Blending Builders, Boomers, Busters, and Bridgers
If builders have been the main leaders of your church, qualified boomers, busters, and bridgers must be allowed and encouraged to assume key positions of leadership throughout the church.
A recent article in the real estate section of a local newspaper highlighted a new home development being built for multiple-generation families. Home builders and architects have become aware that families are once again living together as multigenerational units.
Throughout history it has been common for multigenerational families to live close together, even under the same roof. After World War II, the development of suburbs, freeways, and the resulting mobility of people broke geographic generational ties. Families began to live in smaller nuclear units rather than in extended families. As we enter the 21st century, once again families are finding it economically advantageous for several generations to pool their resources and live together.
This blending of generations is something that needs to be followed in churches, especially in worship services. Four generational groups are often found in churches today. The builders represent those born before and up to 1945. Boomers include persons born between 194664. Busters (Gen X) were born between 1965 and 1983. Our newest generation is being labeled the bridger generation because they are coming of age in two different centuries. The millennial generation, the Internet generation, and generation Y are other names used for this generation born in 1984 and later.
A number of churches today specifically target boomers, busters, or bridgers, but for most smaller, traditional churches, this narrow focus is not possible. Most pastors and church leaders know they must work with all generations in the same church without ignoring any of them. One popular approach used by a growing number of churches is to blend differing styles of worship hoping to please all generations enough so they remain in the church.
WHAT IS BLENDING?
When church leaders talk about blending, they usually think of the worship service. No other ministry in a church reflects the values and philosophy of a church as clearly or as publicly. Worship is the one ministry in a church where all members come and participate. The need for blending in other areas of ministry, such as Sunday school, is not as critical since individual classes allow each generation an opportunity to minister in their own manner.
From a technical viewpoint, blending is the combining of two or more differing philosophies of ministry. Usually the differing philosophies involved are called traditional and contemporary. The usual approach is to soften the contemporary music and speed up the traditional music so the service becomes acceptably blended.
A well-conceived and executed worship service is more difficult to accomplish than it looks. And a blended service can be the most difficult of all. A blended worship service is generally a temporary worship form on the journey to a new form that is just right for your congregation. The exact mix or blend of worship elements may change several times on the journey. Blending at its best is transitional; it is not the destination, but the journey. Where the worship service ends up stylistically may not be known for many years.
Until that new form of worship is developed, blending generational styles in one service has proved practical. At the least, blending allows a church to: demonstrate the unity of the church, meet different needs, provide diverse ministry opportunities, honor the past and the future, and give people time to change.
TEN STEPS FOR BLENDING
The following are vital steps that need to be taken by leaders who desire to blend builders, boomers, busters, and bridgers into one church.
The senior pastors support.
What is endorsed from the pulpit will succeed, and what is not will fail. The pastor plays the key role in planning, educating, and leading the church toward a blended ministry. For blending to take place, the senior pastor must be committed to it and work to make it happen.
Going beyond simple endorsement of the strategy, a pastor must be comfortable with and able to mesh differing philosophies of ministry into a single new form. If your ministry has been geared to only one generation, you must be willing to: communicate to a blended audience, find and use new illustrations, change your wardrobe, develop a relational style, adapt your vocabulary to be meaningful to all members, accept criticism, support the musicians and staff both publicly and privately, share creative leadership with a worship team, and patiently give the process time. A blended worship takes planning, and a pastor must be willing to prepare sermons and plan worship services 2 or 3 months in advance.
Obtain lay leaders support.
Lay leaders in the congregation must be willing to follow your lead. Their personal and group commitment to disciple making must cause them to see the needs and opportunities available in a blended church. They must team with you in a strategic, long-term plan to bring generations together.
A solid commitment to outreach and assimilation will undergird their willingness to try a blending approach to worship. Criticism will come from saints who feel they are being neglected. As this occurs, the leaders commitment to finding and keeping the lost one will need to outweigh the pressure to minister to the 99 who are already in the church (see Luke 15:47).
Help the congregation see the opportunities and needs.
Existing congregations must develop a desire to reach all generations. Church leaders should plan to spend a minimum of 6 to 12 months creating such a consciousness before many changes or new strategies are implemented. Take time to build a solid, biblical foundation, share the vision for a new style of ministry, listen to peoples concerns, adjust the proposed strategy, and pray.
Stress biblical concepts of love and acceptance.
Diversity and variety are two words that characterize the buster and bridger generations. The divergent views, desires, and expectations of builders, boomers, busters, and bridgers will require acceptance and love. Sermons, classes, and small groups should focus on these divergent ideas during the initial blending period. In particular, stress the "one another" commands found in the New Testament and structure opportunities for people from different generations to practice them in small groups.
Establish a model service in which blending can be practiced.
