Creating intergenerational church services

Church serviceI’ve heard this comment several times from students: “Church just isn’t for me.” In my mind, my immediate response is, “You’re right! It’s not for you.” Church worship services are generally focused on the working middle-class adults, not students or children.

I’d really like to address this issue with my church’s leadership and I know they’ll be open to it, but their first question will be, “What do we need to do? Where do we start?” and I don’t really have an answer for that yet. It’s definitely has to be more than just inviting students to help lead worship or take the offering — it has to be a total reset of the whole approach and mentality of church. The mentality needs to be all-inclusive. The problem with that, though, is that the “target” becomes a wide range of people and instead of intentionally hitting the bull’s eye for one age group, now it’s a more buck-shot approach. We hit everyone a little, but no one enough to make an impact. However, if we’re really honest, we could probably stand to evaluate even our adult-oriented church services and ask, “Is this really making a spiritual impact on those who attend?” If the answer is anywhere between “no” and “kinda,” then the service needs to be overhauled anyway.

Is it even possible to create church services that are intergenerational and effective for every age group represented? I’m kinda thinking it’s not, at least not with our current approach to church.

Posted on June 3, 2007

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  • Well, this does not help you a whole lot, but I have been thinking lately that maybe the whole church should be focused on the raising of our children. Well, maybe not 100%, but quite a bit. Adults can have small groups and fellowship gatherings, but our energies should be directed towards our children (which includes teens). I mean, you would think adults might see the value in investing in the lives of young people and would be able to set their selfish desires aside. It’s a “little pie in the sky”, but would would youth and children’s ministries look like if instead of a 1:5 adult to student ratio there was a 5:1 ratio?

  • Now, more on topic, growing up, my pastor always tried to have some specific point for teens in almost every sermon. And he would look right at us (because we all sat together), and even walk over in front of us (we sat on the first few rows) during the points that were specifically towards us. Not only does this edify teens, it gives parents some helpful ideas for parenting and might help the rest of the congregation understand the enigmatic teenagers of today.

  • Tim

    Yeah, I think developing sermons that intentionally address multiple age groups is a good place to start, but what about the music, tithing, testimonies, communion, and everything else? There’s so many age groups to consider: children, jr. high, sr. high, college, young professionals, single moms/dads, newly married, married without children, married with children, divorced, empty nesters, retired, senior citizens and a bunch of others that fit inbetween.

    Maybe the approach is all wrong. Maybe instead of it being about the people who attend it should be all about worshiping the Lord?

  • i agree that the service should be about worshiping the LORD instead of about us and our tastes. I feel that there should be an equal distribution of “work” and that there should be equal attention paid to individual worship styles. Sing old hymns. Use new songs. Invite teens to participate in every facet of the service. Let the gathering reflect the talents and gifts of the body. Don’t try to put it into a box…

    Intergenerational ministry integration was one reason I was hired into my current position. My biggest battle has been congregants who do not want to get outside of their comfort zone and incorporate other ideas/styles/thoughts into how they worship…

  • additionally, our pastor made a great point in his sermon this morning. Is the church here (on sunday mornings) for those who already know Christ? or is it here for those who are searching?

  • I believe when you have a church who is committed to serving God and having Community with each other, the style, format, and any systematic approach to flow matter very little. The church in Acts grew in number daily not based on their video lead-ins or number of Hillsong United covers, they grew because each cared for the other: Old for young, young for old, sick for healthy, well-off for poor, etc.

    With that said, anyone know where that church is?

    • Meredith

      Robert I completely agree with your take on what an 'intergenerational church' should look like. I also believe that if our focus is placed on the children and youth in our midst than our services would look drastically different. In fact i think they would look a lot more like the church in Acts as you have described.
      Adults have become selfish in their way of worship and believe that they don't get as much out of it when 'kids' are around. They are also taking up precious chair space! We are pandering to consumerism and the worlds ways – it's the old divide and conquer attitude. The way we are going the church will be conquered before too long.

