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This is pure speculation, but it seems to me that when the modern worship movement came into town, churches became more and more age segregated.  There is probably a doctoral student somewhere in America working on this topic right now, so I’ll wait for that book to come out to tell me more about it.  But as a general observation, I do not remember churches in my youth having such radical age divides as they do now.  And my guess is that music is one of the main reasons for this change.

This is certainly an oversimplification of a larger problem. But music is one of the main ways that a church shows its stylistic preferences.  Thus, music becomes an important way for a church to identify itself.  My guess is that many people make the decision about where they will go to church based largely on the style of music.  It’s just easy to be around people who like the things we do.

The Uniting Gospel

I don’t think anyone has ever gone into a country club and said in amazement, “How did all these people find each other…this is amazing!”  No one ever wonders what brings country-clubbers together.  It is obviously their wealth, their love for refined leisure and their desire to play golf or tennis.  So it’s actually not that amazing at all that they’re together.  I’m afraid you could walk into many of our churches and make similar observations. This is the old people church with the organ and hymnbook. This is the young people church where people wear skinny jeans and the music is loud. It’s just easier to divide that way.

But, the beauty of the gospel is that it brings together people who would not naturally choose to be together.  Let me show you from scripture how I know this to be true.  There was never a divide quite as strong as the Jew-Gentile divide at the beginning of the church. Jewish people spent their lives thinking of all of the ways they were to be separated from the Gentiles. When God started saving Gentiles, this created a huge problem for Jewish Christians. Now Jews were to become one body with…Gentiles?!  Think of how strongly Paul had to confront Peter just to remind him that a Jew could eat with a Gentile.  Wouldn’t it be easier just to have a Jewish Christian church and a Gentile Christian church? But that’s not what Paul said to do.  He knew that a united people in one church would display the beauty of the gospel more brilliantly.

Reconciled to God and One Another

Paul says in Ephesians 2:14-18, “For He himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”

In these verses, do you see the two things that the blood of Christ does?

First, it brings sinners who were far away from God near to Him through the blood of Christ. If we want peace with God, then we have to come through Christ.  Only His blood will bring us to God in a way that God will accept.

Secondly, it brings people who were far apart together in one body. Do you see all the phrases that describe what the blood of Christ did to the Jews and Gentiles?  The blood of Christ broke down the dividing wall of hostility.  It created one man out of two.  It made peace.  And ultimately it reconciled both peoples together to God.  P.T. Obrien says in his commentary on Ephesians, “Believers come near to God and to one another (Gentiles and Jews) through the saving death of the Lord Jesus Christ.”  The blood of Christ compels us to be unified with those who are not like us apart from Him.

Whatever seemed like the predominate thing that identified me before Christ is now gone.  American, Caucasian, young, musician, Swedish ancestry, Southerner.  All those things fade into the background under my new title: Christian.  And what is the only thing that has the sheer power to sweep away my allegiances from my old identities?  The gospel.  The blood of Jesus, shed on the cross, bought me back from sin’s captivity.  And this is the way that every person comes to God.  No one was a little better off.  Not Jew, not Gentile. Not African-American or Caucasian or Hispanic or Asian.  Not psalm-singer or hymn-singer or Passion Worship-singer. No one. The cross of Christ is what reconciled us to God and is what unites groups of people that were hostile towards one another.

Humble Orthodoxy

For this reason, I don’t believe we should be content with the generational divide that is prevalent in many of our churches. Doesn’t Paul’s admonition to the Ephesians attack the very center of where most of our church conflicts begin? Deep down most of us think that “we” are better than “them”.  I believe my reasons for doing things are better than yours.  I believe that my tribe is better than your tribe.  I am more worthy of making the decisions than you are.  My opinion should be held in greater regard than yours.  Paul plainly says that no one has an advantage; thus no one should think that they have more importance (Romans 12).

