Multigenerational Singing in Church

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The spiritual and educational value of asking different generations to sing together is meaningful, and the energy they create together can be palpable. In the “good old days,” multigenerational singing was a regular part of worship. Now, many churches offer special activities for children and youth during services, and this can affect how young people view worship. Recently, churches are rethinking this philosophy by looking for moments where children, youth, adults and seniors all get an opportunity to minister together. I’d like to offer some suggestions about how you might form and maintain a multigenerational musical group.

For me, it all started with a question: What if adults, youth, and children are offered an opportunity to lead?

So, I shared my vision with our pastor in the form of a skeleton program for our annual Christmas pageant. I sketched out vital service elements, and together we began to fill in the details of what a modern Lessons and Carols service might look like. Thankfully things went very well in our work together, and we both walked away excited about what could evolve.

The long and the short of it: God blessed the process and the offering. People got to know each other, new staff joined in the effort, parents had interaction with adults and youth they wouldn’t normally have, youth plugged in where they were comfortable, and various styles and types of meaningful music were offered. We sang traditional settings of carols, and we sang carols accompanied by our band. Adult solos, handbells, choral pieces, youth instrumentalists, readings, reflections, youth in camel costumes, and younger children, all participating, singing, reflecting, and reading. Everyone together, doing the same thing at the same time: worship.

Some of you are saying, “We have three to ten kids on Sunday, and our one youth travels for sports and is only there every so often!” Guess what? That’s enough. Others are saying “We can’t do a big service like that!” Then start smaller. Just invite people to participate. Not in a general way, but in a personal way. Give them a way to be involved that allows them to match their gifts to the task at hand.

Here are some suggestions that might help you succeed:

  1. Don’t start by picking music. Start by praying, by listening to God and those around you.
  2. Meet with your pastor. Share some of your ideas and allow him or her to offer other suggestions. Talk about building consensus for the proposal with leaders of the church.
  3. Find leaders who regularly work with children, youth, and senior adults. Speak to them personally or outline your ideas in an email and ask them to meet with you individually. Don’t be discouraged if they don’t get your vision right away; listen.
  4. To help develop a core group of singers, ask them who the musically inclined children are; see who might be involved in drama at school or in the community. Take information down and pick up the phone. Start calling those who can help serve on your core team.
  5. Then, craft an exciting and well-worded paragraph of invitation that can appear in bulletins, newsletters, and on the church’s website. Talk about sharing gifts and representing the diversity within your congregation or parish. Help build energy and excitement around this new ministry opportunity. Post flyers around the church too. While these styles may seem outdated, they still help to inform and create energy.
  6. Once you have some idea who might want to sing, then decide on the music. Is it as simple as dressing up a hymn from the hymnal to fit the time of year, or is it a more complicated anthem arrangement? Hold a reasonable number of rehearsals – maybe three to six – and offer a link to listen to the piece online at jwpepper.com.
  7. Start the group as a short-term commitment for as long as the rehearsals and performances run. Is it two months, three or four? Allow people to participate even if they need to miss a rehearsal. Allow people to fluctuate in and out as they can. Flexibility when working with a span of generations is very important. Also, I would consider not naming the group a choir.
  8. Allow each generation to have a “moment” – not to show off, but to represent their generation and how they fit into the larger picture.  Pick a song or hymn that represents unity, togetherness, helping and supporting others and is theologically and biblically in line with your community’s beliefs.
  9. Rehearse thoughtfully with a sense of energy, fun, and meaning. Work on other hymns and songs that will be done in the service so that your group can truly help lead the service, even if from the pews. Involve your regular choirs in your efforts as well. Allow people to sit where they normally sit and come up together to form the group that has committed to this special offering. Only do this if your group’s standing arrangement is preset.
  10. Talk about all that is happening with the music and how individual voices combine to do something that we can’t do on our own. Connect spiritual and musical ideas in a way that relates to the offering everyone is making. This will help many who think of music as a performance to consider the possibility that sharing your gifts in church and sharing your gifts outside of church are related, but never the same. It will also help those who get nervous when performing to reframe what they are doing and why they are doing it.

To have a multigenerational ensemble you will have to be flexible, think outside the box, and positively encourage others to do the same.

The short of it?

Pray, prepare, choose music smartly, make it about the offering, and always point everyone, yourself included, to God.

 

We’d love to hear about your multigenerational experiences below.  Here is a link to multigenerational music for your consideration.

 

Chris Titko
Chris Titko is the Church Editor for J.W. Pepper. Prior to working at Pepper, Chris spent 35 years serving various churches across the US. He has a degree in sacred music from Westminster Choir College and a degree in choral conducting from Indiana University Bloomington, with further graduate studies at the University of Oklahoma. He also serves as the organist at First Presbyterian Church in Ambler, Pennsylvania.

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