Okay everybody. I might as well be up front and say that I am obsessed with the idea of intergenerational worship. So if I sound a bit intense or even close minded, please forgive my charisma and know that one day it will grow more mature and maybe even mellow.

By "intergenerational worship," I mean corporate worship that is planned with all generations in mind.

For me, the bottom line is this: If we're having a gathering of the whole church and a specific population of the church isn't welcome, or is only welcome for part of it, or is only welcome if they behave in a way that is unlike the way they are in every other setting, then, well, I see a big red flag.

I guess what seems to be required is a decision about what a worship service is, and --at the risk of sounding consumeristic--can provide for the Body of Christ. Sometimes, serving some needs excludes the meeting of others. It seems to me that for
intergenerational worship to work, other structures must be in place to meet needs that might have formerly been met by a worship service.

The first concern many people have is that the developmental needs of children are different than those of adults. Another one is that parents need a break. Many have come to look forward to dropping off their children and having a special adult time of spiritual enrichment. And then of course there's the silence issue. Many adults find God in the quiet places. And if children are around--especially very young children--it's not going to be silent.

Although all these concerns are good things to think about, and indeed real needs of real people. But to bring them up as a way to advocate for children to be excluded from worship (even if they're doing some incredibly developmentally appropriate things while adults finish worshiping) is really missing the point.

It's a little bit too much like "separate but equal" not too long ago--all sorts of irrelevant arguments were (and still are) made in those cases to justify excluding particular groups--including the "developmentally appropriate" one.

Many of us no doubt grew up going to at least part of the worship service at church. And many of our parents were there the entire time because there were no children's programs. So, we were included--sort of. We still remember the songs the congregation sang and maybe even the kinds of things that people said from up front.

Unfortunately, we probably also remember having to sit still, consoling ourselves with crayons or a novel, maybe even getting taken out for harsh discipline or (in my case) pinched right then and there for making a peep! No parent I know believes in nor wants to go down that road.

Today, the Holy Spirit is clearly at work to help churches value and respect children in a more holistic way. Children's ministries are not working--both staff and volunteers are burned out and the percentage of children they serve who don't return to church as adults keeps growing. At the same time, more and more parents aren't willing to trudge through, using systems of rewards and punishment to be with children throughout a service that was designed for adults. I feel confident that God will teach us creative ways to be together as the church--ways that will help us genuinely pass down our faith from one generation to another.

After all, worship is caught, not taught. And what could be more at the core of our faith than learning how to worship--not only all the time, whatever we're doing--but also intentionally and in community.

The use of short and repetitive liturgy, movement, sensory experiences, and storytelling are just a few of the many intergenerational activities that can help us be together for worship.

And there's a bonus...adults benefit from what helps children learn.

Anyone else have these feelings? Anyone having strong feelings about these ideas? How would you feel if your congregation started planning services with all generations in mind (and didn't have any sort of childcare while it's happening)?

Thanks for listening, and thanks in advance for humoring me with your responses.
posted by Molly at 1:16:00 PM |


At January 22, 2008 at 9:52 PM, Blogger Maria

Yes, I have strong feelings too! For me the root of the issue is that worship in the typical American church is a combination of "worship", meaning singing, that is designed to induce some kind of altered-state experience, followed by a sermon modeled on the lecture hall. Neither environment accommodates children very well. I've been asked to remove a perfectly quiet and content infant from worship because she was looking at and smiling at the adults around her, "distracting" them from the singing. I've also been asked to remove a happy toddler who was quietly dancing in the front of the church (where all the children had been invited one Christmas Sunday), because she was distracting someone from the pastor's sermon.

These experiences started me thinking -- well, after I got done fuming, ranting and crying -- about how well the music-induced trance and the lecture actually serve the purpose of discipleship. To which I concluded, they don't help much.

A worship experience that included children would be a little noisy and a bit chaotic, but it would have to be rooted in real things and everyday experiences. If it doesn't make sense to a five-year-old, does it make sense to anyone?

