Formational Worship: Developing a Practice Mindset for All Ages to Participate
“Perfect practice makes perfect. Perfect practice makes progress. Practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect. Practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes progress. Practice makes improvement. No one is perfect. Practice makes permanent.”–BandDirectorsTalkShop.com
Often, we see practice as preparation for the “real thing,” or the “real event.” Conversely, a good music teacher or sports coach would tell you that practice is not only the “real thing,” but it’s everything—the sum of all you are and all you will become.
We are what we practice.
In the same way, we, as God’s people, are formed by our participation in worship; what we practice in worship and how we practice become crucial in what we are to become. Worship is participation in the life of the triune God, and when we, as God’s people, participate in worship, we are formed to be more like Christ—to become the people of God.
Intergenerational worship seeks to bring all generations together as equal, valued participants in the divine relationship of the triune God, being formed in our participation with God and one another to be the body of Christ and embody the fullness of the gospel, proclaiming God’s ongoing redemption of all creation.
When we practice worship that includes all ages, we are living more fully into what it means to be the body of Christ.
To be clear, intergenerational worship is more than just including kids and youth in our worship gatherings. The prefix “inter” in intergenerational implies relationships that are valued among all generations, where we include the voices of all ages, in relationship, with God and one another. Thus, an intergenerational approach sees participation of all ages, in relationship, as vital for communal faith formation. The older need the younger, and the younger need the older.
Additionally, “intergenerational” is more than a new church trend or strategy for reviving the Church. “Intergenerational” is a way of being, a pattern exemplified throughout Scripture, the way God designed the church to be—all ages participating together in the life of the triune God.
As Vice Chair of Intergenerate whose mission is to bring the generations of the church together, I have wrestled with all the ways that rampant ageism in our culture prevents all ages from participating together in worship. After extensive research, including visiting churches of all sizes and denominations post-pandemic, I wondered: why do worship leaders continue to struggle to incorporate participation of all ages in our worship gatherings?
An answer came to this question while editing the upcoming book All Ages Becoming: Intergenerational Christian Practice in the Formation of God’s People, which includes contributions from sixteen Christian leaders, academics and practitioners, representing a diverse array of backgrounds, talents, and experiences, from all over the world, all passionate about intergenerational ministry. In my conversations with these authors, a theme emerged regarding our combined research: intergenerational Christian practice.
Intergenerational Christian practices are intentionally shared rhythms and patterns of participation in Christian community that foster relationships with God among all ages and help us mutually honor God and one another for the sake of becoming more like Christ.
Through our conversations, we realized that intergenerationality is rarely accomplished through programs or ideologies; rather, intergenerational ministry thrives in the day-to-day spaces of faith practices, where leaders and faith communities adopt what I have termed a “practice mindset,” engaging in rhythms of growth and wonder together, while participating in intentional experiments of practice for all ages, reinventing, reimagining together.
Here is what I observed in faith communities who operated in a “practice mindset”:
- Focus on formation. Because formation is a process, how they practiced was as important as what they practiced.
- Authentic listening and sharing. In these communities, people did not take themselves too seriously. Authentic listening and sharing allowed for a balance of fun, laughter, and play, along with freedom also to share in their grief, sorrow, trauma, and pain.
- Imagination and collaboration. Just as a musician needs imagination in order to practice a song in a new way, including all ages requires ingenuity and innovation. Here, I observed change embraced as a spiritual practice, allowing space for reinvention, reimagination, creativity, and collaboration.
- Compassionate listening. The words “noticing” and “curiosity” helped faith communities listen to one another, attending to their responses without judgment, facilitating full, communal listening, while valuing the voices of all ages and all generations.
- Rhythms of growth. Instead of throwing out the old, to engage in the new, they began in their known rhythms of practice, all the while listening, and adding in new rhythms of practice. They embraced meaningful repetition and ritual, knowing that these rhythms allowed for all ages to grow into a specific practice. They also recognized that their continued repetition allowed them to participate more fully and more deeply throughout the week.
- Better together. Their practice mindset prioritized togetherness and authentic relationships—all ages practicing together, learning together, apprenticing in faith together, parenting together, discipling together, worshiping together.
