Church Choirs Shouldn’t be Declining Because of Lack of Interest

Chorus America, a nationally-known advocacy, research, and leadership development organization that supports the choral art, has written much on the the benefits of singing. Most recently, an article came out in June (Chorus America Article ) that lauds the benefits of singing for a lifetime. Here is a link to the findings of that study. After reading this article and the major findings of the story, I was very encouraged by the increase in choral participation in America.

What I didn’t understand was about the same time I was reading this article, I was hearing from friends across the nation and reading other articles about the continued decline of choirs in churches. I don’t want to list the myriad of reasons why choirs are declining in our churches, that’s for another post. However, if the current Chorus America research that suggests that choral singing in America is NOT declining, maybe our churches shouldn’t assume that no one wants/enjoys singing. Further, with many singers actively singing in a choir, our churches shouldn’t assume that no one wants to listen to a choir either. What I found interesting, was the authors indicated that in the last ten years worship attendance has declined as well as social clubs, while choral participation has done just the opposite.

While the article mentions the benefits of singing to increased quality of life, physical health, greater activity in their churches and community, and stronger relationships, I want to focus on a few items that I think stick out to me as it pertains to why church choirs should be an integral part of any church:

  1. 43 million American adults and 11 million children are singing in choirs today. 54 million Americans. Please remind me—anyone why naysayers say no one without white hair wants to hear or participate in a choir? In fact this research suggests that having choirs will INCREASE participation in any organization (community, school, or church). These numbers are UP to 17% from 14% since 2008. 
  2. The key to lifelong singing is starting when children are young. The findings, either school or faith communities that have graded choir programs, see the greatest number of students who will become lifelong singers. I’m convinced that churches that cease to invest in student choirs (elementary and youth) will never have a strong adult program.
  3. Having a choir might actually increase your attendance in your faith community. Choir members tend to be more faithful and more committed to being in worship when they have a reason to serve.

Personally, when I think of the role being in a choral group has given me, I think back to less about the musical experience itself, although I’ve had some incredible times musically, but to what being a part of a choral group taught me. Being in a choir has taught me how to yield my personal preferences for the good of the whole. I’ve learned how to be a leader by helping my fellow singers by pulling my weight (being in tune, singing correct intervals and rhythms, etc) and how to get along with others. Choir (or any musical group, really) is about mutual submission, conflict resolution, helping others when they need it, and demonstrating leadership. Yes, many of these things are important in non-choir church musical groups, but because choirs are generally larger than a 5-6 piece band, the opportunity for many (of various musical abilities) to serve and use their talents increases.

 

 

 

Let’s Just Call it What it is…

To divide congregations into groups, style groups, and preference groups is to be semi- or even pseudocorporate. The body of Christ is as chronologically and stylistically whole as it is spiritually whole Harold Best in Unceasing Worship (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003).

If music were to be eliminated from so called “traditional” or “contemporary” services, would there need to be different types of services? That’s right, very little. Let’s call it what it is—preference of music is the driving factor for having separate types of musical types at one church. And because music seems to be the driving factor in these decisions, worship becomes less about the preaching of the Word and the proclamation of the gospel and more about preferences of music, which are at best subjective. Hear me, I’m FOR all kinds of music…especially music that fits the cultural context of the church and demographic of your area. Be authentic, but be unified. It’ll take everyone being mutually submissive.

We’ve missed the point of, and driving force of worship, which is the centrality of the Word of God infused in every aspect of our corporate worship. Our churches should crave the spiritual food through the exposition of the Word week in and week out. I don’t want to hear platitudes on how to live my best life, I’d rather hear what the Word of God preached through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit has to say about how I need to be daily humbling myself, taking up my cross, and following Him by  loving my neighbor as myself.