I have no answers on this one, only the dim hope that there may be a way of working this out in the context of home and family first.

By the way, I appreciate silence as much, perhaps more, than the next person, but I don't expect too much of it in a corporate worship experience.


At January 23, 2008 at 6:27 AM, Blogger kara

I loved what you had to say, Molly. I would actually be delighted to be in a service that was engaging for not only me, but for my children as well. Sadly enough, I've never seen that done and it's really rather difficult for me to even imagine. We try to have family services a few times during the year, but we end up with far more complaints than positive remarks about it. I think that if we included the children more often and designed our services appropriately, both the children and the adults would eventually adapt well. Thanks for sharing this.


At January 23, 2008 at 7:24 AM, Anonymous Jenn

It's interesting that you posted this because I just got my first taste of it on Sunday. We've been attending a church more geared to university students since September. My four year old daughter is a born dancer and as soon as music starts, she's moving. One of the students went back to the pew she was dancing in, grabbed her hand and pulled her up to the front and handed her a ribbon to dance with. It was beautiful to see her worship in a way that is so meaningful to her. A way that we've only ever done at home in the living room. The children still go to another room for the "message" part of the service- more of a give and take of dialogue than just a spectator format. My older 2 like to go to this but my 2 yr old wants to stay with us. I am still struggling with the whole "children should be seen and not heard" that I was brought up with in this regard. It doesn't bother me but I'm so worried about everyone else.
Love your thoughts, Kara. :)


At January 24, 2008 at 9:04 AM, Blogger Marcus Bull

There is a growing movement in the UK (as well as - I understand - in the USA) arguing for Intergenerational Worship. But the advocates of this movement go much further than simply calling for more All Age Worship. Rather, our call is for churches to become All Age communities: being church together, regardless of age, should be a norm, not an anomaly. In order to nurture people and raise up new leaders we need strong relationships that transcend age divisions. In other words, we need to start asking ‘what can we not do together?’ rather than allowing the church to operate with a separatist default position.

The church of all ages is surely the clearest way to embody kingdom values of welcome and reconciliation in order that the whole world might be saved.

We could point to the big story of Scripture, which begins with God as community, and God’s call to community. Tell the family story of the OT. Refer to the Incarnation as an all age event. Point to the household communities of the early church, and the pictures in Revelation of a diverse community gathered around God’s throne. And challenge us all to make our churches diverse and inclusive, all age, communities.

Or we could point to what is going on in (UK) society at the moment, particularly with regard to Generational Segregation. Adults are afraid of young people. The need for criminal records checks for anyone who has any contact with children has led to a general suspicion of others. So let's point to the need for accountable, responsible communities. And say that the church has a responsibility to challenge the way society is and show how it could be different; to show how all age community is possible.

We could point out the fact that Sunday schools (in the UK) were a 19th Century invention, and that they were always separate from the main worship event, normally taking place on a Sunday afternoon. It’s only since perhaps the 1920s that the Sunday School class has taken place at the same time as Sunday morning adult worship. And yet our churches are unquestioningly locked into this pattern of doing church that is less than 100 years old.

We cannot be a whole community unless children play a full part, nor can children develop in their discipleship unless they participate and belong in a meaningful way to a community of people of all ages committed to one another on the pilgrim journey.

So we should stop asking “‘How can we keep the children from disturbing us as we worship in ways that are dear to us?’ but rather, ‘How can we invite children into real involvement with our worship of God?' 'What is the essence of our worship and what is merely adult habit and prejudice?' 'How can we make the whole liturgy accessible to children without losing the adults?’ ‘How can we help our children truly to take part in the whole liturgy, word and sacrament, not separately but with us?’ ‘How can we preach the Word so that all can hear it?’”

