Have you ever heard responses like these to multigenerational worship? We want to focus our entire message for where people are in life, or That’s not where our people are, or It’s not what our people want, or my favorite, It’s just not relevant anymore. Yes, I know this concept of MultiGen worship is not new and it’s definitely not new for me either. I’ve grown up singing and leading with all generations for as long as I can remember. I’ve also led a well-oiled machine of age-segregated programming that focused on excellence at every level. However, to be completely honest with you, for the past couple of years the Lord has really been doing a continuing work in my heart concerning multiple generations leading worship and having all generations worshipping together. So let me start by saying this, I do not have everything figured out with this concept but am proud to be a part of Houston’s First Baptist Church where we are digging to a deeper level of what MultiGen worship can look like in the church. Therefore, I’d love to simply let you in on a journey that the Lord has taken us on considering this model and I invite you to dig into it with me for a few minutes.
There are blogs and even books that could be written on the “what” and the “how” of MultiGen worship, but those are for other blogs on another day! Right now, I’d like to focus in on the “WHY” and give you ten reasons that I believe this model of worship is vital for the church, and share what type of fruit it has developed within our people, ministry, and church.
1. THE BIBLE COMMANDS IT.
The old and new testaments give us great clarity on how all generations should worship together. Check out Psalm 145:4-7: “One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts. They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—and I will meditate on your wonderful works. They tell of the power of your awesome works—and I will proclaim your great deeds, they celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.” This passage gives us 5 activities that all generations should do together. They should commend, tell, speak, celebrate and sing. Is it just me or is that an incredible structure for one big worship service? I love how the Psalmist is so affected by this worship experience that it compels him to both internally meditate and externally proclaim.
Look at Ephesians 5:18-21, “…be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” Or look at Colossians 3:16 as Paul declares this a second time, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
These moments of what to do with “one another” is again, a worship experience together with the body of Christ which Paul is declaring should be done with both older and the younger generations.
2. IT CULTIVATES AN “ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN” ENVIRONMENT.
If your church is looking for the perfect model of how to craft your worship services, look to the place where they have been worshipping for all time and will continue for all eternity. Yes, Heaven is the expert on the subject. So what does heaven look like? We first think of heaven as every tribe and every nation, which is completely correct (Revelation 5:9 & 7:9). But the universal church is not only all nations, but also all nations from all time. So let me paint the picture, you will be worshipping with your father, your grandfather, your great grandfather, your great-great grandfather and on and on! I’ll also be worshipping with my sister who passed away when she was eight years old along with all those who have passed away even from the unborn to the oldest that have ever lived. By having these types of MultiGen worship moments here on earth, we are preparing ourselves for what we will be experiencing for all of eternity.
3. IT BRINGS UNITY WITHIN THE BODY OF CHRIST.
When you get a chance, go read Ephesians 4 again and see the importance that is placed on the church being unified together in one body. I fear that many churches, some unknowingly, have so segregated generations in the church through services, styles, programs, classes, and other examples that we really have multiple churches within one church building instead of an Ephesians 4-type model of “one body and one Spirit…one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Eph. 4:4-6).
4. IT TEACHES THE INDIVIDUAL CHURCH MEMBER.
I have seen so much growth at Houston’s First Baptist by having MultiGen worship. The most prominent area is that of preference. Often the church has cultivated generations that are focused on personal preferences especially when it comes to worship and music. What do YOU like in style, leadership, time, volume, look, feel and so on? I don’t read in my Bible where it says my preference is what worship should be about, but I do read often where it teaches we should lay our desires aside and think more of others preferences than our own. Take Romans 12:10, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor;” By letting all generations lead worship it has taught us that it’s not about our individual preferences but rather about worshipping the Lord as one body. By doing this, our worship teams and church have caught this exciting vision and we have found that when you are so overwhelmed with what you see, it’s hard to be upset with what you hear.
5. IT EDIFIES THE BODY OF CHRIST.
In 1 Corinthians 14:26, Paul says that if anything is done in the church, let it all be done for edification. This word means to stretch, instruct and encourage both intellectually and spiritually. Although there are numerous things that can be classified as edifying in the church, I have seen this edification every time we experience multigenerational worship at Houston’s First and also in my own personal life. It has created more freedom in our worship services than I have ever felt, as well as more excitement and joy than I’ve ever seen. These moments together have brought clarity of who we are as one body and what we believe.