This service can be an evening worship service, a Sunday school class, or a small group. If this is not possible, have an occasional praise or celebration service where new styles of music can gradually introduce the congregation to blending. The gradual approach will help people accept new ideas, which can eventually be used on a regular basis.
The model service needs to reflect a balance of traditional and contemporary styles in music, participation, relationships, and dialogue. It works best if the organization, transition, feel, and flow of the new blended service are well thought out and developed before you go public with the service.
Educate the generations so they understand each other.
A common term used in the 1960s to describe the gulf between builders and boomers was generation gap. Generation gaps had been relatively unknown in earlier times since the slowness of change created very little difference in viewpoints between past generations. The rapid pace of change since 1950 has made generation gaps real. Today the gap is more of a technology gap, due to the fact builders and boomers are slower to adapt to new technology than busters and bridgers.
How each generation views these gaps is different. Younger generations tend to focus on the intrinsic differences in values; older generations tend to focus on the immaturity seen in the personal habits and styles of younger people. Teaching from the pulpit must be geared to help each group see the value of the other. Key areas of concern are music, expression of worship, relational values, institutional values, and commitment levels. Everyone who speaks from the platform needs to affirm and honor each generation. Never criticize a generation publicly. The congregation receives its cues from its leaders. What is said and done during the main service will flow down into the rest of the church.
Meet with classes and small groups to teach about the strengths and values of each generation. These smaller forums allow for questions and answers as well as providing a safe place for people to vent their frustrations. By using these smaller forums, you will circumvent the possibility of an explosion of frustration in a larger setting that may damage the entire body. As needed, meet with individuals over breakfast or lunch to hear their concerns.
In many cases, outside speakers or church consultants can be a powerful change motivator. Being from the outside, they have several advantages: they can say things that could not be said by a member of the church family; they have a more objective outlook; and they are often viewed as an expert on the issue.
Foster common ground experiences.
Generations tend to drift apart in churches. The natural process of scheduling classes, small groups, and activities around life stages tends to segregate the generations and limit their communication. Offering age-graded activities is proper, and there is no need to blend every ministry in a church. It does, however, help generations understand and love each other when they spend time together. Leading up to and during the initial stages of developing a blended worship service, it is wise for church leaders to provide common ground experiences for generations.
A new-members class can introduce people to the values, goals, and history of all four generations. A mix of bridgers, boomers, busters, and builders might attend a parenting class. The builders and boomers can share the struggles they went through raising children and answer questions. Since many bridgers and busters, in particular, came from homes where parenting skills were not well modeled, this could provide an opportunity to build bridges between generations. An effort should be made to make small groups intergenerational.
Organize a new-members task force.
The responsibility of this task force is to help new people develop several friends in the church, find a place to serve, and identify a class or group where they would feel comfortable. Representatives from each generation should serve on the task force. It is crucial that the task force include people who are newcomers to the church (within 1 or 2 years) because they remember what it was like to be a new member. They can help new people understand and fit into the existing church structure with a minimum of frustration.
Encourage boomers, busters, and bridgers to take leadership.
If builders have been the main leaders of your church, qualified boomers, busters, and bridgers must be allowed and encouraged to assume key positions of leadership throughout the church. This includes the worship team, new-members committee, worship committee, music committee, small-group committee, activities (social/sports) committee, as well as regular boards and committees, such as elders, deacons, or trustees.
Build a unified worship team.
To be most effective at reaching newcomers, the worship team that plans the blended worship service should mirror the percentage of differing generations found in the community around the church. If the community is made up of 16 percent builders, 34 percent boomers, 30 percent busters, and 20 percent bridgers, a worship team of seven individuals should be comprised of one builder, two boomers, two busters, and one bridger. By making certain the worship team reflects the makeup of the community, it is more likely the degree of blending will be appropriate.
It is crucial that the platform worship team be intergenerational. The leaders on the platform influence the people who attend the service. When people come to a worship service, one of the first things they do is look around to find people like themselves. The people on the platform communicate a tacit message about who attends the church. In a blended worship service, care must be taken to have people of all ages up front. If the members of the worship team on the platform are only from the builder generation, then the service will naturally attract builders but not boomers, busters, and bridgers. If a church wishes to attract and hold busters or bridgers, then it must have busters and bridgers on the platform. If the senior pastor comes from the builder generation, it is even more important that boomers, busters, and bridgers be visibly present before the congregation.
Vital, growing churches in the next decade will be those that can successfully reach, win, and keep multiple generations. For this to happen in existing churches, leaders need to make bold, long-term plans for blending builders, boomers, busters, and bridgers into a unified church. Of course, there are risks involved in attempting a blend, but the call of Christ to make disciples makes the risks worthwhile.