In our postmodern society we hear a lot about the importance of narrative. There is nothing all that remarkable about that emphasis; telling stories to recount important events and pass on values and knowledge has been integral to all communities throughout history. The postmodern twist, however, is that each person is able to make up their own story and to interpret or reinterpret the grand narrative as they like. Though touted as being the key to true freedom, the end result is like trying to build a house on a sandpit—it doesn’t work.
Given expensive equipment and potential conflicts over changes in worship style, the purchase of a video projector system is often a difficult decision for churches to make. But it’s only a first step. Once installed, the Sundays keep coming and the question becomes, What next? What do we put on the screen, week after week? How can we use the screen to do more than reproduce the texts from the bulletin and songbook? How can the screen lead the congregation in its liturgical tasks rather than call attention to itself? And who will produce this imagery?
Being intentionally intergenerational in worship can sound like an overwhelming task. Indeed, it does require some time and effort. As a place to start, consider planning a service that celebrates each generation and the particular gifts it brings to the body of Christ. Doing so may jumpstart your thinking about how to draw in all generations on a more regular basis. Following are two resources that could be used in such a service.
Litany of Thanksgiving for the Seasons of Life
Every Sunday morning at 10 a.m., worshipers fill wooden pews in the sanctuary that once housed Thirty-sixth Street Christian Reformed Church in Wyoming, Michigan, a Grand Rapids suburb.
Ninety minutes later, as the first group streams down the center aisle to shake hands with the pastor at the back of the church, another set of worshipers enters from doors on either side of the pulpit area.
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?
2/12 Afternoon Ruminations . . .
LOFT has felt so flat these past weeks, and I’m not sure what that’s about. But God is good: today Nord and I talked about his work helping students to have healthy devotional lives, and how that’s a prerequisite for healthy weekly worship. Then I found this quote while digging around some old sermon files: “We can do all sorts of things to try to generate vigor in our worship, but if we do not have fire for the Lord on Wednesday afternoon, how can we on Sunday morning?”
This litany was originally adapted from the Wellspring Worship Group, based in the north of England, by Christine Jerrett and Susan Woodhouse for use in conjunction with the “Family Tree” service described in RW 75 (p. 20). It is suitable for any service that focuses on passing the faith from one generation to the next, such as All Saints’ Day or a profession of faith. The image of light also fits well with a service on evangelism, mission, or serving.
The following list of resources is a small sampling of the growing library available on the broad topic of understanding the various generations who worship in our churches. Some of these books could be added to your resource library, others could be read and discussed in a worship committee setting. All are available from Faith Alive Christian Resources (www.FaithAliveResources.org; 1-800-333-8300).
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?
Earlier this year, my pastor and I discussed number of options for visuals to enhance a four-week series he was planning on the attributes of God.
His ideas were good. He gave me the sermon topics early. He checked in with me periodically—inquiring but not pushy—as one who has a job to do but is used to being at the mercy of volunteers. He did his part well.
As for me, I could not get this thing off the ground. Did I have the designer’s version of writer’s block? Was I losing my knack? Had I finally lost whatever it was that I thought I had?
Long-term Subscriber from Australia Retires
I have been a recipient of RW for close to twenty years, and during that time have found it to be a great resource for worship. I used much of the material and introduced the magazine to a number of like-minded ministers who also have found RW most beneficial and helpful.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
My 88-year-old mother has lived in a nursing home for almost four years. That’s more than two hundred Sundays! Frequently I ask, “Mom, did you go to church today?” Always she answers, “Oh, there’s no church here.” On several occasions I’ve attended the afternoon worship, and almost always I’d have to agree.
The older I get, the more hungry and thirsty I become for communion. The older I get, the more I receive that crust of bread and sip of wine as food desperately needed for the journey and an appetizer for the great wedding feast of the Lamb. The older I get, the more moving it becomes to look someone in the eye, hold out the loaf and say, “Nancy, this is the body of Christ broken for you.” The older I get, the more frustrating I find my own denomination’s practice of excluding children from the Lord’s table.
When I ask a young person if he or she is interested in making profession of faith, the answer is almost always a variation of “I’m not ready.” When pressed to explain, the young person will often say, “I’m not good enough,” or, “I’m not sure about some things.”
Q. How can we balance our desire to make changes in the service for emphasis and still allow the congregation to be comfortable within a certain structure so they can worship without distractions?
A. It was C.S. Lewis who famously compared good worship with an old shoe. The more familiarity and fewer surprises, the better. Lewis was right that innovation tends to draw our attention from the purpose to the mechanics of what we are doing.
Sunday, October 2, 2005, marks the sixty-ninth year that churches around the globe are celebrating World Communion Sunday. Originating in the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1936, with the hope that other denominations would join in, it took only a few years before the celebration spread far beyond its origins. On this Sunday, as we gather around the Lord’s table, we are reminded of our oneness in Christ and celebrate with our fellow believers the faith and work of the Church worldwide.
Two voices, bracketing the Bible’s witness like audible bookends, shore up the theological convictions of this article. On one side of the biblical witness is the voice of the Creator thundering into creation’s inky darkness, “Let there be light. . . .” And on the other side is the voice of the prophet gasping for breath to choke out a benediction in the apocalypse of St. John, “Blessed is everyone who reads aloud the words of the prophecy of this book. . . .”