  • Tim

    @ Robert: So then the question becomes how can we love and care for every age group as much as possible? In my question, though, I’m taking specifically about the church service event, not the church as a whole.

    I partially agree with your comment about Acts. Loving and caring for each other was definitely a part of their growth, but I think a bigger part was the working of the Holy Spirit through everyone involved.

    With that said, anyone know where that church is?

  • @ Robert….we as Americans always say how we want our church to be like the new testament church but why? the truth is we don’t have what it take…or better yet we aren’t willing to do what it takes to become that type of church. and should we? was the “new testament” church flawed likes ours or was it the perfect model? i think the sad truth is we are always looking for the “next big thing” in church and we aren’t really chasing after authentic life change from Christ.

  • also the church is there to build up and edify the body…training them to go and do evangelism to reach the lost. the church’s focus should be building and training of believers. does that mean we don’t do things to reach the lost…not at all. as american’s we have this “come and see approach to evangelism. why? if you think about it most of the time we witness our friends right up to the point where they could make a decision for Christ and then we say, “come to church with me this weekend. You will love it!” The sad truth is most of us can’t “close the sale” if you will when it comes to evangelism so we have made the church a place for non-believers becuase we can’t do our personal job effectively. we believe in “come and see” evangelism not biblical evangelism.

    personal job description for every believer = matthew 28-19-20

    these are just some thoughts.

  • jon

    Hello. Good points, Robert. Chris – isn’t the church supposed to be a place for non-believers??! In my opinion, one of the problems with church today is that it is so internally focused upon itself. I agree – equipping is key, as you have mentioned training, ect., but sadly many Christians are just attending church and not doing anything with their giftings and callings.

    In regards to this topic, I think we sometimes spend a little too much time scrutinizing “the meeting”. WE ARE THE CHURCH!!

  • @ jon — I agree that we should obviously welcome non-believers into our services. Believe me I am PRO-outreach. Our Wednesday night programming for students is 80% outreach driven. Our student ministry currently ministers to over 200 students. I love outreach and everything about it. It’s our “job” as belivers and something WE should be passionate about.

    I think you missed what I was saying. I think that in our present day we spend too much time making the church become as seeker friendly as possible and we don’t put on emphasis on PERSONAL evangelism. instead we have this “come and see” mentality that’s not Biblical. Our congregations can’t “close the deal” so they resort to this come and see approach.

    I’m not downplaying outreach and evangelism and I’m not saying the church shouldn’t be doing it. Ephesians 5 though makes the argument that the purpose of the church is the edifying and building up of the Saints. There needs to be a balance and unfortunately many times we error on one side or the other.

  • jon

    Hey it’s all good, Chris. I agree there are a lot of seeker sensitive churches. I’m just saying that if the Christians that are being edified and built up would do their part as the “church” we would be so much more effective.

    Jesus makes reference to the church being the body of Christ – which is us as individuals. We are to be edified and built up in order to be effective in taking the gospel to all nations and all peoples. So in that case, the purpose of the church in my opinion is much more than just an emphesis on personal edification. It’s no good if we’re edified and built up …. and do nothing with it outside of ourselves. Purpose.

    Now as far as meetings go and more relative to the original subject, I believe we all have a part to play in an actual church “meeting”. Whether that be young or old or inbetween. It is challenging to engage all age levels with different preaching and worship styles. But the bottom line is we are there to worship the Lord and learn so that we may be encouraged and so that we may be more active in extending the Kingdom of God.

  • jon,

    i thought we agreed but i thought i should spell out what i meant a little bit more. i agree if we were doing our part as Christians think this would take care of itself.

