated by long-established spiritual writings and practices.
Reason #3: Busters and Millennials Are Open to a Wide Variety of Musical Styles
Today’s world offers a smorgasbord of choices, especially when it comes to music. As a result, Busters and Millennials freely embrace a wide variety of musical styles. They’re up on the latest indie hits, but they’re also surprisingly knowledgeable about classic rock and Motown. When my older son discovered the Beatles, they quickly became his favorite rock group. For the first time in his young life, his dad was cool because I owned several Beatles albums, the covers of which are now nicely framed and adorn the walls of my son’s apartment.
What makes intergenerational worship such an exciting possibility is that today’s “pop” music is not drastically different from yesterday’s. The gap between the music of my generation and that of our children and grandchildren is not nearly as wide as the gap between the music of my generation and that of our parents. The Builder generation loves Big Band Jazz, Broadway musicals, and old revival songs. That’s a far cry from the rock music that most Boomers, Busters, and Millennials have grown up with. Granted, when you break it down, “pop” music over the last fifty years has changed and evolved, but the prototypical band is still a rhythm section comprised of drums, bass, guitar, and some kind of keyboard. The snare drum still hits mostly on beats two and four. Male vocalists who are featured sing in their upper registers so as to cut through the electric guitars and keyboards. So three generations are still listening to basically the same genre of music.
In the church today, worship songs are cutting across generational lines like never before. For example, songs recorded by the likes of Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, Darlene Zschech, and Hillsong United are sung not only in church on Sunday, but also by the youth group and college age ministry. When it comes to musical style, the generations enjoy more common ground today than most people realize.
Reason #4: Busters and Millennials Value Authenticity
Authenticity is a high value for Busters and Millennials. They quickly sniff out anything that doesn’t look, sound, or feel authentic. This is why young adults are turned off by church services that come off as too staged or polished. It doesn’t feel “real” to them. As a young songwriter, I remember being told by my pastor never to write a worship song in a minor key. That would have been too much of a “downer.” Today’s young worship leaders wouldn’t think twice about singing a tune in a minor key or embracing songs of lament. Those are authentic responses to life’s adversities and, therefore, highly appropriate for worship.
A friend of mine has a twenty-five-year-old son who recently visited a liturgical church in town. My friend asked his son’s opinion of the worship service. The first thing the young man said was that the congregation didn’t sound like they really believed the Scriptures and creeds they recited. Notice that he wasn’t turned off by their traditional approach. He was turned off by their lack of authenticity.
Reason #5: Busters and Millennials Value Community
Busters and Millennials place a high value on community. Instead of a large mega-church, many are attracted to smaller, intimate congregations or even house churches. They don’t think of church as a building or a service; they think of it as the place where their friends are. They may not always choose a church based on the quality of the worship or teaching. Relationships are more important than programs. That’s why the twenty-somethings with whom I interact don’t want age-segregated services. They prefer instead a diverse mix of ages and ethnicities because that’s a more accurate picture of true community. After all, Psalm 90:1 says that the Lord has been “our dwelling place in all generations.”
(Excerpt from Worship on Earth as it is in Heaven: Exploring Worship as a Spiritual Discipline by Rory Noland).