6. TRAIN UP LEADERS vs. PERFORMERS.
At Houston’s First, multiple generations leading worship is not a new concept. There have been some wonderful student and children’s music programs through the years. However, God has definitely breathed new fresh fire over them the past few years. When I was brought to Houston’s First Baptist back in 2008, all children’s and student worship programs had been disbanded for many years, which created a tremendous generational gap in the worship leadership of the church. But with the help of many people, we began to build back these programs on the foundation of one idea; we wanted to train up LEADERS of worship, not PERFORMERS of music. This philosophy has changed everything.
So many NextGen worship programs are built around a performance philosophy, whether they realize it or not. For example, listen to how myself, and many who grew up involved with a church music program, were normally encouraged inside a more performance driven model, “John, I loved what you did on stage today. You’re voice is amazing.” What you have just done, probably unknowingly, is communicate to me that I performed on a “stage” for you and that my talent impressed you. I submit that this is the wrong message to teach our students. What you’ll hear from our teams to our NextGen student worship leaders is more along these lines, “Students, you led the church of God with excellence, power, and conviction today. When you stepped on the platform, you allowed the Lord to use you to effect the body of Christ in a great way.” Never will you see our groups at HFBC come on stage and sing a single song, receive applause, and walk off. We want them to lead the body of Christ in an experience of worship. We are committed to building up not a group of performers, but the next generations of strong leaders in music and worship.
7. IT AFFECTS ETERNITY.
This point is similar to #6 but in a much broader scope. We have hundreds of seniors, middle-aged adults, young adults, singles, youth, and children in our worship ministry and very few of them will actually become full time worship leaders. They are dads, moms, friends, employees in their respected fields, students, children, or whatever God has called them to be. But here is the key: how we allow them to feed and be fed in the church will affect and encourage them to live their purpose. This will then affect others, who will affect more, and so on throughout all generations. As I often say to our teams, we are in the eternity business.
8. IT DISPLAYS WHAT GOD IS DOING THROUGH DIFFERENT GENERATIONS.
I’m sure you’ve heard the famous saying, “Your perception is your reality.” This is very real in the church as well as in the world. I noticed something about 3 years ago at HFBC, the church as a whole was never given the chance to see or hear what God was doing within the student ministry, and let me tell you, it was unbelievable! So when we finally brought back a student worship ministry, it gave us many times a year for our church to be led by our students, to hear what God is doing in their ministry, and be edified by their example. This, along with all generations, allows our churches perception to be equal with the reality of what is really happening within the full body of the church. It’s crucial for the old and young to see, hear, learn, and be encouraged by each other.
9. IT BRINGS FAMILIES TOGETHER TO WORSHIP.
There are many places in scripture that speak of the family being the primary place of learning to worship the Lord and growing in the way of truth. Look at Psalm 78:2-7, “I’ll let you in on the sweet old truths, Stories we heard from our fathers, counsel we learned at our mother’s knee. We’re not keeping this to ourselves; we’re passing it along to the next generation—God’s fame and fortune, the marvelous things he has done. He planted a witness in Jacob, set his Word firmly in Israel, Then commanded our parents to teach it to their children so the next generation would know, and all the generations to come— Know the truth and tell the stories so their children can trust in God, Never forget the works of God but keep his commands to the letter.” (other scriptures: Deut. 6:6-9, Eph. 6:4, 2 Tim. 1:5)
I spoke with a gentleman the other day who mentioned that our MultiGen services blessed him beyond words. He was able to worship alongside his wife and two daughters when normally it is not possible because of the variety of services and Bible study classes that keep them from doing this on a weekly basis. On the other side, the power of having a child watch his or her parent as they worship affects them in ways that will overflow into the child’s life. Like watching a parent exude character, truth, integrity, and digging into the Word of God on a daily basis, seeing this mentor worshipping Jesus is invaluable.