  • Back to the original question, we have succeeded at making our services intergenerational. Not every single Sunday but more often than not. What we have found is the main thing that needs to change is “speaching.” If the pastor preaching is somehow intentional to use another means of communication in the message (video, skit, questions, quiz, object lesson), younger ages are able to engage more AND the “target adults” also engage because it causes you to do more than sit on your butt and take in. The services that have not accomplished this is when the pastor preaching falls back onto controlling habits of speaching. It truly is a comfort thing. To do other means of communication is taking the control of the actual message away from the one who is giving it. If you ask a question, who knows what may be brought up. That is frightful sometimes so it is easier to fall into the speaching habit.

  • Tim

    @ Brenda: Adding some “attention grabbing” elements to the church service is fine, but I’m not sure that makes it intergenerational. That just makes it easier to pay attention and heightens the performance aspect. When I think of an intergenerational service, I think of a service where every age group feels like they have ownership and every age group thinks, “I’m a valuable part of this service and I connect with everyone else around me as I worship the Lord.”

  • jon

    So what are you saying does make it “intergenerational” then? What is the practicality then of “every age group feeling like they have ownership and every age group thinking …”

  • Tim

    @ Jon: I don’t know, that’s the thing. If I knew what it was supposed to look like then I’d start to figure out ways to get there. It’s something that would change people’s opinion from, “Church just isn’t for me” to, “I am valued here and I connect with other age groups as I worship.” When I think about adding elements to the service to make it more appealing, it just seems to be a superficial change in yielding to the consumerism pressure. I think our approach to church needs to change on a much deeper level — I just don’t know what that is yet.

    I could be that my entire premise is flawed. Maybe there are too many “I” and “me” words in my statements. Maybe it should be more “God” and “worship” words… I dunno.

  • jon

    You know, Tim, your heart is right. You may be looking at this too closely, though. I don’t know that you will ever have a church meeting that is all inclusive to all groups of people and all services … truly that is only possible with the Holy Spirit. Like how the spirit was poured out in Acts.

    I don’t know that there is a way that you can practically set up a meeting to meet everyone – nor do I feel you should be worried about it. That’s why relationship is so important. If people feel connected to Jesus and to the body of believers on a personal level, it shouldn’t be that difficult for them to enter into any style or type of meeting.

  • Tim

    @ Jon: Yeah, I agree. That’s what I meant when I said this in the original post:

    Is it even possible to create church services that are intergenerational and effective for every age group represented? I’m kinda thinking it’s not, at least not with our current approach to church.

    I think every age group should at least feel included somehow, but beyond that I’m kinda lost. Just something to think about.

    P.S. I’ve been listening to’s podcasts lately and I noticed that Craig does a great job of including many age groups in his sermons, not just in his illustrations, but in his overall delivery. Almost anyone can identify with what he says no matter where they are in life.

  • Considering that the church service is mostly about coming, sitting, worshiping (often with ourselves in mind) and listening, I think your preconceived idea is a near impossibility unless people come to church expecting to give of themselves. Even moldable teens don’t naturally do this. The attitude of “church just isn’t for me” is saying this.

    So what you’ve got left are the parts of the service and to change them up so they involve something for all age groups. When my niece was 4 and I was babysitting, she wanted to play “church” with me. I was flattered because I thought she had an understanding of what I do for a living. But for her playing church was passing the offering plate back and forth. This is not because church is all about the money but because she knew church was good but this is all she was able to do during the service.

    As you’ve noticed from, this can be done with “attention grabbing” elements. Another thing I’ve done is placed a question in the bulletin asking the adults to ask the youth something specific. It may have to do with exams or the start of the school year or something like that. It is a question that the youth can’t answer with one word or roll their eyes at. It gives the adults a safe launching point to talk to a teen–who can be scary no matter how cute teens are.

    These are intentional acts with mystery outcomes. Two reasons why they are hard to implement.