Bringing the Church Back Together-Part 3-Practical Application

In my last two blog posts (Bringing the Church Back Together- Part 2- First Steps and Bringing the Church Back Together- Part 1- Biblical Foundations) I discussed the biblical foundations of intergenerational worship and the importance of buy-in from the staff and the key leaders of your church. In this post I will speak specifically to the music/worship leader who will have to deal with the musical conundrum of bringing multiple music types together in a unified approach. It will be a challenge to some degree, but it can be done. I hope you’ll find these practical applications helpful. As always, I’m sure there are many more I could add to the list.

  1. Pray! Again, I cannot emphasize this enough. Music and style is often a passionate subject for many in the church. Often, it’s the non-musician who is the most hesitant to any change in the church. Be assured there will be push-back, but pray the the Holy Spirit would cause you to response in gentleness and love as you explain thoughtfully of the plan to integrate the services.
  2. Find a common “set-list.” Many churches with multiple services have at least some common tunes that are sung in each service. Begin by using these songs when the services come together whenever possible. Obviously there will be modifications to the instrumentation or “style” of the song depending on who is leading, but at least find some common ground.
  3. Aim to use players and singers from all teams together. This may be pretty difficult practically and relationally, but remind those how important each person is to the integration of the services. If you have redundancy on instruments, set up a schedule for all to play. If you’re going to integrate the choir into the new service (and if you have one, you should) they will need appropriate time to learn newer songs to help teach the congregation. If you used orchestra in one and only a praise band in another, you must find “charts” that allow all to play together. This process will stretch your players on both ends. Those used to “rocking it out” may feel stunted by the charts they now have to play. On the other hand, the less contemporary service might feel things are “louder” and too “rocky!” Be prepared to alter and make changes as you get started. Remember to keep your personal feelings in check. Listen carefully to the suggestions you hear. Some will be worth altering, while others will just be complaining. Be careful to make all feel valued and use grace as you respond to each comment.
  4. Introduce/Re-Introduce songs carefully and slowly. There are fantastic new songs and timeless hymns that probably have been ignored in the services when they were apart. Pick “new” songs to introduce that are lyrically sound, melodically and harmonically interesting, and memorable. When I’m confronted from time to time about new songs that “no one knows,” I simply say, “I understand we don’t know it well right now, but I believe this song is strong textually and will endure the test of time.” I’m careful to say this because I also know there will be something in just about EVERY service I plan that has something most people are familiar with. In short, FAMILIARITY is more important than labeling something traditional or contemporary. What people want, truly, is something familiar…find that common ground first and work from there.
  5. Remember your church is NOT like the one down the street. I cannot emphasize this enough. Do not try to emulate everything you see working for the church that you perceive to be “doing it right!” You must contextualize carefully. Know your church–be careful to study her history, the demographics, the musical worship expressions over time, and the talent level of the musicians. Also, know your community. Things work differently in a county seat town in rural GA than they do in the white collar suburbs of Metro Atlanta. Study your people. Push them out of their comfort zones when appropriate, but don’t completely eradicate Southern gospel from a church that’s had that embedded in their history for 100s of years just because you don’t like it. The church I am serving is vastly different from most of the churches in our area. We know who we are and what we do well and we capitalize on that. It’s create a niche for us that has allowed us to be who God has called us to be without trying to emulate other churches in our area—who, by the way, do the things they do VASTLY better than we ever could.
  6. Give up your personal agenda and work as a team. You are not the star of the show, worship leader…God is. He likes it all. He LOVES to hear his children worship in spirit and truth. He is not stylistically pulled one way or the other. He just wants authentic praise, offered with all the excellence we have to offer. That said, remember that part of being an intergenerational family means we ALL serve…not just the uber-talented. We are a team; we work together for the goal. This concept will be harder for some than others. You control freaks out there will struggle given up control to others, but it’s necessary. Remember the goal of being intergenerational is that we try to value all and give them a role of importance. This means being very intentional about including “budding” singers and players. It might cost you some in the “excellence” you may be striving for, but if we only use our A-list players and singers, we will lose on on developing new ones. Someone one invested in us when we weren’t so great—we must do the same. Basically, create a culture that aims to nurture rather than simply “perform.”