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.

 

 

 

Bringing the Church Back Together- Part 2- First Steps

In my last post, I discussed some of the biblical foundations that support intergenerational worship and why multiple services driven by musical style may be a detriment to the unity of the local church. If you missed that post, click here to read it: Bringing the Church Back Together- Part 1- Biblical Foundations.

In this post, I will begin the journey of how any local church, who has divided for musical reasons, may begin the process of coming back together into a unified worship plan. While I spoke with several worship leaders who have led local churches through a transition such as this in order to prepare to write this, I am especially indebted to the experiences of two men: Slater Murphy (MS Baptist Convention) and David Hasker (FBC Melbourne, FL). Thank you!

Because there is much to cover in this process, I’m only going to cover the first steps to getting the transition started. In my next post, I will get into more detail on the practical ways worship leaders (and all church leaders) should utilize to ensure a unified transition, especially as it relates to synthesizing multiple music/worship teams.

FIRST STEPS

PRAY. This is the most important thing to do. Without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, nothing will be accomplished. You, as the leader who is convinced intergenerational worship is the key to longevity of the local church, must be educated in what the biblical, philosophical, and practical implications are in order to inspire others to catch the vision. Your passion is necessary to cast the vision of what a healthy intergenerational church should be.

The common theme of all I spoke with about this transition is that it MUST BE SENIOR PASTOR LED. As the chief shepherd of the local church, if your senior pastor isn’t 100 percent on board, then the transition will ultimately fail. This doesn’t mean that a Senior Pastor cannot be confronted (IN LOVE) with the philosophical argument that multi-styled worship services are more divisive than unifying. Perhaps you, as worship pastor, should speak truth from the scripture in order to encourage your senior pastor to consider unifying worship services at your church. Continue to have candid, respectful conversations in order to “educate” of the merits of unified worship.

BE PATIENT. Convincing a senior pastor to make a paradigm shift is not easy. If the current pastor initiated multiple services years ago based on the Church Growth Model, your suggestion to return to a unified worship approach will likely mean the senior pastor has to admit they were wrong. Further, if the senior pastor only created multiple types of service to appease certain groups of people, those same people will likely share their disdain with you. It may take months or years even. Keep praying and keep educating.

Once the Senior Pastor is on board, the next step is to have conversations with the rest of the staff, key leadership, and deacon/elders. While it’s always best to have everyone totally on board with the idea of bringing the worship services back together, it might not happen easily. As with most decisions involving a wide range of personalities and experiences, there will always be late adopters. David Hasker says that a few on their staff did not agree initially on the return to a unified worship style, but in the end the decision was made by the majority and they supported it. Anticipate possible questions and do your homework before the meetings to make sure you are able to explain what the transition might look like.

After the key leadership, other key groups in the church must be “educated” in the next steps of what will happen. Some key groups  include: the music ministry team (especially since this involves them a GREAT deal), Bible study leaders, etc. Make sure communication is frequent and clear and all involve persons have a chance to voice concerns and have questions answered. It’s essential that the key leadership be unified before the church body itself is presented with the plan. Additionally, remember to always be respectful and kind when dealing with folks who are passionately against returning to a unified worship style. Love them and ask them to support you as you try to live out the vision God has given the church. Remind them that a unified worship style is NOT anti-evangelistic or anti-contemporary worship.

Once the decision to bring the unified plan to the congregation is made, allow multiple opportunities for the church to hear the vision and ask questions. The pastor and worship leader should share the biblical and philosophical merits of a unified worship approach. Once these meetings are finished, then your church should vote (or whatever process you use to implement change).

One more thing…

Any change comes at a cost. You may have to “cash in” quite a bit of “people collateral” in order to make this happen. For the worship leader just 6 months to a year into their tenure somewhere is going to have a much harder time convincing the pastor/congregation of this paradigm shift. Many will only believe you are there to stir things up without any regard for the actual people you serve. It takes time (no matter how talented you are) for people to trust you as a leader. Even if you have decades of experience, people simply need to know you not only have Kingdom work on your heart, but you understand and value them as people and the church culture and context of the local body.

In my next post, I’ll deal with the practical side of how the musical styles and teams can work together in a new context. You’ll need to have a detailed plan of how to integrate your teams before the vision is shared because people are going to want to know exactly how the change will affect the overall ministry of the local body. Let me be clear: You MUST find a way to integrate the instrumentalists, vocalists (choir, praise team), teach teams, actual venues-if different, from ALL worship services/styles into one. Remember, one of the key parts of what intergenerational worship is—-everyone must feel valued and important. More soon!

 

Choosing Choir Literature Based on the Size of the Choir

Based on my research, no more than 25 percent of church choirs in America have more than fifty participants. Even the major evangelical publishers are attuned to this fact because many offer choral music options for the smaller choir. I don’t see this trend in school choral groups, however, but the disconnect between school choral programs and church choral programs is REAL. I’ll write more on how we can bridge these relations soon.

Regardless of the size of the choir, there are non-negotiable traits of good, healthy singing. Tone, intonation, pitch, rhythm, tempo, articulation, expression, interpretation, etc. are some of the hallmarks of any good choral group. Having worked with both large and small choirs, I have noticed there are definitely some distinctions worth noting between the two sizes. Taking into account these difference can help the leader choose more appropriate literature for the size choir he or she leads. Here’s a selected list of some observations based on my own experiences:

Large Choir
1. Able to produce a large sound-especially if singing with orchestra
2. Less confident singers can find confidence in stronger singers/readers
3. Larger possible pool of soloists
4. Able to sing most songs with lots of divisi
5. Sing songs with more extreme ranges
6. Able to sing longer phrases (stagger-breathing becomes easier)
7. Easier to blend parts because no one has to “carry the section”
8. More difficult to sing especially rhythmic (syncopated) tunes (can be more difficult to get the train moving fast- so to speak)
9. Can have more strong sightreaders, which expedites learning

Small(er) Choir
1. Most have to pull their own weight, confident or not. (My first choir had excellent singer/sightreaders because the fewer singers had to step up and be confident)
2. Members feel more obligated to attend due to numbers–Greater chance of huge holes in sound if certain ones aren’t there
3. Can be more difficult to blend
4. Can be easier to sing more rhythmic tunes due to the weight of the larger number of singers
5. Literature choices can be limited by range, phrasing, etc.
6. Often part singing is limited based on availability. (We see this in the ever-present doubling of soprano and bass lines of popular church choral music geared for smaller choirs)

This is definitely just a start. What would you add to these lists? If 75 percent of evangelical churches with choirs have fewer than fifty participants, then how do we overcome obstacles the smaller choir has?  Let me hear from you.