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:
- 2/3 of the leaders’ church had average attendances of 500 or more in worship
- Almost 56 percent of these leaders’ choirs had average attendance of 26-50 persons. The larger worship attendances indicated in the leaders’ interviews suggest that the worship centers of these churches are fairly large, while the choir sizes are not necessary as large. By the way, all of these leaders had one choir in one worship service.
- NONE of these leaders led choirs with average attendances of more than 76 persons
- 2/3 of the leaders indicated the praise team functioned to provide guide vocals for the choir while lending vocal support and enhancement to the sound.
- All but one of these leaders use orchestra in their worship services and many indicated that the orchestra was just too loud at times for their choir attendances so they use the praise team to enhance and augment sound. So, when used in practical ways…ways that DO NOT negate the importance of the whole choir and its function in worship leadership, praise teams can enhance the vocal sound of choral anthems when the need arises, no matter the size of the choir.
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…
- Praise Teams may be seen as elite and “better than” the choir member. I’m sure a LONG list of how this is played-out in churches could be made. But, anytime one group is perceived as more important than another, problems may arise.
- Because praise teams are auditioned, the moderate or developing singer is likely not given a place to serve.
- Leaders are often looking for singers that have “young” or “flexible” voices. Sure, who doesn’t, right? But your best tenor in the choir may be a 70 year man, who is starting to get a little wobble in his former lovely voice. Might be better to go with the 25 year old rather than include that generationally diverse option?
- Not considering faithfulness over talent. This is a tough one, folks. Sometimes your best singers are not always the most faithful ones. Early in my ministry at Ivy Creek, I lost an incredible male singer because I wouldn’t use him due to his lack of faithfulness to the choir. It was hard, but I had to set an example that faithfulness was more important than simply being a good singer. Let’s remember who we are as teacher/musician/ pastors and choose Praise Team members who will represent Christ and model worship the best with their hearts. Go with that…
HOW TO USE PRAISE TEAMS IN THE INTERGENERATIONAL WORSHIP SERVICE:
- Praise Team members MUST be active in your choir if you have one. There are always some extenuating circumstances to this, but if the other choir members sense that praise teams members are “divas” or only there when they can be on the front of the platform, then feelings get hurt and you as a leader are not showing value to each member. The praise team is basically an extension of your choral ministry. Faithfulness over talent…every time.
- Praise Teams members must be committed believers and active in other areas of the church. As up-front leadership, these vocalists are representing the choir and orchestra and should have represent Christ and the body of believers at that local church.
- Praise Team members should be selected from all active adult generations in the choir.
- Praise Teams should be used strictly for enhancing of choral anthems and/or congregational song as long as these praise teams include generational diversity. Granted, every team might not include a person from every generational cohort, but figure out who sings well together and do your best. Make the effort! Praise teams should never replace the choir altogether long term.
- Praise Teams should be open for new team members by audition at regular intervals. As new members join your music ministry, there should be opportunities for them to become a part of the leadership. Vocal auditions, as well as a spiritual evaluation, should be included in this process.
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.
- All praise team singers must read music, but also have a good ear for harmony. We use musical scores for 90 percent of our songs, but often we will change things on the fly based on what might fit better. I need members who can go with the flow quickly and can read another part (alto might read tenor part, for instance.)
- All praise team members must be willing to sing/lead portions of the congregational music alone. We do a variety of music at our church. Some songs I choose to be led by the female voice over mine or another male voice for variety or other aesthetic reasons. Our singers know to be willing, and able, to lead a verse or whatever, when the time comes.
- All singers must do some prep work for each week. Our praise team members must make sure they are familiar with every song on the set list for the week.
- All singers should be able to communicate when singing with appropriate facial/body expression without bringing attention to oneself specifically. The goal is to model expressions of worship.
- Our praise team members are also encouraged to wear clothing on praise team that is not too distracting, stand-out, or bring too much attention to oneself. I actually bring this up with the choir members (we do not wear robes) as well, but it is even more important when singing on the front of the platform area.
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.