There is a wonderful thing happening in church life today… young, outrageously exciting churches are becoming strategic in bringing older adults into their churches. Those over sixty would like to join these congregations. In most instances, the preaching style many young pastors are utilizing today really resonates with them.
The musical worship experience is key to determining whether or not older adults will stick. Worship Pastor, if you really want older adults to join you, there are a few things you will want to keep in mind as you prepare and host the worship experience.
1. Utilize some songs that older adults know and that are housed in their hearts. The songs that are housed in someone’s heart are those songs that resonate with past spiritual experiences. This means an occasional hymn or praise song from ten to twenty years ago will be in order. Don’t sweat it. If it’s a praise song ten or twenty years old it’ll be new to many in your church and if it's a hymn, you're establishing doctrine in ways far beyond the lyrics found in most other songs.
2. Don’t expect the most mature adults to stand too long. Older individuals deal with aches and pains that are often joked about. But the truth is, coming to church and standing for twenty minutes straight is literally painful for an aging person with some physical ailments. Older guests will never mention this to you, they’ll simply not come back to your church for a second helping of painful worship.
3. Sing in a range that is conducive to everyone joining the worship team in the song. There is a trend that is interesting to me, worship pastors leading tunes that are out of the range of those who are not singers and expecting everyone to join in. This is especially frustrating for older adults. As people age they lose their ability to sing the higher notes. For the aging worshiper the only conclusion they can draw is that the goal isn’t really to worship together, it’s for the musicians to do a concert and everyone else can try to join in if they'd like. They are then asking themselves… “Why do I have to stand during this concert?”
4. Enunciate carefully when speaking to the worshipers. One of the important roles of the worship leader is hosting the event. That is, to verbalize direction, read a Scripture passage, etc… between tunes. Older worshipers do struggle with hearing all that is going on and increasing the decibel levels will not help. If we want older folks to join us, we’ll need to enunciate carefully every word so that all understand what we are saying. Be careful though, if this is overdone your words will sound insincere.
5. Introduce a new song as new and teach it rather than expecting people to sing a song you haven’t yet taught them. When a congregation is asked to join the worship team to sing, the worshipers are anticipating they will know the song. Most of the older adults in your church have had worship pastors in the past who were taught a method for introducing a new song to the congregation. It went something like this: Week 1, Sing the song for the congregation then have them sing it with you. Week 2, Remind the congregation of the new song they were learning last week, sing it with the worship team again then have the congregation sing it together, “for those who didn’t get to sing it with us last week.” Weeks 3, 4, and 5. Utilize that same song and the same arrangement of that song until it is a standard for that church body. Older adults are embarrassed and think they are the only ones who don't know a song when a worship pastor asks everyone to sing but hasn't yet taught them the new song. Please know that I am not suggesting you use this method and making a statement like "for those who didn't get to sing it with us last week" will kill the moment for sure. But being careful to teach a tune before leading people to believe they should already know it, will be helpful to everyone, not just older adults.
I continue to be thrilled with the number of church leaders who have been very strategic in utilizing musical styles to promote the drawing of people their own age. I am also blindsided by those same worship leaders who want an aging population to stick but say of them, “They can just find a church that sings the songs they like, in the way they like it, with people like them.”
I wonder... If we really believe the body of Christ is made up of people of all ages and we want all of those ages to be together as one church body maybe we should consider tweaking the worship experience so that all demographics can experience the presence of Christ together.
You Might Also Want to Check Out...
Reflections on Turning 55 by Bob Kauflin
Worshipping Unfashionably by Tullian Tchividjian