So, let me ask you, is your congregation marked by a unity that doesn’t make sense apart from the Spirit?  Spirit filled, multi-generational unity is a powerful witness to God’s work in our churches. Let’s endeavor by God’s grace to see the gospel of Jesus Christ bring us near to those who are different than us.  Let’s plan for, and pray towards fruit in this area.  It will take a great amount of intentional service and sacrifice. But it is an endeavor that God calls His church to as we remember that His blood purchased a unity for us that is beyond the natural man.


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17 thoughts on “Multi-Generational Worship”

  1. Chris Thomas says:

    Really love this! Thanks for putting into words, much better than I could, the awesome ‘bringing-together’ nature of the Gospel. I am convinced that the world sees a fuller, more glorious vision of the Gospel when it sees the power it has to unite those that would not otherwise be together.

    One brief typo needs to be corrected though… 4th paragraph… Paul confronts Peter to remind him that Jews can eat Gentiles?? Amazing how one little word can completely change the tone of a sentence! ;)

  2. Zach Kennedy says:

    Daniel, old buddy, this is a great article with great points. I do not have any criticisms or comments regarding the article itself, but I would love to see a follow up post from you or someone else about practical and concrete ways churches have gone about bridging generational gaps. Once more, great thoughts!

  3. Ryan Healy says:

    Great article. I completely agree with the importance of having multi-generational importance. As someone who goes to a church where the average age is mid to late twenties, I would warn you about making the reasons

  4. Ryan Healy says:

    Great article. I completely agree with the importance of having multi-generational importance. As someone who goes to a church where the average age is mid to late twenties, I would warn you about making the reasons so monolithic and simple. While I still think style of music may play a part I think it has to do more about going to a church that is gospel-centered and on mission. When a church is attractional and more about getting people in the seats than unapologetically preaching Jesus than young people who are serious bout their faith are going to read right through it and become disillusioned.

    While we are still a young church we are starting to become more diverse not because we have changed who we are or how we do church but because we have stayed true to the gospel. We don’t shy away from difficult passages or social issues but let scripture speak to both.

  5. Brian Goard says:

    I wonder if by “generational divide” the author is not only referring to us-them attitudes and churches filled with a single generation but also to the prevalence of multiple services (in multiple styles), often seen in mid- to large-sized churches. I don’t really know if he has that in mind (but the segregation he mentions opens itself to that application). In any case, someone could certainly read this article and conclude that we should never have separate worship hours based on generational musical preferences. I do agree with the main point: the Gospel brings really different people together and we should live life together as the church and not hate on one another (especially over guitars and organs). But the danger here is a little category confusion and possibly a reduction of life together (and worship) to a one hour experience on Sundays. The biblical issue of Jew and gentile in one body worshiping together seems to be a different issue at its core than getting 20-somethings who really love Jesus (and indie rock) and seniors who love the Gaithers (and Jesus!) under the same roof (at the same exact time). I think it is possible to worship in different 60 minute services and still do life together. I mean, I can imagine a church leadership that facilitates that kind of multi-service worship experience for a few generations and yet helps them be on mission TOGETHER and in fellowship with one another (Let’s think bigger than the experiences we have in 60 minutes on Sundays–hey, I’m a dreamer). And I’m pretty sure I’ve seen research that shows the church reaches more dechurched and unchurched seekers with a clearly defined style than with some blended thing that makes everyone bored or uncomfortable. Still thinking it through though…. : )

    1. gary archibeck says:

      Hi Brian – your point is well taken. However, without great caution and care, one group or another gets marginalized. . . even with great care. Doing life together is very difficult. Mission has to be continuously communicated. A gathering of the generations is an undertaking that is never easy but always worthwhile ! (I’m a dreamer too)

  6. Matt Shea says:

    I’ve always appreciated you and your ministry. Blessings brother!

