Tag Archives: church choir

Why Non-White Dominate Congregations are More Intergenerational

The other day I was rereading an article written by Michael Hawn “Singing Across the Generations: is there Hope?”and I came across this statement on page 20, “congregations that are virtually all African American or Latino most often worship together as multigenerational families.” He goes on to say that Anglo-dominated, middle-class congregations from 200-400 in attendance were more likely to offer two or three different patterns of worship (based on musical style). According to Hawn, minority-dominant congregations tend to worship intergenerationally. Hawn does not aim to explain why this data exists, but focuses on strategies for how churches can find unity in their musical worship.

I’m curious as to why. Why are Anglo-dominated congregations more likely to have multiple types of styles of services? The argument that a new, improved, more energetic contemporary service in the name of attracting new or de-church people will bring young families in doesn’t seem to be the answer in the non Anglo-dominated church. Many of our minority-dominated churches are thriving The African American and Hispanic dominated congregations I’m familiar all over the with all over the world aren’t dying…in fact they are growing! I’ve been to several Latin American churches (all intergenerational) that are THRIVING and the gospel is proclaimed and received.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking, praying, strategizing about how to bring musical elements that transcend generations into our worship context. I’m very interested how minority-dominated congregations have managed to avoid the “worship wars” and what I can learn from them.

This post is not designed to find ways to bring multi-ethnic elements into a particular church content. Anyone with Google can find hundred of articles and books on the subject. However, to begin the conversation, I want to discuss some traits I’ve found in minority-dominated churches that might give a few clues as to why these types of churches have chosen to worship intergerationally. I have a few ideas I’d like to share–all anecdotal although observed many times. As always, there are doubtless others.

  1. Minority-dominated congregations are made of families that VALUE being together. Go to any Latin American country and you’ll see multiple generations living together. They value all; church is no different. Most non-Anglo cultures are ultra family-centric. The “it takes a village” mentality is evident. My observation is women in minority-dominate churches are taking care of many generations of children and raising in a “pack-mentality.” It’s not uncommon to find many Hispanic and African American grandmothers helping raise their own grandchildren.
  2. Minority-dominated congregations are not afraid of emotionally-driven, passionate times of worship. One of the reasons many Anglo-dominate churches have decided to add “contemporary” services alongside their “traditional” services has been that some feel that traditional worship is stuffy, uninspired, boring, and lacking passion. Those who find comfortable in the predictable liturgy of a traditional service find contemporary services irreverent. Minority-dominate churches just don’t have (my opinion) boring or dispassionate music. It’s always been passionate and will continue to be. Ergo, there is no need to separate services based on style.
  3. Minority-dominate churches cling to their ethnicity while embracing new.  The musical worship in these churches is rooted in who they are historically. While they aren’t afraid to embrace new styles of music, they would never create a worship service that excluded one musical style over another. They know their culture and context.
  4.  Participation comes from all generations in minority-dominate churches. Some of this is due to the size of the church. Many are small churches that need everyone to work together. However, my experience has been that even as these churches have gotten larger, (some of our largest churches in America are African- American and Asian dominated) they have not lost their intergenerational nature. All have a role in worship leadership.
  5. Choir participation in minority-dominate churches is still HIGH. I can’t think of an African-American dominate church today that doesn’t use a choir. This could be said for many other non-Anglo ethnic groups as well. While authors of the “National Congregations Study” (Chavez and Anderson 1998 and 2008) reported that choirs in all types of churches has decreased from 72.3% in 1998 to 58% in 2008, there is no evidence of decreased participation in minority-dominated congregations in this study. In fact not only does it remain common, it is intentionality intergenerational (not just choirs of members with with white hair)! These churches have figured out how important a choir can still be relevant.  In fact many leaders of these churches depend on the energy that the choir brings to musical worship, an energy that cannot be replicated by any other means.

I’m positive I’ve only scratched the surface and there are always exceptions to these comments, but I can’t help but notice that it seems to me that only Anglo-dominated churches (and generally in America) think creating separate worship events which contains only one style of music and liturgy is ultimately healthy for the church. This can lead to generational separation, but more importantly, separate services also prevents the fusion of multi-ethnic musical variety. It is only through cooperation and inclusion of multiple styles that we may paint of picture of how heaven will truly be—all peoples worshiping together in many different ways, but worshiping…together.

1Liturgy, 24 (3), 2009: 19-28.

The Value of Community in the Church Choir

Communitya group of people who have a sense of common purpose for which they assume mutual responsibility, who affirm their interconnectedness, who respect each other’s differences, and who desire to see each person and the whole succeed.

