Why Bother With Multigens?

Some of the things we do at church are easy to understand. We have classes for children and youth to provide developmentally appropriate understanding of our faith. We have Small Groups to give folks an intimate way to explore ideas together- especially as our membership grows- so we can get to know each other on a deeper level. But some folks recently asked me why we have multigenerational worship? Why is multigenerational worship essential to Channing, to faith development, and to the future of Unitarian Universalism?

Let me back up- What is a Multigenerational service? That is a worship service where all ages are together in the service for the whole time. We used to call those “intergenerational”, but then realized that we have up to SIX generations in the room, so we better make the term more inclusive, since “intergenerational” suggests exchange between two generations only. Our Multigenerational Services (or “Multigens”) usually happen around big holidays (Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving) or times of special significance for our congregation (Ingathering, Flower Celebration, Celebration Sunday) occurring about once a month.

These services are planned with great consideration. Worship planners work together to find a balance of content that speaks to people young and older. Our goal is not to “dumb down” the service to a Second Grade level, but to make different parts of the service accessible to different types of understanding… some for adult, some for youth, so that no one is left out.

Multigens are important so everyone has the opportunity to worship together. How can we be in relationship if we do not spend time celebrating together? How can children and youth learn how we “do” church if they aren’t in the room?  How can Unitarian Universalism continue, if our children don’t experience what being an adult Unitarian Universalist looks like?

Lest you think that only the children benefit in this arrangement, think again. A multigen service explores different learning styles. Lots of adults enjoy using movement, song and story in worship. Multigen services tend to incorporate shorter elements into the hour, creating a dynamic flow. The traditional model of adult worship is one that has been successful for several generations, but times change, and the younger generations of adults as well as our children, are looking for a different structure.

All this is good for us to know and explains why we offer multigens. But folks- here’s the part that’s hard to hear: It really doesn’t matter if we have the best, most fulfilling multigen worship ever … if you don’t show up. I guess there are several kinds of people who are not coming to multigens:

  • Parents who are worried their kid will wiggle or be bored.

Be there. Yes- your kid might get bored. So what? We have kids do all manner of boring things- most of which are far less worthwhile than worship. Kids learn how to be in the service very quickly. There’s also the chance they will enjoy it! With our crazy lives it is hard to find an hour to share as a family. Don’t miss this one.

  • Older adults who are “done” with young children.

Really? This is a church, not a retirement village or a social club. Being with younger people enriches your life and makes you happier. Being exposed to new ways of approaching life’s big questions is why we are involved at Channing.  Be open to what you can learn from children.

  • People who think Mutigenerational is code for “Worship Lite”.

Show up anyway. Planners work hard to try to make multigenerational worship meaningful, not empty. The more we practice mutigen worship together and receive your feedback, the better we can meet the needs of everyone in the room. Boycotting multigens doesn’t help at all. Not attending is letting down your community.

OK- that’s my frank (perhaps frustrated by low attendance?) words about why you should come to our multigen services. Here’s some inspiring words as well from A Unitarian Universalist Minister In The South‘s blog:

Why Multigenerational Worship?

Because the more opportunities we have to relate to people who see the world from a different point of view the better we are at being able to function in a multi-cultural and pluralist society.

Because science has told us that the presence of children raises the chemicals in our adult bodies that produce the desire to nurture, to have compassion, and to have empathy for the other.

Because it is important for adults to have a glimpse at the future through our children in a worship setting.

Because the expressions of joy, of sorrow, of celebration, of grief, of transcendence are different in people of different ages and to see them expressed in multiple ways is expressing the fullness of our humanity.

Because our society has fractured the family into so many divided segments that to worship multi-generationally is a counter-culture act to reclaim what is being lost.

Because children help our seniors remain connected and vital.  There is nothing like witnessing a spontaneous hug from a child with an elderly person of 90 plus years and seeing the elder’s eyes light up.

Because children benefit from getting to know other adults who are not their parents by participating in the multi-generational choir and other worship activities.

Because children learn the importance of coming together as a worship community where all are valued for who they are.

Because children learn they are not just on display when they are in the full service like they could be when they are only allowed to be in part of the service and then ceremoniously ushered out.

The Traveling Chalice and Sanctuary Chalice

See you Sunday, folks!

2 thoughts on “Why Bother With Multigens?

  1. I get it. Really. I do. But frankly, as a 20-something who has chosen the path without kids, I HATE multigen services. HATE THEM. It doesn’t matter how many times I tell myself the points you just made – that kids have to see how adults worship, that it’s quality family time for parents, etc., etc. etc. – I just can’t get past the talking kids, the screeching 4 year olds, and the disrespectful/scornful teenagers. I love our kids one-on-one, but in a room – they drive me nuts. Worship for me is a quiet expression of faith. The system works for me & I leave feeling both rejuvenated and charged-up. On multi-gen Sundays I leave feeling anxious, annoyed, and frustrated.

    • Thanks for your comment, Jessi. I think this is a big piece of what we need to work on in our congregations- making multigen services work for both adults and children/youth. One piece of that means having an expectation that young children will refrain from talking loud and/or screaming for extended periods during the service. What sorts of congregational conversations can we have about this? Is it safe for adults (non parents) to voice this reasonable expectation?

      I wonder if we are being clear with parents and children what respectful behavior in the service looks like? Are we providing tools to help kids be successful (like children’s orders of service, busy bags with very quiet toys, or a place to hear/see the service for people who need a break, but don’t want to miss the service.)? Are our expectations realistic? I have been in “multigen” services with a 20 minute sermon. Frankly, the adults were getting squirrely, too.

      Maybe I have more questions than answers. Mostly what I hope is that we- adults, children, staff- everyone…will bring an attitude of success to the planning table. Multigens are perceived as a problem to be endured or maybe something we know we “should” do, but don’t really want. I know our congregations are full of passionate, brilliant people who are very creative. Once we believe that our future depends on integrating quality multigen services as one of our offerings (in addition to generationally specific programming), the conversation will be more productive.

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