I’ll admit it; I use Praise Teams in my church and my church is VERY pro-choir. I see praise teams as an extension of the choir and not a replacement of them or an elite group better than the choir itself. I use praise teams to augment congregational song, but I don’t currently use them to augment the choral anthems we sing, although it is a practice in some churches that I’m not philosophically opposed to. According to my research, my colleagues use praise teams for enhancing the choral sound for practical reasons, not simply to make sure only “quality product” is heard. I think many of the reasons to use praise teams for practical reasons can line up with the philosophy of being intentionally intergenerational. Let’s look at what I found in my own research and then I’ll offer some personal insight on the subject.
Many of those I interviewed use praise teams in services for a variety of reason, such as enhancing congregational singing. However, only 15 percent of the church leaders I interviewed used praise teams to enhance the choral anthems they sing. Before you begin thinking that these leaders must be anti-intergenerational philosophy, remember that I only interviewed those who lead intergenerational worship ministries. Further, all but one leader had intentionally sought to learn more about intergenerational worship in addition to leading an intergenerational ministry. These leaders believe, as I do, that enhancing the choral sound is not necessarily contrary to intergenerational philosophy. Here is some other interesting data on these leaders’ churches and choirs:
However, praise teams have, and probably will continue to be used, in contrary ways. There are many ways that the praise team is mis-used in worship services. Beware of some of the dangers and avoid them if at all possible.
THE DANGERS OF USING PRAISE TEAMS ONLY IN THE INTERGENERATIONAL CHURCH:
Using praise teams in general can be tricky if certain criteria are not engaged. Many churches have replaced the choir entirely in favor of the praise team, which often functions like a choir, but smaller and more flexible. These churches may involve multiple praise teams that rotate, but because most vocalists are probably auditioned, the moderate level or developing singer is most likely never selected. Some leaders (although they might never admit it) are subconsciously listening or looking for a “young, pop-sound” in their vocalists, which means many older singers are simply left-out. This is in direct contradiction to intergenerational philosophy.
Not much academic research exists on the benefits of choir vs. praise teams. Most of what is written on the topic is in trade magazines and internet articles/sites. In the one academic study I could find on the topic, Tara Christiansen (see citation at the bottom) affirms that leaders utilizing choirs have the greater potential to involve more people in worship leadership when given the “primary” role in worship leadership.
Here are some dangers in sum…
HOW TO USE PRAISE TEAMS IN THE INTERGENERATIONAL WORSHIP SERVICE:
At Ivy Creek, we use praise teams ONLY for congregational song to add depth and rich harmony to the overall sound of the congregation. At present time, we do not have to enhance the vocal sound with the praise team for choral things; we are fortunate to have enough choir members balanced with our orchestra not to need to enhance the choral sound with individually enhanced voices for choral anthems. I prefer to only use the choir as a whole for choral things anyway, but if we had balance issues with the choir and orchestra like some of my colleagues do, I probably would use the praise teams to enhance the choir for that reason only.
You might find it interesting that due to our Sunday morning schedule, in order for us to use the choir and orchestra in BOTH of our morning worship services, our whole choir is only in the loft for the first ten or so minutes of each service. It’s not ideal, but it’s the trade-off we must employ in order to have most of our choir present for both services. The praise team (and remaining choir members from each service) continue to lead in musical worship.
In addition to the overall suggestions posed, I employ a few more criteria when selecting praise team members at our church.
Tara Dawn Christensen, “Choirs vs. Praise Teams: A Historical and Descriptive Account of Worship Practices in Large Evangelical Protestant Churches in America,” (M.M. thesis, University of Missouri-Kansas City, 2002), ii.
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“Intergenerational Worship” is worship in which people of every age are understood to be equally important.