Bridging the Gap for an Older Congregation

Bridging the Gap for an Older Congregation

I think we all struggle from time to time with getting true engagement and participation from our congregations. Like mine, I’m sure many of your churches are a mixed bag of generations and personalities and opinions. But this isn’t another Worship Wars article; this is about Bridging the Gap for an Older Congregation. 

I currently serve in a church that is predominantly older, which is awesome! Many of them are completely open to new ideas and styles of worship, but let’s be real- they want to feel that they can still participate (and that it’s not too loud).

Planning Service Sets

That being said, I have to be considerate when planning our service sets. Personally, I was born and raised on timeless, classic hymns. My mother was the choir director at our church growing up. Sunday mornings were a traditional piano and organ with a full choir and that’s just what we always did. Today, I usually do somewhere around four to five songs on any given Sunday morning with a blend of contemporary music and hymns. However, we try to change it up so that the hymns aren’t necessarily “hymn-like” in the way they are accompanied. Given that this is a change even for me, I can definitely understand a little pushback from older congregants when we have a full band, because that isn’t what they grew up on and are accustomed to either.

So when we introduce a new song, I think it’s critical to give a little background of the song and why we’re going to sing it together corporately. The way we unpack a new song for our congregation is key. Start with just the chorus, and do some old-school “call & response” with an acoustic guitar or keyboard so they can actually hear themselves sing. As worship leaders, we should create environments of participation, not isolation.

Still want the Old Traditional Way?

Now, what about those members of the congregation who want to sing hymns the
traditional way? Well, I have an option for you: host a quarterly Hymn Sing. We did one last month and it was awesome! We had it in our fellowship hall (I know, we were kickin’ it old-school)with the round tables and chairs. We even used the hymnals as our centerpieces,it was all a pretty stylish affair. We began with a served dinner and then we played HYMNO (it’s Bingo but with Hymns). I put together a list of 39 hymns and made simple HYMNO cards that I printed out (if you’re interested in creating your own, click HERE.)Whenever someone got a HYMNO, they received a gift card to Cracker Barrel- gotta know your audience. In the future when we do this again, the prize will probably be “call out your favorite Hymn and we’ll sing it.”

During HYMNO I would give a quick background on the hymn before we would sing it to help give everyone an understanding of what the original hymn-writers were going through as they composed these songs. I saw a lot of “nodding & bobbing” letting me know that this was sinking in with the people. We sang the 1st and last verse of each hymn and we encouraged any singers in the group to sing their respective voice parts. It was truly awesome to hear some old-school four-part harmonies, especially when we would go A Cappella.

The event ended with us singing Amazing Grace; as we got to the last verse I had our very special guest pianist (my mom) lay off so just our voices were filling the echoey fellowship hall. I looked out from the little platform and I could see every single person in the room participating. Some had their eyes closed, some had their hands raised, and some just smiled, but one thing was for sure, we were all truly worshiping our LORD and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Now, we’re still going to have a full band pretty much every Sunday with contemporary music and modern hymns. But by having a “good old-fashioned” Hymn Sing every once in a while, it helps to draw in parts of the congregation that may have had trouble fully engaging with the mission. A fun little bonus of this event was now I know of some other vocalists in the congregation who can actually sing out- they didn’t know they were being scouted, but always have your recruiting hat on!

Create a Culture of Openness and Understanding

Generally, I think people- including older congregations- are afraid of what they don’t know (new songs) and don’t understand (contemporary and modern music). If we give our congregations the opportunity to weigh in (learn the songs), then they’ll be more likely to buy in (sing out). This creates a culture of openness and understanding, which is crucial to Bridging the Gap for an Older Congregation.



Here’s another helpful tip: when you get a song request from someone, young or old, send them a song request form (or print it out and hand it to them). This will cut down on the “Sunday Morning Jukebox” mentality. That’s a whole ʼnother article. 




This article was originally published in Worship Musician Magazine, August 2023 issue and has been modified from the original. 

Matt Miller