Enabling all ages to worship and engage with Scripture together must become a priority in the life of the church. Church should be “a community for all, not only for the elderly, or for the articulate, or for the ‘mature’ – not even just for the teenagers. The presence of children is essential at the centre of Christian worship, with the whole worshipping community. Participation in such worship is not the goal of Christian nurture but the very means of nurture. To separate children from the community in worship and to make special provision for them (say in Sunday school) is to bring them up in something less than the fullness of Christian experience, and will impoverish their nurture.

If in a Christian community we are not ready to accept or take seriously each other’s preferred styles, both in worship and in other aspects of community life, then the Christian nurture going on in that community is in some ways defective. Christian nurture can never be an entirely one-way traffic. We must learn from each other or we are not learning well. We must grow together or none of us will grow as we should.


At January 28, 2008 at 12:51 PM, Blogger Sarah

Great post and great discussion! I really appreciated Marcus's answer. There's not much to add, really. But I too desire to see an intergenerational approach to gathering. Or, really, to life in general. I'm dismayed to see how widely accepted some attitudes toward children are. For instance, the attitude that children are not part of the "real" adult world, and should not get in the way of the "important" adult world. This is not limited to the church, but going out to eat, and engaging in everyday life. Even people WITH kids have this attitude, and it really bothers me. There is something inherently dishonoring in it - it assumes that children are not real people. :(


At January 28, 2008 at 1:16 PM, Blogger Saranell

Before I had children of mine own intergenerational worship seemed like a noble but totally impractical idea. Now I long for it. I feel strange leaving my children out of corporate worship. They are my companions throughout every other day watching, learning and teaching me. I don't like Sunday school or most nurseries so we don't go very often. On Christmas Eve we went to a family service during which my two year old asked repeatedly quite loudly, 'what that man doing?' Little does he know all that he is asking.


At January 30, 2008 at 7:16 AM, Blogger the holly

i'm with you!

today i'm dreaming of a community that gathers together intergenerationally for a shorter liturgy that is developmentally appropriate for all people. and then perhaps growing time where folks can gather to learn, etc. either intergenerationally or gathered by developmental levels. hmmm...is that so crazy??


At January 31, 2008 at 10:19 AM, Blogger arden

I wonder if you have some good examples of this working well, and or resourses for meaningful intergenerational worship. I am interested in this as a pastor. Our worshipping group is more permissive it sounds than what you experienced. Our youth lead music and offer spoken parts of the worship. I try to engage different age groups with my teaching, but I am not finding a lot of good information about this. Arden


At January 31, 2008 at 9:25 PM, Blogger mollykf

Thanks for responding, everyone--for sharing your joys, sorrows, frustrations, hopes. Thank you Jesus for good company.


Tell us more about what you consider a "growing movement." Sounds like good news--maybe even a little difficult for me to believe. Other than the people on this blog, I only know two people who "get" the things we're saying here. I live in Seattle and I've asked around at the "cutting edge" churches. In fact I'm involved in one. I can see that people are ripe for it (I keep meeting families who don't think they can be a part of church without splitting up), but I'm not seeing evidence of the beliefs you wrote about (and, btw, I agree wholeheartedly with) in actual Christian community practice. The idea of all age communities (not to mention, children) seems to be ignored by the part of the emergent church movement that I've seen so far. There are several ways that Maclaren's _Generous Orthodoxy_ is pretty conventional when it comes to children and all age communities. I find this phenomenon frustrating. If we're going to be so "revolutionary" on so many levels, who not this one? So, to repeat my question more specifically--Do you know of any congregations or people (UK or US) who are passionately working toward all age Christian communities?


We've experimented a bit with what you're dreaming about--not with the whole church, but (so far) with other families. Every week our small group does a "family worship liturgy"--it's short but has all the traditional elements of a worship, and the children know many parts of it by heart now. We also did something similar for a "families doing advent" gathering that included a candlelight service. If you'd like to see the details I could em them to you.


How wonderful that you asked, and that your congregation is already learning how to incorporate more than the usual number of generations.

By far the best resource I have been given is _Including Children in Worship: A Planning Guide for Congregations_ by Elizabeth J. Sandell. It's approachable, clear, easy to read, and step by step. A gem, really. I wish I could point you to congregations actually following Sandell's book, but I don't know of even one.