- Hopeful future. Even though they viewed the present moment as pregnant with formational possibility, they also kept one eye to the future with hope, in faith, recognizing they were God’s handiwork, God’s people, being formed to be all that God created them to be (Eph 2:10).
From these observations regarding a practice mindset, I asked:
What if we, as pastors and worship leaders recalibrated? What if we made a shift in our thinking—a shift toward an intergenerational “practice mindset”?
Here are ten key shifts I believe we might experience in our faith communities, if we were to shift toward an intergenerational practice mindset in our worship planning:
- Me-focused to God-focused. Seeing worship as communal practice in our becoming the people of God makes our focus less about what you or I need or want, and more about how God is forming us in our worship practices.
- Performance to relational participation. A practice mindset moves us away from the dangerous spirit of performance, which tends to seek perfection, toward a focus on intentional, authentic relationships where we share with one another in mutual, authentic participation.
- Teacher/learner model to all age discipleship model. When all ages are practicing worship together, we no longer need one person to know everything and be everything in worship; instead, we are all learners together, apprenticing together, practicing faith together. Instead of seeing people as more mature or that certain generations need to be above others, all are learning together—a recipe for wholistic discipleship.
- Passivity to inclusion and belonging. One of my favorite things about a practice mindset is that there are no bench warmers! Everyone is actively participating, sharing in the practice of worship. All ages are included. All ages feel welcome to share. And all ages sense a place of belonging in community.
- One generation to all generations. A common trend I have observed is worship planning focused toward a specific generation. As a result, other generations are excluded. A practice mindset has room for all the generations to practice together. No one is left out! (1 Cor 12). Thus, faith is passed from one generation to the next (Deut 6:4-9; Psalm 145:4; Eph 3:20)
- Fixed to fluid. No one knows better than worship leaders how a little change can tip the apple cart! Taking on a practice mindset allows people the ability to be more open to curiosity and experimentation.
- Consumeristic to service-oriented. The beauty of a practice mindset where all are participating is that worship becomes less about what we can get out of it, and more about how we can serve God and one another in community.
- Quantity to quality. Participants in a practice mindset seek quality in their time practicing together, rather than the quantity of innovations or creativity, or even the quantity of worshipers in the room.
- Cookie-cutter to Spirit-led. In a practice mindset, we no longer have to pattern our worship after the church down the road or on TV. Instead, we step in line with the Spirit, who enables and empowers our practices of creativity, reinvention, imagination, and collaboration.
- Tokenism to authentic sharing. When we move toward a practice mindset, no one person or generation needs to perform. Instead, we can organically share with one another, valuing the gifts of all ages.
As worship leaders, we cannot force intergenerational worship. But we can lay a fertile ground where intergenerational worship can be nurtured to thrive.
As we intentionally seek to plan worship where all ages are valued and participate in worship, I challenge you to consider helping your faith community make this shift toward an intergenerational practice mindset.
What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.— Ephesians 4:9 ESV
Theology in Practice:
- How would you characterize your current mindset involved in planning worship? How about those in leadership around you? What about the mindset of your faith community?
- Are all ages included in your worship gatherings? Where do you see disconnect or exclusion of generations?
- How might you begin making small steps, or shifts, toward an intergenerational practice mindset in your context?
(Note: in our upcoming book, we included “Theology in Practice” questions throughout to enable ministry leaders to practice what they learned in their individual contexts through individual reflection and group discussion.)
Further Resources for Intergenerational Worship and Ministry:
- Intergenerational Christian Formation: Bringing the Whole Church Together in Ministry, Community, and Worship
- InterGenerate: Transforming Churches through Intergenerational Ministry
- Engage All Generations: A Strategic Toolkit for Creating Intergenerational Faith Communities
- Lifelong Faith: Formation for All Ages and Generations
- The Church of All Ages: Generations Worshiping Together
Pre-Order Your Upcoming Copy of my book All Ages Becoming (discount available): All Ages Becoming: Intergenerational Practice in the Formation of God’ | ACU Presss