Is Choral Literature in the Intergenerational Church Actually Varied?

One of my favorite portions of the research I conducted on choral ministries in the intergenerational church, was finding out what types of music the music and worship leaders of these churches chose to use with their choirs. If you asked most church musicians what type of music best suits the intergenerational church, you’d most likely get a response that includes “a little bit of everything.” While I believed this to be true before I researched the literature of intergenerational churches, I discovered there was more to discover than simply defining what types of music are used in these choral ministries. ***By the way, I DO agree that multiple music types should be used as often as possible in worship. This does not mean that you should employ literature that is completely out of context for your church culture. See my post from a couple of weeks ago when I discussed this topic: Building relationships in your community is the key to creating a more diverse church

This blog post is one of many I will share what I found and explain what I believe is driving the musical choices in our choral ministries. I don’t think you’d be surprised at what I found, but the implications are far-reaching.  I will share a few highlights here and then use the next few posts to go into greater detail.  Here are some highlights to whet your appetite. As a reminder, these are generalizations and specific data will be presented in the coming weeks:

In regards to choral literature, music and worship leaders of intergenerational churches have this in common:

  1. Say that a biblical text is a driving factor in selection of choral music, but when asked why they espouse intergenerational philosophy, many do not indicate because it’s biblical.
  2. Say they value a variety of music types, BUT the variety usually consists of only 2-3 music types.
  3. The major choral music types in intergenerational churches are: Contemporary, hymn arrangements, southern gospel, traditional anthems, and black gospel. These are not found equally and I think you’ll be surprised by the un-balanced use of these choral music types.
  4. Choices of music literature are generally dictated by what the major church music publishers send/push to the music leader.
  5. Buy music from these major church music publishers which lean towards only 2 (possibly 3) music types and publish/promote literature as such

So—the question becomes—who’s driving the ship? The publishers are supposedly listening to  the consumer (church musicians) about what they want and will buy, but then if they never “push the envelope” or take chances on something multi-cultural or other ethnic-sounding literature, the consumer (church musicians) aren’t very likely to look for literature outside the publishers they trust.

In the coming weeks, we will be dealing with the following questions:

  1. What are intergenerational music leaders looking for in choral music for their choirs—musical, textual, non-musical, etc.?
  2. What percentages of choral music may be categorized into the music types that are most prevalent?
  3. Of the major publishers used by intergenerational choral music leaders, what are the music types most prevalent in the music they sell and is the correlation between what is sold and what is sung in our churches?
  4. What is the percentage of solo-driven choral literature used by each music leader and how does the presence of solo-driven literature correlate with your vision to treat all as equally important? OR is the literature presented by the publishers dictating the over/under-use, of solo-driven literature?
  5. What are some of the favorite anthems of these choirs and what are the music types of those anthems? Do these findings correlate to “general” literature chosen for worship.
  6. What types of accompaniments are being used by these churches and does that have any affect on the literature sung?

Looking forward to sharing these discoveries with you. My HOPE in all this is simply to help the music leader remember that there are MANY places for choral music that will not only engage multiple generations, but also multiple ethnicities in our churches today.

Reflections from Reel Fest-North. Investing in our Next Generation

Psalm 78: 5-7

For [God] established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel which He commanded our fathers that they should teach them to their children that the generation to come, might now, even the children yet to be born, that they might arise and tell them to their children, that they should put their confidence in God and not forget the works of God but keep his commandments.

This past Friday and Saturday, twenty of us from Ivy Creek Baptist made the trip down to Snellville for Reel Fest. Reel Fest is a two-day youth choir and orchestra event sponsored by the Georgia Baptist Mission Board Worship and Music Ministries. It’s a jam-packed 24 hours of singing, playing, fellowshiping, and sweet times of worship. Our youth had a blast! Many of our students also go to GA Baptist sponsored music camps in the summer, so seeing many familiar faces made it even more special for our students.

Over the course of the weekend, I thought about several things that that struck me during the weekend. I wanted to share those in this post, because I think they are worth sharing and remembering:

  1. I am surprised there aren’t more churches represented from the north part of our state in this event. A church doesn’t even have to have a youth choir or youth orchestra to participate. This event is a great way to get musically talented teens in your church energized to lead in worship.
  2. If we believe that it is important for our youth and children to lead in musical worship, we need to give them tools and excellent experiences to demonstrate what these worship experiences look like. As the psalmist says in the opening verse, it is our responsibility to teach to the present and coming generations the truth of the Word, which includes giving glory to God in song.
  3. Not all students are singers and thankfully there is a place for them to serve. When I was growing up (not THAT long ago), youth choir was an important part of many churches. In fact while many churches were starting to use youth praise bands to some degree, they were used in conjunction with (not instead of) youth choirs. However, in my experience (and I was part of church worshiping over 1000 each week) there were few opportunities for players of band and orchestra instruments in worship leadership. Here at our church, we make sure every student with instrumental ability gets an opportunity to play. Half of our students attending Reel Fest this past weekend were players. I know I wouldn’t have had as many participate had they only allowed singers to participate.
  4. It is important to work hard to build relationships with the youth in your church. Share your convicitions of the purpose of youth in worship leadership with your staff and especially your youth pastor. Work hard to find time to invest in youth so they also feel valued.
  5. If you feel like you’re too strapped thin to add another group to your plate, at least invite talented youth to participate in adult choir, praise team, or orchestra. Invest where you can; you never know who God might be calling to make a life-long commitment to vocational music ministry. Invest in the next generation; disciple and multiple yourself.

