Is Multi-Generational Worship Even Possible? (by Dr. David W. Manner)

Dr. David W. Manner is the Associate Executive Director for the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists. He blogs at . You can follow him on Twitter:  @dwmanner. 

In an effort to appease multi-generations and minimize conflict, leaders either attempt to seek stylistic and musical common ground or they divide themselves along age and preference lines.  Except in rare instances, it appears from both efforts that the worshiping community suffers and all generations lose.  The impasse is a result of trying to accommodate the musical tastes of a congregation made up of both 20th and 21st century leaders, learners, and worshipers.

Gary Parrett and Steven Kang wrote, “Churches must realize that it takes the whole community of faith to raise the children of that community in the faith.  But, many American churches have moved with fierce determination to separate the generations from one another to provide more generation specific ministry.  Tragically, such an approach to ministry can easily have the effect of encouraging the segregated ‘generations’ to be unduly absorbed with their own needs and to have little concern for others.  This runs both ways – from older to younger and younger to older.  But it is the younger who suffer most in such an arrangement.  And it is the older who will have to give account for shirking their God-appointed duties toward the young.”[1]

Differences between 20th and 21st century worshipers:

  • 20th century worshipers are linear, written text, and physical; 21st century worshipers are multi-sensory, hypertext, and virtual.
  • 20th century worshipers are independent…independent is owned; 21st century worshipers are collaborative…collaborative is shared.
  • 20th century worshipers are stationary…for a lifetime; 21st century worshipers are mobile…for a season.
  • 20th century worshipers are deductive…deductive is top-down; 21st century worshipers are inductive…inductive is bottom-up.  Note:  The weakness of inductive is its limitations in building doctrine.  The weakness of deductive is its susceptibility to being infected with dogma.
  • 20th century worshipers are local; 21st century worshipers are global.
  • 20th century worship is routinized…it has worked for generations…why change? 21st century worship is creative…it has been around for generations…why not try something new?  Routinized is predictable; Creative is often unpredictable.

Obviously, the previous list is a generalization.  If, however, even a few of the differences are evident in the cultures of our congregations how can we ever hope to find common ground?  The answer is…we probably can’t…at least not in those differences.

Multi-generational worship is only possible if our common ground is deference instead of preference.  Deference is a learned and practiced submission based on conviction…preference is based on feeling and tradition.  Deference encourages worshipers to respond in spite of the circumstances of the tradition and embedded theology that previously influenced their thinking and actions.  Deference offers a common ground that style and musical preferences never will.

Deference is the agreement that although we may not always love the music of our children and grandchildren…we love our children and grandchildren.  Deference is the willingness to set aside our preferences for the good of those children and grandchildren.  Multi-generational worship will occur when the only battle is over who can offer/give the most instead of who deserves/demands the most.

[1] Parrett, Gary A. and S. Steve Kang, Teaching the Faith, Forming the Faithful: A Biblical Vision for Education in the Church (Downer’s Grove: Intervarsity, 2009), 152.


  1. Christiane says

    “Of You my heart has spoken,
    ‘Seek His Face.’
    It is Your Face, O Lord,
    that I seek. ”

    the Psalms help us to focus on the transcendent reason for worship throughout all of our days

    If the ways of praying and praise serve to illuminate Christ, how then can these ways of worship divide a community of faith along generation lines?

  2. says

    It was possible for the last 2,000 years.

    If we stand firm and do not give in to the culture (which doesn’t give one wit about the church), then it will remain possible.

    Why in Heaven’s name would we want to just hand people back to themselves in a worship service. The self is part of the problem.


    • David Manner says


      I do think, however, that we must be willing to take risks with our worship practices without compromising biblically, theologically, or doctrinally but often accommodating culturally, contextually, and systematically. You are correct in that we often compromise worship by using the language of a culture that doesn’t know what it is looking for in order to reach a culture that doesn’t know what it is looking for.

      The church will never reach its surrounding culture by offering a mediocre prototype of what that culture already has. And yet, in our attempts to reach culture we continue to mimic its language, organization, dress, practices, and music…usually a few notches below in quality or a few steps after that culture has moved on to something new.

      We must be reminded that we shouldn’t continue looking for “The Next Big Thing” in order to influence the culture since it is already available to us… “Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.” If we can’t influence culture with that understanding then we can’t teach enough new songs to do it. The only way it will be possible for our worship to impact culture is for all of us to understand continuous worship that doesn’t start and stop with the beginning and ending of the worship service.

  3. says

    I don’t pay a lot of attention to analyses such as these, mainly because I’ve been to Red Hills Baptist Church, just outside Kingston, Jamaica. Many times.

