Feature

As a second grader, my young son stared with bewilderment as an older member of our congregation sang from memory, with his eyes closed and a smile on his face, holding the pew ahead of him for balance, “. . . amazing love, how can it be, that you my God should die for me.” As my son settled into his place after the hymn, he whispered to me, “Do you think I will ever love God as much as that man?”

How many North American families, in our harried, push-God-to-the-margins culture, still pause before eating in order to pray? One recent poll suggests a dismal 29 percent, another, an encouraging 64 percent. But a more important question might be, What sort of prayers are they? If daily prayers underscore and help children make sense of what happens in corporate worship on Sunday, what do children learn from the awkward moment of silence, or a perfunctory “Good food, good meat, good God, let’s eat” before dinner? We can do better.

Remember family gatherings for the holidays, the festival of food planned for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners? Everyone is invited to bring something to the table. Even ordinary dishes like green beans get dressed up with sliced almonds or onion rings. Leaves to the dining room table are hauled up from the basement; in quite a few households a card table might be tacked on to the end of the dining table to make enough room for everyone—from the very youngest babies and toddlers to the oldest grandmothers.

Since multigenerational worship services involve all generations, why focus on children? First, children need advocates because they are seldom allowed to share their thoughts, primarily because no one asks them. Second, the inclusion of children seems to be the biggest stumbling block when congregations begin to discuss gathering the generations together. Finally, adult generational issues most often focus on style and preferences. There is really no theological debate as to their inclusion.

What does it take to become intentional about intergenerational worship?

The first step is to take an objective look at your congregation. You probably have a good idea of the balance of age groups in your congregation and how well each is represented in worship. But you might be surprised at what you can learn if you ask some of the following questions.

Who worships at our church?

The way in which we worship and express faith must remain supple and open to the change necessary to be heard in an changing world.

Most North American congregations are already multigenerational, and those that are not are usually intentional about not wanting to be. In multigenerational congregations, the pressing issue for leaders is not only how does the church speak to new generations, but how does the church hold together multiple generations in one time?

Norma de Waal Malefyt (norma.malefyt@calvin.edu) and Howard Vanderwell (howard.vanderwell@calvin.edu) are Resource Development Specialists at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan. This article is adapted from their new book (see box) based on many years of fruitful collaboration as senior pastor and music director at Hillcrest Christian Reformed Church, Hudsonville, Michigan.

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