Growing up in a large family, some of my favorite times were around the dinner table together. I view worshipping as a family similar to this experience at the table. Everyone is learning, teaching, and communicating with each other. There are different ages and even varied levels of speech. A mom will communicate to a toddler differently than a dad and his teenager, but when they’re all together, they use a common knowledge of tongue to communicate, teaching the more immature to grow. The families also eat the same meal together although there may be an assortment of appetites at the table. But as everyone eats, character and thankfulness are built into the lives of the children. When this time is successful, everyone experiences fellowship, feels included, grows from the encounter, learns from the parents as well as each other, and all leave with their appetite satisfied. Isn’t that a marvelous picture of the fruit that we should see when people come to a church service and worship together?
10. IT GIVES EACH GENERATION FAITH-BUILDING EXPERIENCES.
This is such an important point. I will assume that we all believe that every person needs to have a personal relationship with the Lord, and I will also trust that all of us believe that faith without works is dead (James 2:17). Therefore, we must believe that God created us to be experiential creatures to first, experience Jesus as Savior over our lives, and second, to have continual “work” experiences that build our faith.
The Word of God has many examples to show this, but my favorite is the story of Josiah in 2 Kings 22 & 23. He had terrible examples before him as his Father and Grandfather were some of the most evil Kings in Israel’s history. But he had a personal encounter with the Almighty that changed everything. He first cleaned house of the evil in the land, then he reestablished all the rituals and traditions, including the Passover, so that these experiences would continue to grow the faith of Israel. Listen to how the Bible describes Josiah at the end of his life, “There was no king to compare with Josiah—neither before nor after—a king who turned in total and repentant obedience to God, heart and mind and strength… The world would never again see a king like Josiah.” (2 Kings 23:25) Amazing, right? Wouldn’t you think the most incredible, Godly king in the history of the nation would be able to be the example for future generations? You’d be wrong if you think yes. Josiah’s very own son, Jehoahaz, reverted back to ungodly ways. Look at how 2 Kings 23:32 describes him, “In God’s opinion, he was an evil king, reverting to the evil ways of his ancestors.” All the Godly influence of Josiah was not enough for Jehoahaz to follow in his father’s footsteps. He lacked the personal experience of faith beginning and faith building. Other examples are Eli and his sons (1 Sam. 2), or even look at doubting Thomas (John 20). Even though Thomas, as a believer, was told about the greatest event that had ever happened, he needed to experience Jesus for himself. A classic modern day example is seeing children of ministers and pastors leaving the faith when they get out on their own because they have a faith that is dead. I am convinced that many of the churchgoers in the next generations are living out a faith that is not their own. Therefore, when they are out from under authority, they choose to go their own way.
I have read multiple studies the past couple weeks that show the church is losing the millennial generation at a staggering rate. A study has come out recently from a Christian university that shows that most of the Christians inside this generation cannot even clearly articulate what they believe in the first place. Could it be that the church has not allowed them to have significant “works” in their own lives that will strengthen their faith? This is why we have integrated in our worship teams the aspect of gathering, growing, and giving multi-generationally. MultiGen worship goes far beyond the worship service or gathering setting. It is also establishing that each person grows in their faith, as well as gives their lives away in service and missions. I have seen that through this model, an individual’s faith, no matter the age, is strengthened and is more secure for the future.
In this conversation, I am not discounting in any way the need and place for specific age and life-milestone focused discipleship in the church. On the contrary, it is a vital piece of growth for a person. However, there seems to be a critical balance in scripture between personal focus and an individual inside a multigenerational emphasis. We as the church must incorporate both practices and see the value of MultiGen worship for clear biblical reasons as well as how it changes ourselves, our ministries, the church, future generations, and eternity.
John Bolin serves as Minister of Worship & Arts at Houston’s First Baptist Church, known for having one of the largest and most dynamic Music Ministries across the country. Under John’s leadership the Choir and Orchestra exceeds 350 in number, and all student and children’s worship programs were reinstated at Houston’s First. He’s been singing and leading since he was old enough to stand and has performed over 1300 concerts nationally and internationally, produced and sang on more than 20 records, and led congregations of people in worship on a weekly basis. He and his wife Paige, along with daughter Grace Kathryn, expect the arrival of their son in December.