In full disclosure, I haven’t always had youth choirs during my 22 years in ministry, although I have in most. When I haven’t, I’ve used every excuse in the book…and yes, I felt a little like a fraud calling myself a “champion” of intergenerational worship although I made sure that all interested youth were plugged into some part of music ministry. Nevertheless, God has reminded me over the past few years of the importance of doing what I can to empower young people to lead in worship. I guarantee you, your musically-inclined youth want to be used in worship leadership if given a place to serve. They are starving to make a difference in this world. Make it exciting…cast vision…strive for excellence and build the Kingdom. What a JOY it is to hear comments from our youth about how much God is doing in their lives because they are SERVING in worship. I encourage all of my music and worship colleagues to be an advocate for future worship leaders by investing in our younger generations.

Warning ⚠️ Shameless Dad moment: I’m especially grateful for my own children who served so well in the orchestra at Reel Fest. Tyler even had a small clarinet solo in the orchestra prelude.

Varying Music Types that are Biblically-rich Promote Unity

Colossians 3:15-17- And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

My children find it strange that my favorite radio station in my car is the one that no one can hear–power off! Yes, I rarely listen to anything while I’m in the car. Likewise, when I run, I find solace in the quiet of my footsteps and the occasional barking dog. Sometimes it’s hard to explain to my children why someone who has devoted himself to music ministry needs a “break” from music listening. I don’t hate music; I just tend to compartmentalize my enjoyment of it since I’m “working” with music all day. Can you imagine what life would be like without music? Most of us cannot fathom a day without music to propel us forward or to simply soothe the soul. Paul knew the power of music as well as he admonished the Colossians to use music to remember the gospel truth.

Having been called by God to serve in vocational ministry, I’ve devoted most of my life to promoting, teaching, and glorifying God through church music. I feel fortunate that I enjoy leading and worshiping in most music contexts that glorify Christ and articulate the message of the gospel clearly. I’m an anomaly, however. Most people I encounter do not like all kinds of church music. In fact some are more adamant that certain types of music are genuinely more worshipful and edifying to the body. Further, there are those that believe that the presentation of “their” idea of worship music is somehow more authentic. Just like my penchant for “music” while driving, there are folks who given the choice in their churches, would rather simply just turn the worship team “off.”  It is vital that worship leaders be sensitive to this me versus them mentality and strive to integrate a musical atmosphere that is sensitive to the various generations and cultures in our churches.

Likewise, Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, knew that unity was important for the early church because sin would always creep in and cause division. Not only should worship be vertical (in praise to God directly), Paul asserts that unity could be achieved by singing the WORD of God to each other (horizontally) in a variety of types of songs. Paul knew that the early church didn’t have the printed Word of God that we enjoy today. These early Christians would need to remember the Word somehow…and singing scripture was an incredible way for the word to “dwell richly” in the hearts and minds of those early Christians. The songs we sing today should do the same thing. We must sing substance and the music should complement the text of Truth. Further, the various types of music available today should be reflected in our worship services.  Here are some suggestions to select worship music that reflects ethnic and generational diversity, while being rich in text.

  1. Text is most important factor in selecting worship music. Period.  Worship music should include vertical and horizontal expressions of worship where the people of God sing to God as well as one another the truth of the gospel. For more information, see this previous blog post Building Community in the Intergenerational Church through Music- Selecting We-Centric Songs
  2. Use black gospel as well as southern gospel music, especially if you have African-Americans in your congregation. We Georgians are well adept at singing southern gospel; our people are familiar with it. However, if we are to reflect our communities, we need to sing black gospel also. There are numerous wonderful songs out there to sing. However, I’ve found the best places to find these songs is by looking into literature written for schools and/or community choruses.
  3. Investigate music from Latin America. I love syncopation, especially the habanero and other cross-rhythmic beats. We have a severe lack of latin flavor in many of our churches. Just be sensitive if the presence of congas and a cowbell make some folks in your church squirm! Again, school literature often has more variety in terms of literature.
  4. Integrate music from Asian cultures. In our county, the Asian population is exploding. Traditional Asian music utilizes a limiting pentatonic scale, but there are some interesting things out that can be used if you investigate.
  5. At the very least, utilize worship leaders (players and singers) who are not ethnically the same as the majority of your congregation. Example, I have a wonderful Korean young woman in my choir who studied opera in South Korea. She is an excellent singer, but didn’t know many songs in English she could use in worship. I suggested she look at some oratorios she might be familiar with. She wound up singing “He Shall Feed His Flock Like a Shepherd,” during December and it was a glorious offering of worship.

The key is strong text, varying music types, and utilizing folks from various generations AND cultures. Doing so can really make the difference in the worship experiences for ages to come. I believe this is exactly what Paul was referring to when he was encouraging the Colossians to be unified…bring your various experiences and abilities and be unified in PURPOSE and the Lord will be glorified.

Over the next few weeks, I will begin a series of blog posts related to choral literature in the intergenerational church. These blog posts reflect my research in the area of choral literature in intergenerational Baptist churches in the state of Georgia. Stay tuned…