When I was researching choirs in intergenerational churches several years ago, I used a statistic from the National Congregations Study conducted by Chavez to make the point that choirs were still in a majority of our churches in the southern US.
See data here: https://www.thearda.com/Archive/Files/Analysis/NCSIV/NCSIV_Var341_1.asp
The original study, conducted in 1998, researched many aspects of congregational life, one of which was music in worship. In 1998 choirs were present in over half of all US congregations. In subsequent research “waves,” the percentage of choirs in worship has decreased 12% in twenty years to just over 40% of congregations. If the trends continue their downward trajectory, this number that is likely to continue to fall. Here is a snapshot of the data trends in the study:
- Churches with choirs are more likely found in churches in the southern US.
- Theologically moderate churches are more likely to have choirs than liberal or conservative churches.
- Politically, the churches more conservative have the lowest percentages of choirs, although right in step with the overall percentage of churches when considered collectively.
- Black Protestant churches are the most likely to still have church choirs, followed closely by Roman Catholic churches.
- White liberal congregations are more likely (47%) to have a choir than white conservative/evangelical/fundamentalist churches (34.3%), but both are at least a third behind Black Protestant and Roman Catholic churches.
Here’s what I see:
- It doesn’t surprise me that the southern US has more church choirs. Most of my own contacts in music ministry are fellow southerners. The study simply reports, but does not give reasons, why this is the case. However, because this is the case, I suggest we pro-choir southern worship pastors continue to bear the responsibility of using all of our folks with some musical talent in the ministry of the choir.
- It doesn’t surprise me that our Black Protestant churches have a great deal of choir singing. Many of our Black churches haven’t tried to bend to pop culture, but have kept church a sacred space- valuing the whole rather than simply a few, even as they are solo-dominated in their choir singing. Choir-led worship IS the hallmark of the Black church expression of worship. They have figured out the secret to keeping the choir alive. We who value the choir need to take notes from them on how to utilize the choir in creative ways.
- Our white, conservative, evangelical churches have clearly moved from choir-led worship in favor of band-led, praise team only worship services. I think anybody who’s been to these types of churches has seen the shift happen over the last few decades. The percentages are evidence that this trend will continue. I believe before too long, there will only be a handful of white, evangelical churches still using the choir if a change in philosophy doesn’t occur.
The trends, especially among our white, conservative, evangelical churches, concerns me. I see no greater way to involve many people in worship leadership outside the choir. Sure, an overly polished, slick sound is perhaps better achieved with a few of your best musicians, but the Lord called me to equip all who feel the call to worship ministry. It is essential for the skilled to sit alongside the weaker singers to encourage, inspire, and help so all may work together for the glory of God. We must work together to push for authentic worship leadership which is modeled for the congregation.
Fellow pro-choir worship pastors—let’s continue to promote the biblical merits of utilizing the choir in worship. Let’s promote the merits of unity it brings in order to build the Kingdom. Selah
3 thoughts on “The Unfortunate Decline of the Choir”
Thanks Will. We speak the same language of worship. Thank you for the challenge.
This has been a pressing issue for me for the last few months. I tried to revive the already struggling choir in September, but it was a futile effort because the numbers could not sustain it. As interest has grown in the first part of the year, I’m working towards 1) basically starting a choir from scratch and 2) developing a worship-leading choir rather than an anthem-performing choir. Your comments on how the black church has maintained this worship-leading choir mentality through the years is a valuable resource to me. You have an ally in me in keep the choir ministry alive!
Yes. It’s definitely relevant in America. Every context is different. You’ve got to do what you can do well and sustain while keeping people involved. You’re on the right track, my friend!!