Intergenerational Worship


Week in and week out, worship leaders are given the holy and at times frustrating responsibility of helping God’s people encounter God through music within the rhythm of worship. Our hope is that this blog will be a source of inspiration and challenge as we seek to equip and empower people of all ages in Christ-honoring and personally meaningful worship.

A Marty Haugen hymn, familiar in many traditions, includes this stanza:

We are the young – our lives are a mystery,
We are the old – who yearn for your face,
We have been sung throughout all of history,
Called to be light to the whole human race.
Gather us in, the rich and the haughty,
Gather us in, the proud and the strong,
Give us a heart so meek and so lowly,
Give us the courage to enter the song.

This hymn paints a picture that is familiar to many of us – young and old gathered together to worship, bringing with them a variety of thoughts and opinions on what “worship” could and should include. Do we use screens or hymnals? Are we led by a song leader, a choir, or a praise team? Do we sing the “great hymns of the faith” or praise choruses – or does our worship vocabulary incorporate many different genres?

Each and every person who gathers for worship brings differing priorities, values, and understandings. Young people may want to be there just long enough to get through the children’s moment. Parents of those same young people may be grateful to have made it to worship at all and, on a good day, be on time and with coffee(!) Older adults may wonder if there is still a place for them in the life of the worshiping community, or if the congregation that has long been their home can survive the political, societal, and denominational strife that seems never-ending. How do we engage all ages and stages in ways that honor the Lord and don’t run us ragged in the process? I’m so glad you asked!

Start by looking at what you already have – the beautiful, unique, multifaceted people in your congregation. While they might not always be the people you wish you had, I guarantee there are undiscovered gifts and graces in every congregation just waiting to be encouraged and explored. There are likely people in your congregation who have musical talent but who don’t think they’re “good enough” to participate in worship leadership. (Sometimes, they may be right!)

So here are a few ideas to consider:

  • See if there are students in your congregation, or attending a local college/university, who are studying music, even as their minor. Invite them to accompany an anthem or soloist, play with congregational hymns and songs, and check out choir rehearsal. Many of them may have never experienced church music. Give them opportunities while at the same time nurturing their confidence and building relationships.
  • Talk to your youth leaders. Find out what kinds of music the kids who attend your youth programming are into – often there are students right under your nose who love music but don’t have an opportunity to explore their own gifts. Meet them where they are, build relationships, and invite them to also discover music that is meaningful to you.
  • If your congregation has a preschool, see if it includes music. There may be ways music can build a bridge between the church and the preschool families. Could you, or someone in your music ministry, volunteer to teach the children the simple joy of singing a couple times a week?
  • Ask people of all ages to join a one-off choir or ensemble. This works especially well in these summer months when choirs are usually taking a break. Use some of your congregation’s most requested and beloved hymns as choral anthems (right out of the hymnal). Give people a chance to learn (or relearn!) the joy of SATB singing. This way you can scope out potential new choir members (and also sing some of those hymns Ms. Glenda has been asking to sing for weeks)!

There is ministry potential in all of this. Young people, whether young in age or young in faith, are often full of questions. When they learn to trust you, and realize you’re taking them seriously, they’re not afraid to ask these questions. This is a tremendous gift in developing intergenerational worship. The Church is one of the only remaining places where children, youth, and adults can have opportunities to intentionally spend time with one another. Creating an intergenerational choral or instrumental community provides opportunities for both the young and the young at heart to work together, to learn from each other, and to grow in faith together through music and worship leadership.

Groups like this may seem awkward at first; they might not win awards for intonation right off the bat, and that’s okay. Use these groups to create space for young and old to find their voice (literal or otherwise). Invite and encourage curiosity – from all ages! You may be surprised by the ways these groups become avenues not just for music, but also for facilitating personal and spiritual growth. God will provide what you need, even if (when) it doesn’t look like you’d imagined.

Prayer: Loving God, our amazing Creator, you have given us each abundant gifts. Help us discover the joy of making music with others who know and worship you. By the power of your Holy Spirit, give the courage to enter the song – together. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Paul Detterman
Paul Detterman
Paul Detterman is a church musician, composer, and author with advanced degrees in church music, biblical studies, and liturgical theology. An ordained Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church USA, Paul has served as Director of Music or Pastor over four decades as well as serving as Associate for Worship on the PCUSA national staff and as Executive Director of Presbyterians for Renewal and The Fellowship Community. Paul and his wife Debbie live in Louisville, KY.


  1. This is a great reminder. At our church July (now) is Summer Choir. Show up Sunday morning, rehearse and sing in the service. We have 13 new people this past Sunday. It was very invigorating. Thank you for the encouragment. To the glory of God!

    • Thank you for your comment, Judith! We’re glad you enjoyed the blog. It’s wonderful that you had 13 new people join you last week. We’re happy to be here to support and encourage, so please feel free to reach out to us if we can be of help to you.


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