  • Tim

    @ Brenda!: What you mentioned in your first paragraph is the approach to church that I think needs to change. You’re right, intergenerational church services as I dream can’t happen with that kind of approach. I mean, c’mon, can we really be truly worshiping if we check our watch every 10 minutes to see if it’ll end on time? What happened to the whole “worship” part of church? I’ve blogged a rant about this before. Either way, I’m not really content to form my approach to church around selfish people who come to church with a consumerism mentality. As you said, church and worship in general is about giving of ourselves and working together as a body, not coming to a church because of the services provides for individuals personally. I agree that most people come with this approach, but as a more mature spiritual church leader, I’m not willing to form my ministry around this selfishness. Instead, I need to shape it the way it needs to be and challenge the congregation toward the growth and maturity it requires, not just do my best to work with what I have. Granted, spiritual growth and maturity is a work of the Holy Spirit that we can’t manufacture, so maybe this a Utopian idea, but there’s nothing wrong with dreaming, right?

  • Just to further this discussion (and yes, I am working on a Saturday–ugh!), he following is a lengthy quote from Black and White Styles of Youth Ministry: Two Congregations in America by William R. Myers. St. Andrews is the “white” church which was studied. Pastor Able and Grace Church is a neighbor church to St. Andrews and is the “black” church which was studied.

    “Without rejecting the need for competent administrative practice, Grace Church remains wary of St. Andrew-like corporation models of youth ministry. ‘Such models fragment the church,’ indicates Pastor Able. ‘When a church hires a professional youth minister to “do” youth ministry, that youth minister has been hired to run a second church, a “youth only church,” alongside the intergenerational church.’ Pastor Able continues: ‘Youth in this model start relating to just the youth minister; they don’t relate to the ministries of the church. Such youth ministry tends to promote a kind of “us” versus “them” mentality, never the “we” of the church; never the belongingness.’

    “While Grace Church hires no single ordained professional to ‘do’ youth ministry, authorities (conference ministers, seminary professors, professional youth ministers, members of Grace, and pastors at other churches) agree that Grace has a powerful youth ministry. The key to this phenomenon is the claim that everyone at Grace Church is a minister, that ministry is an acknowledgment of the divine in one’s life, and that people are regularly ‘called’ to be involved in specific forms of ministry, one of which is a caring ministry with youth. This ‘calling’ may or may not lead to ordained ministry; in the context of Grace Church, it can lead to being a sponsor involved in a ministry with youth…

    “Stephen D. Jones, in Faith Shaping: Nurturing the Faith Journey of Youth, assumes that ministry with youth means much more than working with the youth groups and classes. Perhaps most importantly, it involves coordinating ‘faith development emphasis.’ Jones means, in part, a clarification and acceptance by the congregation of that community’s faith bias. A faith bias is the particular faith stance of a specific congregation within a specific context. Jones would argue that not only by talking about faith but by living faith, believers bring faith near to youth. Jones puts it like this: ‘There must be a nearness (closeness) to the faithful community and its traditions, rituals, and stories. Being near to the faith is pivotal for youth.’

    “The faith is near when Christian adults live their faith in natural ways before the young person. The faith is near when the young person feels that he or she is a close part of the church. The faith is near when the young person is allowed deep relationships with adult Christian role models…The faith is near when families are not embarrassed to express faith and when parents are public with their commitments. The faith is near when families develop and practice faithful traditions in the home with regularity. The faith is near when youth can see how much faith is prized by the important adults around them. The home and the church must be in harmony on the importance of faith.”

  • Tim

    Thanks for posting that, Brenda. I guess in a way, youth group is already kinda intergenerational because of the adult leaders who are present and invest into students on a personal basis. The actually church worship service itself, though, still seems to be performance-driven and geared toward adults. When I come up with a perfect solution, I promise I'll post it for everyone. ;)


    Thanks for all the above. I’m writing an essay on the subject and it has been really intersting to read all the ideas and thoughts here. God bless youall and always remember to put the children in the centre of all you do.