    Instead of analyzing why we can or can’t worship with other generations, we just worship.

    My, oh my. How we worship there.

  4. says

    Very good… My two favorite quotes:

    “Multi-generational worship is only possible if our common ground is deference instead of preference.”

    “Multi-generational worship will occur when the only battle is over who can offer/give the most instead of who deserves/demands the most.”

  5. Dave Miller says

    This has been a constant struggle at my church over the last 7 years. In our city, many churches have basically abandoned traditional music/style. We try to balance the two, so we have a lot of young and a lot of older folks.

    Truth is, as David has said here, they often just think and approach things differently.

  6. Frank L. says

    Best blog post since 1897.

    Thank you. I’m currently struggling with this issue at this very moment. I feel like I’m skinny-dipping in a shark tank.

    All those differences outlined make is seem like a “slam-dunk” in favor of “targeted generational churches,” as opposed to multi-generational.

    I’m ordering Parrett’s book and beginning my own: “Skinny Dipping in a Shark Tank Without Losing Your Vitality.”

  7. Jess Alford says

    It’s hard to beat, Softly and Tenderly, Just as I am, and Kneel at the cross.
    Maybe I’m just selfish, Much of today’s modern songs don’t have God’sname or the name of Jesus in them. To me these aren’t Gospel songs. You have to have feeling in the songs, because Jesus had feelings, the shortest verse in the scripture tells us Jesus wept.

    What is wrong with the older generational teaching the younger generation the right way. We were young once and It worked for us.

    • David Manner says


      I do understand the emotional and spiritual attachment to those songs we have sung for decades as our children were born, raised, and moved away; and as we buried grandparents, parents, and spouses. The difficult balance is in the realization that good, solid texts and tunes did not begin nor will they end with my generation. As new generations connect with the church their emotional and spiritual attachments are not always the same.

      Worship unity does require sacrifice. That sacrifice is the understanding that I may not always like the worship preferences of my children and grandchildren but I am willing to make concessions because I love them. What could occur in the area of worship unity if we all had the attitude that 6 days and 23 hours of the week I can choose my worship preferences but as my worshiping community gathers for worship I am willing to sacrifice my preferences for the unity of the body.

    • says

      Odd thing is, Jess, I sometimes end up feeling similarly, but my ‘good old, hard to beat’ list is quite different. I got saved in the mid 70’s, and grew up on the Jesus Music of that era. I at times find myself comparing the old Jesus Music to the CCM of today, and modern CCM seems to come up short. Well, to be honest, what I end up doing is comparing the best of the Jesus Music that I remember with the complete range of modern CCM. It’s not surprising that in that comparison, CCM comes up short. The schlock Jesus Music songs, I’ve forgotten, but I’m surrounded by the schlock Modern CCM, mixed with the good Modern CCM. I suspect something similar happens when comparing any past music with current music.

      I’ll agree with having the older generation teach the younger generation, with the proviso that the older generation figure out how to teach maturity in songwriting without an insistence on the older generation’s preferred music style.

  8. Bruce H. says

    There was a method established that was principle oriented. We do not do it in our homes and new converts come in with ingrained music style baggage we “compromise” to. If the generation gap is a real issue, and it is, we need to learn to reverse engineer our problems. The following is foundational for the Christian home.

    “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:6-9

    “Only take heed to yourself, and diligently keep yourself, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. And teach them to your children and your grandchildren,” Deuteronomy 4:9

    In the New Testament Paul gives individual instruction to Children, Wives and Husbands. The children have this instruction, “Children obey your parents”. They have to read it for themselves and work at doing it. We are responsible for their obedience and instruction. We may see a different outcome when we obey God’s command. It is not something we try to figure out. We simply need to get back to “obeying” Bible principles. The results will follow.

  9. says

    The problem is that we have sacrificed ourselves on the altar of the current perception of success. When the Spirit of God is in control, He brings biblical koinonia to the table. That kind of sharing is able to weather the storm of worship controversy and produce the deference requested by the post. I would submit, however, that deference should be mutual…and the direction of the post is one dimensional. If the younger can only be retained by letting them have their own way, without regard for the feelings of their elder brothers and sisters, we do not have biblical koionia but narcissism. If the elders demand to have only music that is comfortable for them, then selfishness reigns.
    To me, this mutual submission is only necessary in a church that is multi-generational at its core: where a family of believers has lived out their faith and generations have been added along the way. A church plant that establishes their target group and defines themselves musically should be able to continue that form of worship, even should older believers align themselves with the congregation. They knew who the church was when they aligned. I do think that those churches have questions that will have to be answered twenty years from now: will those whose musical focus so dominates their faith be willing to move to wherever their children take it?