Incidentally, I just looked it up on Amazon and found another book titled _Get Ready! Get Set! Worship!_. Looks interesting but I've never seen it in person.


At February 1, 2008 at 1:54 AM, Blogger Marcus Bull

Hi Molly
Thanks for the comments. This 'growing movement' is still very small! I belong to an 'Intergenerational Church Forum, hosted by CPAS at Leamington Spa (UK), and about 20 church leaders meet every six months to share ideas and stories, etc. That's not many, really, in the scheme of things. But it's a start.

And there are some really good resources here in the UK (I think you could probably get hold of them via the internet). Look here: http://www.barnabasinchurches.org.uk/isbn/9781841015033.htm
and here: http://www.grovebooks.co.uk/cart.php?target=product&product_id=16171&category_id=288
to start with!


At February 11, 2008 at 7:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

I loved reading this discussion. One FANTASTIC resource for this discussion and much more is Welcoming Children: A Practical Theology of Childhood by Joyce Ann Mercer. She talks about how there is such ambivalence when it comes to children in the church, and proposes a nice picture of what things could be like.


At February 19, 2008 at 2:08 PM, Blogger mollykf

Thanks, everybody for the resource connections. I was just thrilled to find another one. Many of you have probably heard of the church "Solomon's Porch." I just looked at the children section of their website and found that they're really including children in worship, and they're supporting parents at the same time! Check out their lovely description of how they consider all ages: http://solomonsporch.com/familieschildren_pagegroup/


At February 26, 2008 at 5:08 AM, Blogger Jeff Greathouse

Yes, now that is what I am talking about.


At April 30, 2008 at 4:19 PM, Blogger Evan Lauer

Great stuff. Good to read, good to know there are others out there trying to incorporate children and youth into the full worship experience.

On one hand I wish we all lived closer so we could worship together with the kiddos, yet it's probably good that we're all spread out trying to implement these ideas is so many different churches.

Within the last 4 months our church has started to "allow" parents to keep their kids in church. As the pastor, my wife and I are doing our best to model this with our 5 kids. My older 3, (12,9 and 7) sit and listen and participate, my younger two,(2 1/2 and 13 months) sit on the carpet and are able to move around.

We are encouraging parents to try it out, yet still providing some classroom space for parents who are new to this idea and have not done adequate training at home.

I borrowed some verbage from the Solomon's Porch website and re-wrote some of it for what we are trying to do. If you'd like to take a look at what we are learning and trying, go to: http://www.coastlandschurch.org/teams_children.html


At September 27, 2010 at 8:48 PM, Anonymous Wendy

We have started a multi-age, interactive service at our church. I too was distressed with having so many kids sent out of church and not able to worship with their parents and the broader church community. My other dilemma is that we are teaching them culture not necessarily worship and they are not relating to that culture at all. As the leader of the Sunday School I was passionate that somehow we change to more relevant worship.
Our service is a little chaotic but the kids are actively engaged. They are also on the planning teams to organise the services so there is a level of mentoring and teaching as we plan together for the service. There is a great sense of ownership in this also. We have tables with paper on them and coloured pencils there so any one can draw etc. Sometime the 'tablecloth' drawings are used for the 'talk/discussion' time also. We have had to run the service as an alternative to the sung eucharist and at the same time in another building on the site as most of the general church population were not willing to change their church culture. It is sad and we have been trying to bring change over the last few years but they really just wanted the kids as 'eye candy'. Our service has only met 3 times and it is on a fortnightly basis, we do sunday school the other weeks. We thought that we would build up to 30 by christmas but we have had between 50 and 60 each week!! Some parents still see it just for the kids and choose not to join us. I have though loved the time when a 3 year old sitting on his mums lap called out that he wanted to thank God for his friends, or to see families talking about faith issues together. I have been excited about it. Please keep us in your prayers too!