Choir- A choir is defined as a group of any combination of singers that provides vocal leadership in corporate worship. The choir may add vocal support only to congregational singing but also may engage in proclamation ministry through choir music alone, which is music designed to be performed with several voices on each part. In comparison to a vocal ensemble or praise team which typically has fewer singers, a choir, for the purposes of this study, must consist of a minimum of twelve singers. Generally, the choir is placed prominently on risers or in a choir loft but not front and center on the platform area. The individual choir participants are not vocally enhanced through the use of microphones.[i]

            I firmly believe that because the music ministry of any church is so visible due to its weekly leadership role, the choir is one of the most visible models of intergenerational behavior than just about any other ministry in the church. The music ministry is a unique community of artistic believers who, because of the nature of making music in a group, must yield their own preferences to whole in order to achieve a unified sound and spirit. Any person who’s spent any time in a choir or instrumental group will tell you the importance of unified tone for blended multiple timbres into one homogenous sound. It’s a perfect picture of the Body of Christ in community.

            While I’m certainly not opposed to contemporary expressions of worship with a few singers and a few instrumentalists, I cannot think of a better picture of community than choir and instrumental groups in a music ministry. In these ensembles participants with high levels of talent sit beside those with less training and work together to make sure the whole group succeeds. In intergenerational worship ministries, those of all ages have the opportunity to serve alongside each other, each seasoned singer or player helping the young musicians “learn the ropes.” An intergenerational music ministry allows everyone the opportunity, no matter the skill level, to participate.

            Most leaders of churches that are intergenerational usually have a philosophical reason to value them. Even those leaders that are naturally intergenerational still value that the generations are worshiping together in their church. When I asked why these leaders, who already serve intergenerational churches, value not only having an intergenerational church, but having a choir that is intergenerational, they responded with the following answers in rank order:

  1. The choir reflects the age diversity already present in the congregation

      Over 70% of those interviewed stated that they simply want the choir to be a generational reflection of what is already present in the congregation. The choir is one the most visible ways to involve multiple generations in the worship service. What other ministries outside of worship involves the youngest and the eldest members of the church simultaneously on a regular basis?

  • Older and Younger Members should learn from each other

       These leaders have identified what I call mutual submission or mutual learning. Young people bring excitement and enthusiasm, which is contagious. Likewise, the older members can pour into younger members the wealth of knowledge they’ve gained along the way. Each generation must learn to be respectful of all as the intergenerational church learns how to live in community.

  • It’s Biblical

You may be surprised to hear that only 20 percent of those leaders I interviewed even mentioned the biblical model for intergenerational worship. Of the 20 percent, the leaders overwhelmingly were older Millennials and leaders from Generation X. My research questions did not allow for why this was the case, but my thought is that our younger music leaders are being encouraged to consider the biblical model because they grew up in the “worship wars,” and are beginning to receive some training in college or seminary, whereas older leaders never were taught many years ago why they should be intergenerational, because there was no need to.[ii]

            Unity in purpose and unity musically are essential for any choral group. Unlike a solo singer, who has great latitude when singing, choir singers must subdue their own individuality must take a backseat for the good of the whole. Here’s a quick list of some areas where choirs must be unified:

  1. Vowels, articulation, rhythm, consonants, breathing, phrasing, dynamics, etc.
  2. Often, but not always, dress. Concert dress or robes often hide the individuality of each person for a unified look.
  3. Blend vocally. I included this as a separate number because listening and blending is crucial to choral tone. In choral singing we must give up our solo tendencies to achieve unity and balance.
  4. Preferences in music or in other facets of choir ministry. Often, we don’t always sing everything that we personally like. That’s okay, the person sitting next to you might love what you hate. That’s the beauty of mutual submission—loving one another more than yourself.

            The list could go on, but consider this, I learned more about serving others and working in community toward a goal in a choral setting than any other facet of the local church. I believe the task of moving many people toward a unified goal will result in greater effectiveness for the Kingdom.

            The choir has the opportunity to pave the way/model intergenerational behavior throughout the rest of the church. The choir must work together to overcome music style differences, traditions, and preferences in order to lead in worship. Because they are the leaders who must strive for unity musically, choir members are in a strategic position to model unity for the rest of the church. We leaders must teach the biblical mandate to worship together or we’ll lose our focus on the why. Failing to have the “driving” factor of biblical precedent as our guide seriously diminishes the value of intergenerational ministry in the first place. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesian church, urges [us] to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3 ESV).         

            Becoming intentionally intergenerational is pragmatically a good idea also. We need future leaders, we need to learn from each other, but intergenerational philosophy should be guided by what the Bible says. In short, pragmatism is the nuts and bolts of intergenerationality, but philosophy should be the wrench.


[i] William T. Whittaker, “Exploring Characteristics of Choral Ministry Within Georgia Southern Baptist Churches Committed to Intergenerational Ministry.” (D.M.A. dissertation, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, 2015), 3.

[ii] Ibid., 53.

The Unfortunate Decline of the Choir

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:

  1. Churches with choirs are more likely found in churches in the southern US.
  2. Theologically moderate churches are more likely to have choirs than liberal or conservative churches.
  3. Politically, the churches more conservative have the lowest percentages of choirs, although right in step with the overall percentage of churches when considered collectively.
  4. Black Protestant churches are the most likely to still have church choirs, followed closely by Roman Catholic churches.
  5. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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