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.

 

 

 

Using the Gradual Release Model to Develop Next Generation Leadership

One of the core values of any intergenerational church should be developing new leaders. While all generations are valued and important, perceived value must be shifted during the development of new talent and leadership. Often seasoned leadership must take a “back seat” to let emerging leaders develop the necessary skills and traits to be able to lead forward. However, each person (the “teacher” and the “student’) still have valuable roles, albeit at times different generations will be more visible than others.

Because we value all our generations in worship so much, we regularly schedule time for our children and youth to share their gifts and talents in worship leadership. It’s an intentional process. We don’t just teach them music performance, but also the importance of modeling worship behavior for congregational participation. For our students that show great musical potential and feel the call of God to vocational ministry, we work hard to invest in them specifically. We accomplish this by using the “Gradual Release Model,” developed by Pearson and Gallagher in 1983. This model (seen below) does exactly what the term suggests, it allows the “student” to assume responsibility as they get more opportunities to serve. Ultimately, it is our prayer is that the Lord will call some from our church to vocational music ministry and because they’ve been leading throughout their lives, they will already be equipped to lead elsewhere.

Obviously, the role of the “teacher” changes as the students are developed. This “passing the torch” approach is not without its difficulties. Obviously, the budding leadership still needs guidance along the way, especially if something the emerging leader does something that might be perceived as a mistake or cause embarrassment to themselves or others.

Here’s a practical example of how we are using the Gradual Release Model. One of my personal piano students has a desire to use her gifts further in accompanying for choirs and worship services. Currently, we’re using the model with her and using our Youth Choir to give her a safe place to test her wings. Our pianist for the Youth Choir is an excellent mentor herself. This fall, we had my student sit in on rehearsals and watch our pianist at work. During rehearsals they would discuss important things such as playing parts, anticipating director’s movements/gestures, playing techniques for a choir, etc. (Focused Instruction). By Christmas they had moved to Guided Instruction, both sitting at the bench, working together. They even played a four-hand accompaniment to one of our songs for Christmas. Since January, they’ve entered the Collaborative Learning phase. Our student has learned the parts and accompaniment to one of our songs and she is taking “lead” in the rehearsal on that tune. Our pianist is sitting with her and helping make sure she doesn’t miss anything and is successful, but it’s basically the student playing for me. By the end of the Spring, I hope that we’ve moved her more and more to her to the Independent playing phase where she becomes our pianist for the Youth Choir by this fall.

This process helps the student be successful, but also keeps the pianist and me on our toes as we strive to make clear what we need from our student. It’s a gratifying process, especially if the student is quite good and practices before rehearsals! The value we place on investing in next generations will be evident as we develop new leaders who will “carry the torch” after we are unable to.

Involving Multiple Generations at Christmas Music Presentations

One of the easiest times of the year to bring multiple generations together in musical worship is Christmas. Most churches have special Christmas times of worship/presentations, no matter what style of music they use. Our event, Christmas at Ivy Creek, has been both multi and intergenerational for many years. Here are a few things we do to make sure our event reflects our intergenerational philosophy:

  1. We make sure there is a representation of all ages of our music groups in the presentation. By making “platform time” available to children, youth, adults, etc. you, as a leader, are demonstrating you value and appreciate all generations in this important event. We see involving all ages in our Christmas presentation an opportunity to invest in younger generations as they have the opportunity to lead in worship. We desire to raise up new worship leaders, orchestra members, and choir members that will lead the church in the coming years.
  2. Find literature/create or arrange literature that brings generations to the platform together for a song(s). We’ve enjoyed many years having children and/or youth sing with the adult choir on literature specifically written to feature multiple generations together.
  3. The process of rehearsals with multiple generations gives opportunities for various ages to build relationships. I make sure there are times of fellowship before and in between rehearsals and presentations for the purpose of relationship building.

 

We believe that creating an intergenerational worship event is a strong testimony of who we are to our community. Christmas at Ivy Creek is well attended for each of our three presentations. Many of those who come are not members of our church. While the message of salvation in Christ alone through faith alone is our aim, we also reflect to our community that families and people of all ages are valued here. Our visitors notice this and often we have the opportunity to explain our desire to reflect the entire body of Christ in our worship leadership.