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.

 

 

 

Be A Leader Who’s Always Growing

I’m always amazed when the Lord chooses to speak to me with a very direct word from one of His saints. Often the person who speaks a word of encouragement into my life probably doesn’t realize the impact a few simple words has. Regardless, I’m thankful for the word I received last night.

As I was leaving rehearsals last night, one of my choir members drove by me in the parking lot as I was heading out of the church and rolled his window down and said, “you’re doing a great job, Will. I’ve really seen you grow over the last few years.” My first reaction was, “I appreciate that; I love having you in the choir.” As he drove off, I thought about what he just said and my first thought was, ” WAIT! You’ve noticed ME growing?” The reason this startled me at first was because over the last 6 and half years, my role has been to grow our music ministry…and that the Lord has. We’ve seen tremendous growth in our numbers, spiritual focus, and musicality. There is much chatter about how the Lord continues to build His church here. However, it never occurred to me that anyone would notice my own growth. Somehow I had forgotten that the demands of a music ministry of 60-70 when I arrived are certainly not the same now that we have 240. While I knew the Lord has brought this growth, I was reminded last night (convicted, really) that my personal abilities were not the reason we grew. My supposed “advanced” leadership skills and “maturity” were not why we grew. Nope! Thankfully, the Lord has grown His church anyway AND grown me to meet the challenges of that which He has called me to.

As I’ve thought about the encouragement to me over the next several hours, the Lord revealed to me how I’ve grown personally in my spiritual life and my ability to lead effectively both on an off the platform. Those simple words of encouragement have allowed me to thank the Lord for the journey over these last several years. Maybe you the reader need this same encouragement, so here are a few things I’ve realized that God has shown me that I think have helped me grow:

  1. Delegate. As our program has gotten larger, I know I cannot do everything. Identify and invest in key people to do things you cannot (or not able) to do.
  2. People are everything. People first. If this is hard for you–get care group leaders and have them help you—but stay tuned to your people’s needs.
  3. Communicate Effectively. Communication takes various forms, but it’s essential that you keep all in the loop. Again, if you’re weak in this area, enlist help from others…but don’t leave people out of the loop.
  4. Plan Ahead. Have a plan for each season and year. Be ready at rehearsal with a plan of where you want to go. An effective teacher always has a lesson plan. Study your scores so you may anticipate problems. If you’re blessed to have strong musicians, they’ll know when you’re unprepared for rehearsal.  Don’t be lazy! I’m convinced laziness is one of the roots to why pastoral musicians are asked to leave churches. 
  5. Demonstrate Value. I cannot stress this enough. Make sure every person feels like they are a contributing member of your group. From the weakest musician to the strongest, be sure each has an integral role (although not always equal role) in worship leadership.

This encouragement has reminded me that I have NOT arrived! My journey is not complete. The Lord is refining and growing me more into His image for His glory. God is continuing to equip me for the road ahead. May I serve with excellence, faithfulness, and humility.

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.”