"For Those Who Are Passionate About Reaching The Younger Generation"

Youth Ministry Topics Developing Student Praise and Worship

Cynthia Cullen Interview (Part 4)

Cynthia Cullen

SM - How do you deal with team members who are simply not working out? After the initial interview process, you thought they understood. Now you see that they really want to perform. Do they eventually see that they don't fit, or do you have to fire them?

CC - I've had to deal with this a lot in the past two or three years. I've always prayed that God would create such a spirit of openness and honesty on our team that we could admit our failures and feel free to say, "I’m struggling with this right now."

I encourage my worship leaders to be honest with their teams. Tell them your struggles. Let’s be honest with each other. We’re all sinners. We're all on this journey together. I’ve encouraged everybody on our team that if they’re not walking with the Lord (and I say this ad nauseum), if their marriage and families are not priority, they don't need to be on the stage. Your ministry is third, behind your time with God and time with your family.

Nine times out of ten the people whose lives are out of balance come to me. Typically it’s something at work, something at home, something that’s causing some unrest. Maybe their relationship with God is getting put on the back burner.

A couple of singers have taken time off because of issues. So far I've never had to ask them to take time off. And every one of them has come back. They’ve taken the time off and gotten their priorities together. Now they're back in ministry.

Some band members have told me, "I'm not spiritually where I need to be. I don’t need to be leading on stage. I'm not modeling worship. I encouraged them by saying "guys it’s a journey. You don’t have to be perfect, but you’ve got to be developing disciplines in your life. You’ve got to be pursuing those things."

As we have prayed, God has given us the right people at the right time. Almost all of those who have left our ministry have returned when they were ready to minister again. My team knows I’m more concerned about them than what they provide for this ministry. I make a major point that I'm concerned about where they are with God and their families. That's given them a freedom to walk up to me and say "Hey, I need some time off." They know that they're not letting me down and I won't write them off. I'll say, "What can we do to help?"

It's easy to get so program driven that we blow off people when they’re hurting. That's when they need the extra phone call, the comforting arm, that one-on-one conversation. We try once a year to make sure that we touch every single person in our ministry with either a lunch or breakfast, maybe having them out to dinner. We do that in July. We can talk about the Fall and ask if they're ready, if there's anything they need help with. Having that one-on-one time makes all the difference in the world.

SM - Any new directions you're headed?

CC - Here's something we've started accidentally that may shape the way we do worship in the future. It’s generational worship. We were forced into it because of facility limitations. We don't have room for the youth and children to meet together with the older people. So, even as young as preschool age, they have their own celebration and bible study, geared to their age group. For example, elementary students have a worship time called Planet NorthStar. The high school ministry has Fusion. This Fall we're starting middle school. College and young singles have The Crossings. Worship is geared to them, where they are. Although we started this by accident, because of facility limitations, I predict that we won't be able to stop it.

We have taken people at their stage of life and designed a worship service to fit them where they are. In the 90's churches began to experiment with the traditional service and contemporary service. Although it's a great idea for many churches, I think it's often presented wrong. It's kind of like the cutting edge people go to the new service, the old fuddy duds to the old service. Instead, we should think of a service geared especially to the needs of the 50 and up crowd. They should think it's cool to go to that service.

I'm preparing now to do more research and to get documentation concerning generational worship. This will impact the style of speaking as well as style of music in each service. For example, I'm 29 now, but will be 50 in 21 years. Since I'm not drawn to traditional piano, organ and hymns today, what makes me think I'll be drawn to it at 50? As I move through these different decades of my life, I'll need services that meet me at those places.

We won't be doing this to appease people, to say "Here are your little hymnns and your little piano/organ thing so that you'll be quiet about it." Rather, we'll do it to more effectively engage each generation and bring them in touch with God.

The first sentence of our mission statement says so much in such few words - "To show God’s love in such a way…." "In such a way" means that we have got to identify our culture (I Corinthians 9). Today the average age of a person at our service is 28 to 31. One day our church average age may be 49. Does that mean that we throw them all out and we just keep hitting the 20’s and 30’s? No. "In such a way…" means that we never change our mission, but we change the way we do it to meet our target audience.

Those kids that are worshipping upstairs, the 9 and 10 year olds in Planet NorthStar, will be in generational worship until the age of 22. They will have been in worship services geared for them, and then all of a sudden at 22 we’re going to say, "Now go worship with 50 year olds?" It defeats the whole purpose of generational worship. So I can see a progression of us moving to smaller crowds geared toward specific generations, giving greater intimacy.

SM - So basically we’re becoming all things to all men in order to reach them, which the Apostle Paul wrote 2000 years ago.

CC - True, and people need to understand that we're not becoming all things to all men to appease men, but to reach men. And that’s where churches often mess up. In one church, I did hymns at 8:00. At 10:30 I did a different style and at 11:30 I did something totally different. Yet to me, it had no purpose, because all we were doing was trying to not split the church. We were trying to give people what they wanted so that they wouldn't leave the church. It wasn’t about trying to reach people where they are.

I'm saying it’s cool to be in a service that’s geared toward 40s and 50s. It's cool to be in a service that’s geared toward 20s and 30s. And if a 20 or 30 year old feels more comfortable in a service that’s geared for 40s and 50s, then go. You’re not looked down upon; you’re not criticized for how you worship.

God had to work on me to get me to this point, because I thought everyone needed to worship the same way - the way I liked to worship. But I've matured to realize that what reaches me and tugs at my heart isn't reaching the heart of 12-year-olds. My generation is all about the perfect musician - perfect guitar licks, perfect bass parts. Elementary school kids don't seem to care about that. They want it real. Rather than wondering if the band member got every note right, they're asking, "Is he being real? Is he telling the truth?"

The bottom line is, we're trying to take away the hurdles that hinder people's worship. When we impose tradition or personal taste on people who can't relate to those styles, we hinder people's worship. We must continually come before God and ask Him for the best ways to bring people to authentic worship that touches their hearts, and helps them touch the heart of God.