  10. Bart Barber says

    The “old music” can more accurately be regarded as “what’s left of the old music after previous generations sorted through it all, discarded most of it, and kept a few of the most appealing items.”

    The “new music” can more accurately be regarded as “all of the music through which we still have to do our sorting so that we can discard most of it and keep a few of the most appealing items.”

    Among the tasks that fall to all us Christians during our lifetimes is the job of creating new music, sorting through it all, discarding most of it, and keeping the real gems. It is dereliction of duty to refuse to go through the new stuff and just to stick with the proven psalms of the past. It is dereliction of duty to refuse to throw away the new items that don’t deserve to survive and to insist that whatever played on the CCM radio station on Friday—whatever it is—is worthy of prime placement in the worship of the church. It is foolhardy to try to survive only on the unproven new stuff.

  11. John Wylie says

    I think the most important question that we need to ask concerning this issue is to whom is our worship directed? When music style comes to the forefront it begs the question could we possibly have changed the object of worship? The last time I checked worship is to be directed toward God and that is true whether they play my favorite songs or not.

  12. says

    Yes, it is possible and you hit on it when you call for deference instead of preference. We need to value each other enough to not get our way and put the interests of the other ahead of ourselves.

    Very good post. Thank you.

  13. David says

    Form what I have seen, most of the people in my parent’s generation (folks in thir 70’s and 80’s) have no desire to listen to any of the CCM which is played in a typical “Contemporary Service”, so as a result many churches are in some ways segregated with two different worship services. The older folks are happy in their “Traditional Service” and the younger folks are likewise happy in their service. There is an impression out there (whether statistics back this up or not, I don’t know), that non-churched folks are more likey to attend a Contemporary service, so it is hard to see churches which have Contemporary Services going back to the way things were 40 years ago. Even though it is sad that the multi-generational services that I grew up attending is a dying breed, I don’t see things changing.

    One important thing to keep in mind about today’s CCM as compared to the old hynms, is that CCM is a big commercial business and as such, the artists and record labels want the listeners to constantly be buying new songs. As a result, there probably won’t be many of these songs sung on a consistent basis 10 years from now as compared to hymns in the Baptist Hymnal which have often been there over 100 years. A quick example is the song, “Shout to the Lord” – how often do you hear it now?

    I am not criticizing the CCM industry – we all have to make a living. I am just stating a reality which makes the songs heard in Contemporary Services often short lived. By contrast, the older folks will say the old hymns are better because we keep singing them for decades.

  14. says

    I think one thing would help is to get rid of “I can’t worship unless” disease. God is worthy of worship whether the environment is what we like or not.

    Back in one of the churches I attended in West Virginia, we had a worship leader who was not only skilled musically (he’d started playing piano at the age of 3, and it showed), he had really learned to let the Holy Spirit lead in leading worship, and it made a difference. When I moved to the Atlanta area, I can’t say I really found anything comparable. So, am I supposed to say “I can’t worship unless we have a worship leader comparable to Jeff”? No. What I had was an opportunity to learn to pour myself into worship even in environments that aren’t up to the standards I was used to, to worship God for who He is, not for the worship environment He’d put me in.

    We need group worship, but I don’t think we’re supposed to be dependent on the group in order to worship. God is worthy of worship whether we consider the environment conducive to worship or not.

  15. says

    Oh, and um, Dave? Your footnote links to a Word document on your hard drive. I think it’s rather difficult for the rest of us to get to it (and I’m sure you want to keep it that way).

    (waiting for the footnote to mysteriously disappear)

  16. says

    I think a church needs to decide what their Biblical conviction is about music and be who they are. I will tell you about our church – and I am not telling you that your church has to be like ours. Our church uses hymns only. We have no problem with a song being new, but since most songs written today have the style we consider as being from the world, it is easier to stick with the hymnal (though it is not perfect). When lost people come to our church, I find that they are not surprised that we sound like a church and not the life they are trying to leave behind. And they stay with us many times and come to the Lord. Our children and young people (and we have a lot) enjoy singing the hymns. Men don’t have to wonder where they should focus their eyes so as to avoid the slightly (or not so slightly) immodest singer dancing on the stage. Most of the people who don’t like our music tend to be those who are already believers anyway.

