By Vernon Whaley
The sun was flickering sparkles on the frosted earth as we turned into the church parking lot on that February Sunday. Almost immediately, our eyes were drawn to scores of signs that read, “ONE!” Everywhere we looked we saw “ONE” signs. As we walked into the sanctuary, the purpose and meaning of the ONE signs began to clarify. For years, the congregation gathered at three different times: 8:30 a.m. for the Legacy “Traditional” Service, 9:30 a.m. for the Blended Service, and 11:00 a.m. for Contemporary Worship. In addition, the teenagers and children met in separate spaces during the Blended service. In all, this 2,500 member church struggled to get attendance at any one of these services up to 500.
This Sunday was different. EVERYONE was meeting together at 9:30 a.m.—as ONE. For weeks, the pastor’s sermons proclaimed: “ONE Faith, ONE Baptism, ONE Hope, ONE bond of Peace, ONE Calling…” and that day, the entire assembly was ONE in Worship.
The praise team included 10 singers of various ethnicities and ages—an elementary child, middle and high school students, a young married couple, a middle-aged mother, and a senior adult grandpa. A very large choir was equally multi-generational and culturally inclusive. The pastor’s sermon unpacked Ephesians 4:6: ONE God and Father of ALL; above all, through all, and in all.
Congregational participation was “off the chart.” Worship singing began with an elementary-age child singing “As The Deer.” Congregational singing included every stylistic preference imaginable. After about 45 minutes of a well-crafted time of worship through song, Scripture, and a short reader’s theatre, the worship leader began praying. Before speaking the “Amen,” the senior adult grandpa concluded the entire service with “I Love You Lord,” complete with a four-fold musical rendering of “Amen” by the choir.
But the most powerful moment came during the baptismal celebration right before the sermon. At this point, the congregational engagement was exceeding my wildest imagination. A member of the congregation read a short, well-crafted salvation testimony as each candidate walked down into the baptismal water: 1) a young boy with Downs Syndrome; 2) a young mother delivered from drug addiction; and 3) a 35-year-old man released from state prison just the day before. “I baptize this my brother in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” the pastor proclaimed as he raised the former felon out of the water. At that moment, the congregation exploded with praise and worship. Everyone was engaged! Even the children—especially the children—were stilled by the power of this moment. This church was worshiping as ONE. We were experiencing firsthand the stunning magic of multi-generational worship.
Why multi-generational worship? First, it is scriptural. The vast majority of Old Testament references actually speak of intergenerational worship. This is where multiple generations within the same family come together for one purpose. An example of intergenerational worship could be a household where great-grandparents, grandparents, parents and children all worship together. Psalm 145:4 recaps the instruction: “One generation will declare your work to the next and will proclaim your mighty acts!” In Exodus 33:8-10, all the people rise and worship, each family in their tent door, while Moses and Joshua enter the tabernacle.
New Testament examples are much more multi-generational in application—including multiple age groups outside of individual family units. In Titus 2, older men are to teach the younger men how to be sober, reverent, temperate, and sound in faith, love, and patience. And the older women are to teach the young women to love their husbands and children, and to be discreet, chaste, and obedient to the Word of God. First Peter 5 admonishes the older men to shepherd the younger. And the younger are to honor the elderly.
Second, Multi-generational worship provides opportunity to edify and educate. Multi-generational worship gives opportunity for ALL to commend or brag on God’s work, tell others of God’s power and wonderful acts, proclaim or speak of God’s incredible deeds, celebrate God’s goodness with joy, and sing of His righteousness (Psalm 145:4).