All Age Worship?

At the recent Portsmouth Diocesan Conference I was blessed once again to hear Graeme Codrington who talked about the subject of his masters thesis on multigenerational ministry in the context of church.  But what does it mean for the term “All Age Worship”, does such a thing exist?

Graeme’s basic thesis is that the world environment that we grow up in has a direct influence on our personality and therefore the cultural group to which we belong.  To quote Graeme:

“Never before in living memory has the gap in mutual acceptance and understanding between generations been as large as it is now.  Massive societal and cultural shifts, fuelled by changing technology, increasing rates of change, globilisation and disconnectedness, have caused a deep divide between those born in the first two-thirds of this century and those born in the latter decades. “

The gap of which Graeme speaks is clearly borne out in a recent study on behalf of Barnardos saying that almost half of  the UK population have given up on children and young people, think they behave like animals, say that they are feral, violent, angry and abusive and beyond help by the age of 10.  Clearly our culture seems more interested in accepting a stereotypical perception of children and young people than seeing through the behaviour of the challenging minority, equally clearly, this sterotype is permeating the culture of our churches but its not the only issue here.

To follow Codrington’s thesis, most of our churches unquestionably are being led by those of the “baby boomer” generation.  He describes them as the most driven generation, not willing to relinquish power and influence at any cost.

I have long been a believer that all age worship as a concept is a phantom that does not exist, and whilst Dr Condrington’s thesis seems to endorse it, he does present some possible ways to overcome the barriers as well.  However I have always been of the impression that for worship to truly be all age, it needs to engage with and therefore be attractive to all ages.  But historically I don’t see that notion as plausible; thinking of the youngest family in our church and the oldest wisest couple, I did not see how we could produce an act of worship that spoke equally to each end of the spectrum  and all shades in between.  Following his talk at Diocesan Conference, I decided to email him the following question:

As a parish youth minister (I have copied our vicar in on this email for information and interest) I am at the coal face of trying to engage the different generations in dialogue and effective partnership, however on all sides there is a tendency towards lack of understanding, apathy and frustration.  One of the key things I struggle with is the misnomer in my mind of “all age” worship.  In a culture where we seem to consume church like anything else, most people’s identification of good worship seems to be rooted in what they get out of the experience.  We have all age worship here once a month which is generally (though not exclusively) an opportunity for one of the children’s/young people’s groups to take the service, though I believe that this in itself marginalises other generational types.  Most regular Sundays we send the childrens and youth groups out while the adults stay in the service.

My question is this.  In the light of your generational theory, what are the implications for the worshipping family of the Church, is there any way that we can do/be/create church that is genuinely multigenerational or “all age” or is the future going to be a church made up of singular generational congregations each doing church in their own way?

Graeme was gracious enough to send me the following response (and let me quote both it and the emails we exchanged, thank you Graeme):

There are ways to bring innovative approaches that are so elegant and “useful” that they transcend the generations.  This is obviously not so easy with things like theology and worship.  But there do seem to be clues in the Bible that we are meant to worship together as one family, and also sometimes apart in specific groups (age, gender, spiritual maturity, etc).

I agree with your sentiments that the way the church handles worship these days is far from ideal.  It marginalises young people, I agree.  Why  does the adult congregation never go and join the youth groups for their worship, for example?  That would seem a simple, and very profound, thing to do. Somehow, though, we see what adults do as more sacred than what young people do on a Sunday, so “they” join “us”.  There is deep selfishness in how many of us approach worship.

Reflecting on this response I found myself agreeing with the comment about “deep selfishness”.  So often (particularly those of us in an evangelical, charesmatic” tradition) approach worship from a consumerist perspective.  We judge its success by how polished and professional it was, how much “we” got out of it, and I have to be honest here that I have had that attitude myself at times.  However, at no point in that attitude can we find any grace.  Why is it that our wider church culture seems to see provision for children and young people as seperate to the rest of church.  How can we find that place of elegant innovation that transcends the cultures?

Graeme suggested that I should read a book published by Zondervan called “Four Views of Youth Ministry and the Church“.  In it the collective writers propose four models of youth ministry: inclusive congregational, preparatory, missional and strategic.  Graeme suggested that an inclusive congregational model would be the one we should employ:

The inclusive congregational approach asserts that youth ministry is not a seperate or additional mode of God’s coming to the youth’s.  Youth ministry is not about finding an extra place for yet another ministry, but about finding a place for youths within every ministry and among the people that the ministries are designed to reach and serve – the people to whom God comes by means of the ministries.

So if we extend that approach to the whole church life, we are trying to find ways to truly have an every member ministry, helping each and every person, not matter of their age, to find out what the gives God has given them are, and giving them space to fully and effectively use them i the day to day life of nthe church, and at every level.  Would such an approach create a space for that elegant innovation?  In my view and as a good generation x’er (a complainer through and through) I belive that this is only possible if baby boomers are willing to devolve some of the control to the other groups enabling a space where truly everybody of every age has an equal voice.

I will be blogging more on this subject in the future as I continue to wrestle with this subject, but as ever would love to know what you think.


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