Types of Music Sung by Choirs in Intergenerational Churches

Ephesians 5:19 NLT “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts.”

One of the things I expect to hear from most leaders of intergenerational worship ministries is that their choirs and congregations sing varied types of music. While it’s is entirely possible to have an intergenerational music ministry where all the music is basically the same, I don’t really know of many. When I studied intergenerational choral ministries in SBC churches in Georgia, all of those I interviewed indicated using more than one type of music in their church.  While I interacted with hundreds of leaders, I only interviewed 62 leaders in depth, and almost all indicated that used contemporary choral music with their choirs. While contemporary could mean anything newly composed, I made sure to clarify what I was looking for were choral arrangements of contemporary/modern worship songs that would not fit better in another category. Southern gospel was also high; this is not surprising due to the geographic region here in the south. Traditional Church Anthems, which are generally written by certain writers and arrangers, also are published by publishing houses that typically sell these types of work. Equally popular are hymn arrangements, which vary in “style” and “type” but are based on existing hymn tunes. Black gospel, classical/historical works, and spirituals (which I classify differently than Black gospel) are not as prevalent in our Georgia SBC intergenerational churches. See the results found below:

Music Types

Here are some things I found that were interesting. Some of these results raised more questions than answers:

  • Contemporary is common and it should be. We should sing a new song to the Lord. I think the hallmark of any intergenerational church is that there be new music and old music. Some would call it “something for everyone.” I believe it’s important to always be looking for the best that’s out there. PERIOD. It may be a 30 year old anthem, or the newest choral arrangement of a popular Hillsong or Passion tune.
  • Southern gospel is not sung regularly (or enough for the leader to even mention it) in roughly 30 percent of Georgia intergenerational SBC churches. I was initially surprised by this until I did some data comparison. There are large choirs not singing Southern gospel regularly as well as choirs with larger numbers from younger generations.
    * 90 percent of choirs ranging from 26-50 persons sing Southern gospel. Look back at the norm for all for comparison. The almost 70 percent who sing Southern gospel have choirs this size.
    *Almost 80 percent of churches that wore robes every Sunday sang Southern gospel, whereas only a little over half of those churches wearing Sunday attire every week sang Southern gospel.
    *Fewer choirs that include large numbers of choir members from Generation X sing Southern gospel music than choirs that are Boomer dominated.
  • Traditional church anthems are sung less often by the largest choirs in my study and almost 80 percent of those choirs who wear robes every week sing Traditional Church Anthems. Less than 40 percent of Generation X leaders and choirs that have a dominant number of choir members from Generation X sing Traditional Church Anthems
  • Hymn Arrangements are used by Generation X leaders more than Boomer leaders percentage-wise.
  • Black gospel is sung more often by choirs over 76 persons (67 percent, which is much higher than the average found on the graph above). Black gospel is most prevalent in choirs where there are more choir members from Generation X

    What does this all mean?
    I think it means that different generations “prefer” certain types of music…but that’s not news. I do think it’s probable that Southern gospel is more common (not extinct) in smaller to medium-sized churches, because large churches have greater concentrations of younger cohorts. I think black gospel is the more common in larger churches/choirs because there is likely more racial diversity in those churches. Although I would also mention that many of the largest churches/choirs in my study were in more urban/metro areas. I’m not sure what to think about why Hymn Arrangements are used more by Generation X leaders, but as a Gen X leader myself, I would agree that I prefer hymn arrangements over traditional church anthems…maybe it has something to do with a familiar hymn tune in a new way that something traditional, yet newly composed, lacks?
    As for my church, I’d say we fall within these ranges. We qualify as a large church choir (from the parameters of my study), from a metro area, with a large cohort of choir members who are Gen Xers and Millennials.  Their leader is also a Gen Xer. So, we don’t do much Southern gospel. In fact yesterday was the first time we’d done a true southern gospel song in quite awhile. We do a lot more Black gospel, hymn arrangements, and contemporary literature and yes, plenty of traditional church anthems!

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