  • jon

    WOW ! Haven’t seen / been on here in a long time. I just want to add one thing – our focus is and should continue to be unbridled love of Jesus. If we do that in the message, in the worship, in the sharing of life together – if our hearts are truly and honestly unbridled towards God – the times we come together on Sundays or Tuesdays or Saturdays or whenever – it will truly be integrated and the Holy Spirit will join us as a pure and spotless bride, in love and in worship of Jesus. I am convinced of the necessity of fasting and prayer – not that through fasting we are doing or not doing something or giving something up in an effort to prove ourselves to God – but that by truely, honestly and wholeheartedly loving Jesus through obedience and committment to fasting and prayer, regularly and corporately, we open up our hearts fully to him in order to receive more of his heart and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. If we have that as church leaders and attenders, there won’t be any issue of connectivity !

  • Maybe this statement relates…..I was told once by church leadership to think of student ministry like its own little church. What would I do with it and how might it change? At first it seemed a fair statement and question but then I realized it was the wrong question. Just this morning another staff member i work with said that we should discuss a student version of our members class. The more I think about it, the "youth ministry world" has set itself up with the word "youth" in front of everything we do youth worship band, youth ministry teams, youth missions, youth worship service, youth outreach, youth members class, youth baptism, youth small groups and on and on and on. I am just not too sure how healthy that mindset is where the student ministry is run like its own little church. OOPS, just scrolled up to see Brendas comments. Interesting.

    So to stick with the original discussion of the main worship service, I have heard all the arguments on why not to have students (6th-12th grade) in the main gathering, and I have not yet heard an adequate argument as to why not. In my estimation, I agree that the worship service is for the Lord and not any one group. I also feel that while we are on the topic and the blog about student ministry that one of the most formative experiences a young person can have is to sit at least in proximity to their parents during a worship service and be able to at least look over and see mom and dad opening the Bible, singing to the Lord, praying with others, lifting holy hands, dad putting his arm around mom's shoulders when the message brings her to tears, listening to God's Word taught, taking notes etc….I know churches where–if you wanted to–a child could go from birth to graduating high school without setting foot in the main "adult service" and seeing his parents do any of the aforementioned things and that is how the church is set up to work.

    I think that is a problem. I know none of us are Jesus, but as Christians–even at a young age–we are given the mind of Christ and didn't Christ, at 12, sit and converse with "church" leaders and have intelligent conversation with them? It must have been acceptable to do so. Also in Colossians 4:16 it says that the letter from Paul is to be read to the church and as I have studied Chruch history, it seems as if not too many people could read, so the elders would have to read the letter to the entire church which included "children" since in Colossians 3:20-21 Paul says for children to obey their parents and father's not provoking your children. I imagine that impact of the kids and parents sitting together hearing that together is enormous. Paul didn't say, "oh yeah, don't forget to tell the children later on in the day cause they are not here how to obey their parents." Paul commanded the children and my guess is that their parents were present.

    I have lots to think about and sometimes I think I am thinking myself out of a job. :)

    • Yeah, I agree. We've talked a lot about the "mini-church" mentality of youth ministry where we essentially create a mini church inside the larger church. It's totally unhealthy, is having unfortunate results with kids graduate high school, and is not the picture of what the body of Christ is supposed to be about.

  • does the church service need to be the apex of our experience or is this a western model we've adopted over the years?

    • Yeah, good question. Or even what is the apex of the service itself? In protestant churches the sermon is what everything usually revolves around, but in Catholic churches the service revolves around the Eucharist. Interesting perspective.

  • Pac4me

    I have spent to long questioning whether the approach I am taking is the most affective way to do church. I am convinced that this could be a ploy to keep us guessing and unsure. this would minimize the ministry God has bestowed upon us. i also think this would hinder the work God wants to accomplish.

    I have found the most affective method is to preach the unadulterated word of God as we find it written, Speaking the truth in love and having the confidence that God will accomplish His perfect will.

    I have found that when ministers of all kinds experience frustrations it’s simply due to the fact that they had expectations that were not met. When we focus on preaching ONLY the Word, God will determine what He want’s success to be.

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