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Book Group Reflection: Vision, Intention, and Means Incorporating all generations into worship

A reflection from Karen Bables, Holland, Michigan on he book "The Church of all Ages"

Karen Bables

Vision, Intention, and Means Incorporating all generations into worship

Christ Memorial Reformed Church (CMC) is a congregation of about 3,200 members in Holland, Michigan. Our vision is to be “a Christian community of all ages, abilities, backgrounds, and cultures dedicated to living as the hands, feet, and voice of Jesus wherever we go.” This vision positions Christ Memorial Church to fully embrace the concept of “intergenerational worship” as described in The Church of All Ages.

Therefore, when Gary Matthews, Minister of Worship, was asked by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship to convene a reading group to discuss The Church of All Ages, he decided to use an existing group (with the approval of CICW), the Creative Worship Team at Christ Memorial, as the basis of the reading group. This team meets weekly to think together about the scripture passage for the worship service and to suggest ways that the theme of the service can be carried out in worship. These ideas are then used by the worship planning teams to create the worship times for the Classic and Casual Classic worship services and the epic worship service (a multi-cultural contemporary worship experience).

The Creative Worship Team is composed of the Minister of Worship, the Worship Artistic Director, the organist, members of the epic worship team, the Minister of Multicultural Life and other representatives from that Multicultural team, the Coordinator of Spiritual Formation, a volunteer who leads the drama team, and a college intern who serves in the worship department. In addition, the children’s music director and the Minister of Children’s Ministries were also invited to attend the reading group. The ages of the members of the group include five decades. Several members are Hispanic, and include some “1.5’s” (people who are “straddling” two cultures and “attempt to bridge” the customs of their culture with those of the culture in which they live) and “2’s” – “those who are shaped largely by American values and adopt American lifestyles and language” ( see pp. 6 and 7 of The Church of All Ages). We consider Christ Memorial to be a “blended congregation,” one where a “conscious effort is made to appeal to all generations it encompasses,” as well as to all cultures and ethnic groups (see p. 14).

Discussion Themes

It is important to note the profile of our group because it not only influenced the discussion of intergenerational issues but also explains the other topics that came up consistently during our discussions. Assimilating the traditions, cultures, and opinions of members of a variety of races paralleled our discussions of viewing all ages in a congregation as equally important. We found that at this stage of Christ Memorial’s 50+-year history, the desire to be inclusive to all races was as important as the desire to be inclusive of all ages.

In addition, because our vision statement of being a “Christian community of all ages, backgrounds and cultures” was recently amended to include “abilities,” our discussion also often focused on the desire to make people with physical, emotional, and mental challenges feel at home, as well as to make an effort to include them as participants. Because of these discussions, a mentally challenged man and his mother lit the Advent Candle at one service and a teen-ager with muscular dystrophy in a wheelchair and his family did the same.

The discussion of inclusivity also had a role in intentionally encouraging the congregation to participate emotionally in a worship service (raising hands, moving, clapping, saying “Amen”) as they are led, since all ways of worship are equally important and equally valued. This is particularly important at Christ Memorial since the first worship service (classic service) is home to a generally emotionally subdued congregation, while attendees of the epic service are much more visibly emotional and demonstrative. This difference can cause misunderstandings and divisiveness. Our Minister of Worship felt it was important to address everyone’s freedom to worship with their emotions as they feel moved to do.

Our Experience

The point of view of The Church of All Ages is that “intergenerational worship is worship in which people of every age are understood to be equally important” (p. 11). Our vision is to make that understanding so prevalent that the congregation does not notice us “working at it.” That is, people of all generations always feel welcome and it is assumed, perhaps on a subliminal level, that all people of all generations (and races and abilities) will be participating in the worship.

The understanding of what it will take to make this vision reality grew at each meeting. How do we meet the needs of people of all stages of faith development in one service? In our focus on the needs of children, do we also remember that seniors are also in the process of growing and maturing? Conversely, how do we give seniors who are full of wisdom and experience an opportunity to share in worship? Will the members of the congregation who ask where the teens and 20’s and 30’s are be willing to accept the kind of worship that will draw them in? How do we move beyond “it’s all about me” to “it’s all about the church?” Answering these questions is our task.

In one of the last sessions, we looked at our progress in answering these questions by listing the ways we are already connecting the generations in worship. Here are a few of them:

  • we have choirs of all ages; the orchestra and the praise teams are intergenerational
  • we have all ages (from kindergarten to adult) doing sacred dance, with choreography suited to their abilities
  • kids and teens read the scripture lesson; mixed generations read scripture together
  • visuals (PowerPoint, videos) contain all generations and appeal to all generations
  • children sing and the congregation sings with them
  • children’s art is used on the bulletin cover
  • three-generational teams hand out bulletins

To encourage continued progress toward inclusiveness, we agreed to meet again as a reading group in 3–6 months and assess how we are doing. In the meantime, we recognize that it is important for all departments in the church to feed ideas for intergenerational worship to the team.

The Value of Reading Groups

We believe that this reading book project was an effective collective learning process for Christ Memorial. However, our group was different than most others because all the members of the group were from the same church and were already on a journey together in making worship meaningful for all members of the congregation.

We discussed a chapter of the book at the beginning of each weekly worship team meeting. Each week the conversation immediately moved to “How can we make what we just learned happen in the next worship service?” In fact, notes from the first reading group meeting conclude with the comment that the leadership and congregation already accept and practice the concept of ministering to and including all generations in worship, but want to become more intentional on a weekly basis. We then proceeded to make an intentional effort to deal with the hard questions of intergenerational worship and do our best to encourage members of the congregation to be willing to participate in something that will benefit another person even if they themselves are uncomfortable.

We have learned that many reading groups were frustrated because they had no way to incorporate the many ideas they had for intergenerational worship: In some cases, because members in the group were the only ones in the group from their church; in others they were not empowered to make decisions on worship because the pastor was not included in the reading group or the church structure required approval by committees on new or creative ideas. We did not have that problem at all. All the “players” were at the table and we were able to be as creative and original as time allowed.

Because we incorporated the book discussion into already scheduled regular weekly meetings, we had ten meetings plus a “summing up” meeting, where most other reading groups only had three meetings. This allowed us to move from reading to action immediately. At our second weekly meeting, we were asked by the Minister of Worship how the previous week’s worship service reflected what we had been learning.

The following points were mentioned:

A big part of the service was the annual “ Bless the Children” celebration which is held in the fall to celebrate the beginning of children’s programming This year, however, in the Classic service, the children came to the front of the sanctuary so they were visible to the entire congregation. During the prayer for the children, the members of the congregation raised their hands to the children (to symbolize the laying on of hands.) Adult leaders sitting among the children noted that the children took this very seriously.

Also during that service:

  • a three-generation family read the litany
  • An adult and a child sang an updated version of “This Little Light of Mine” together
  • Both the orchestra and the praise team were made up of diverse age groups. An elementary school child beat a big drum right alongside her father who played the snare drums.

Dallas Willard, a noted writer on discipleship, says that in order for transformation to take place there must be Vision, Intention, and Means (VIM). Our experience demonstrates that reading groups which are focused on intentionality and are empowered to act can bring the vision that they create to reality as they learn together. We would love to use this same method and process with a book on multicultural worship.