    And as I look at the New Testament, it appears to me that worship was tailored to strengthen the believer, not tailored to the lost. In other words, the lost are better served when they think of becoming a believer as a change in lifestyle rather than a slight transition. I think the phenomenon ought to be like Acts 5, where the lost were afraid to even associate with the church because of what God was doing there, and then the next verse says that God was adding to their number daily.

    That is who we are. Our goal is the same as the next church – to reach the lost and make disciples. We have some folks who come from other churches because they want to raise their children this way and we have some folks who we reach who have backgrounds completely different than ours. In this, our results are much like most churches whose approach is opposite ours. And in light of the research and data on young people leaving the church, for the most part ours are not leaving.

    Unless your church is really exceptional, very few lost people are going to be drawn to your church’s really cool music. Most churches can’t compete with the world’s music and end up sounding about 10-20 years behind anyway.

    I know that by writing this I have now fallen off of the “cutting edge”. I am sure I am no longer “missional” (although we have adopted a UUPG and we care about the lost and try to equip our people to reach them). I could go on and tell you about how we are family-integrated and that our 1-year olds are in Sunday School with our 60 year olds, but that might just be too much for one post :>).

    God bless you guys (and gals) today. Find our what God wants your church to be and go for it.

    Ronny Cooksey

    • says

      How does one define whether or not a musical style is from the world? Do you research the history of the melodies used by your church to ensure they were written by Christians for church purposes?

      “And as I look at the New Testament, it appears to me that worship was tailored to strengthen the believer, not tailored to the lost.”

      To that I can give a hearty ‘amen’ with one addition: worship was tailored first of all to, well, worship God. Strengthening the believer came next. Anything worship did for the unbeliever was somewhat peripheral. This is one place where churches today miss the mark: by adjusting styles and methods to get people to come in rather than to guide the worship of participating believers.

      In 100 other ways I would likely agree with you against some of our modern practices (ie, I loathe displaying pictures and videos and such – waterfalls, flowers, ducks, whatever – while projecting songs on the screen. I think it’s a terrible idea; once when I shared this with a pastor friend, he joked that my church was excited to get a young pastor but found they got an 80-yr-old in a 30-yr-old body). But I don’t think musical style itself is a cause for concern. I don’t really care what the style is so long as the content puts the focus where it should be. Styles change, and different people respond to different things in different ways.

      • says


        Good question. On the one hand, there are elements within the music itself that I (just me here) believe cause it to be inappropriate. BUT, that is a can of worms too big for this arena. So, to be conciliatory, I will say that you could read my post again and say that a church should determine which style they prefer and go with that, focusing more on authenticity than whether or not they are hitting all styles (it goes deeper than preference for us, but let’s skip over that for the sake of the conversation). Forty years ago, CCM was the alternative. Today, churches like ours are the alternative. No problem. That is why each church is autonomous.

        As for the rest of your comment, there was much to agree with. We do well to remember that “come out from among them” is not just an Old Testament teaching; it is also found in the New Testament. But why come out? To keep the church pure AND to show the lost that we have found something worth worshipping and that they will want to come in and find the Lord. “Come out” doesn’t mean that we don’t go to them to reach them, but it should mean that we don’t try to imitate them in order to reach them.

        At our church, we desire for all to feel welcome and loved (and we work on that) but none of us to feel “comfortable” – meaning that the Gospel is offensive and calls for a change in my life. We don’t put that on a banner though – That would be catchy on the side of the church, huh – “Come to Our Church – You Won’t Feel Comfortable” – :>)



        • says

          I try to remind my people that we gather to worship God and build the saints, while we go out to minister and spread the gospel. There will always (should always) be a degree of overlap, but we need to keep these in mind as the norm. One implication: it is not evangelism to invite someone to church. Evangelism means telling the gospel, not getting people to come to your church so the preacher can tell them the gospel. The preacher should be clear about the gospel, but the primary purpose of preaching is equipping the saints for works of ministry, not winning the lost. We gather to build, we go to share.

          • says


            You said: “There will always (should always) be a degree of overlap, but we need to keep these in mind as the norm.”

            I like the way you phrased that. Yes, expositional preaching is primarily to glorify God and to fulfill Ephesians 4:11-15, but I also do as Spurgeon said and “take every text and run with it to the Cross!”.

            Press on,


  17. Wayne Roberts says

    I’m a member of Sojourn Community Church (SBC) here in Louisville. I enjoy the worship music we sing even though I’m 52, and most of the pastoral staff is in their mid-30’s. We sing a number of old hymns in new settings (but the original tune is still there), we also sing quite a bit of original material written by members of our worship team. Here is a link to our bandcamp site where you can listen to all of the CD’s produced by Sojourn Curious about what you think of the music.