  7. Laurie says:

    The Gospel should be the unifying factor. I can’t help but wonder how we can completely do away with the uncomfortable “culture” factor. In some places in the world a church service would look and sound much the same no matter where you went. Here (in the great USA) there is as much variety as in the ice cream or cereal isle of the grocery store. :) For example, I think the reason some people like (oldish)hymns is that they know them-not that they think they’re superior to other music. Imagine having a different new food each day–kind of makes you long for the “comfort food” of “your people”… (whatever that was). For me, hearing new unfamiliar music is kind of like coming to the table and being served abalone pizza with mustard spinach sauce and being told that I shouldn’t be “distracted” by the different style of food but focus on the real purpose of why I’m at the table. It’s true but it can be hard too. I think most people I know are trying very hard to assimilate into the variety of Christian worship styles that abound today and are doing a great job. :)

  8. Pastors Wife says:

    We have managed to do this at our small church and I am so thankful that we have had a willing group of people to do it with.

    We include Hymns, choruses(contemporary from 1960-2000) and current contemporary(2001-present)

    Our approach first was to express to everyone that we understand they have a personal preference, but that the younger generations have an opportunity to show love to the older members in our church by singing Hymns that they may not enjoy and the older generations have an opportunity to show love to the younger generations by doing songs they may not like, but the younger generations do.
    By doing so God is glorified as we worship Him and love one another by setting our personal preferences aside.

  9. Pete says:

    I agree w above article. Practical out working can be complex. I lead a church with several services of which some are v traditional and others contemporary – that is what I inherited.
    There are real advantages to both styles of service – certain people are drawn into church for the first time via one or the other type. I wish to evangelise the whole community and blended or one of the current styles will not achieve all that both do. In terms of edification, both styles of service edifying in different ways. There is something that would be lost if I blended the styles of dropped one.
    I believe the positive goal of cross generational worship can be met in my situation by observing that neither style of service attracts exclusively one age range. There are older people in both styles, and younger in both – though there is fewer young people in the traditional style.
    I am keen to develop the many options I have for both congregations to meet and serve together – outreach, prayer meeting, training events, small groups. I believe that these ventures can allow you to keep the advantages of separate age weighted services, while also drawing people into cross generational fellowship. If you do go down this route you need a senior leadership who can connect with all sections of the church, and a lot of patience. In my view it’s worth it.

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  11. Dick Martin says:

    Having been a worship pastor for over 33 years, I have watched this situation evolve as well. We have had to be quite intentional about our planning through the years. Sometimes with success, sometimes not so much. I wholeheartedly agree with the article, and felt it was very well written. However, I tend to agree with Zach Kennedy (above)…too many times we (including me) write articles “identifying” a problem, but do not offer suggestions, or direction for its resolution. In the article, and many of the comments, I notice the use the word “should” many times. We ALL know what the church “should” be, or should look like. However, leaving the discussion with the urging that we “should” be more Biblical…leaves me (and perhaps others) feeling helpless. Or even worse, perhaps I have failed, because in 33 years I know more than any of our people, that our church “should” be more united in its acceptance of the other guy’s preferred style. Again, great article, but most of us already see the problem…we just need prayer for a solution. (I fear it will not get any better soon.)

  12. Janet Tillman says:

    Recently our church purchased new speakers. I have not had a problem with the music before this. I like a wonderful mix of music and am comfortable with any type. Three weeks ago we walked into the worship serve and the music was so loud that you could feel the bass vibration in your chest. I thought it was going to set off my heart issue. We search until we found a relatively dead spot (as dead as it could be.) I emailed the person in charge of this and the response included that: the music was at 90 to 95 decibels and would remain there (that is the level of a jack hammer); our congregation was multi-generational and everyone would not be happy with it; they would continue to do what the majority of the congregation liked. This was after telling me I would need to understand the physics of sound to understand. (I have a degree in mathematics and physics. I am at a loss as to what to do. I son’t know whether to discuss it with the pastor, that we love, or just quit going to worship services. Interestingly, the these for this quarter is Community. Any suggestions?

    1. Matt Boswell says:


      Thank you for your post. I would suggest you speak with the pastor. In humility, bring your concerns and see how he can help shepherd you through this. Certainly, their hope is to speak a musical language that communicates and not to bring any kind of division.

      Pray for unity and a spirit of charity in your own heart, and also in your church.

      Praying with you,

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Daniel Renstrom is a pastor at FBC Durham, and leads the worship ministry. Follow Daniel on Twitter @danielrenstrom.