Tag Archives: church music

The Future is Now

In their book, Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids, Powell and Clark found that students crave affirmation and relationships with adults in their community of faith.[i]  It makes them feel valued. They want to get connected to the church, to serve, to invest in others. Powell and Clark go on to say that students who invest in younger kids are more likely to be connected and committed to their local church.[ii] Students want to feel valued and appreciated for what they can bring to the community of faith.[iii]

            Church Leader: what are you doing to integrate these students into the leadership of your church? For the worship leader specifically: How will you not only train future worship leaders, but how will you allow them to serve the body of Christ? Yes, it’s great to have graded choirs and youth choirs, but some of the more talented students in your ministry should be playing piano, guitar, or other musical instruments for another group in your church. The student with the great voice could sing on one of your worship service praise teams. The student who has a heart for working with children’s worship or children’s choir may be just the ministry he or she needs to stay connected to the church, or the students who are interested in audio/visual ministry could serve in various ways all over the church. What opportunities are you creating for this to happen in your church, leader? How will you ensure this happens?

            You must seek creative ways to use your students every chance you can because if they don’t get connected during their youth, it’s likely they’ll never get plugged in as an adult. They crave relationships with adults who value what talents and ideas they bring to the table. They need validation and affirmation along the way. They are the future of the church and we must find ways for them to learn, grow, serve, and invest in others themselves.

            Here a just a few ways you as a leader can invest and allow students and children the opportunity to grow and serve in the intergenerational church:

  1. Develop student accompanists
  2. Allow them to sing in the Sunday morning choir
  3. Use students on praise teams or solos
  4. Allow students to play their instruments in an instrumental ensembles or praise band
  5. Allow students to serve in children’s worship, drama, or children’s choir ministry
  6. Train and equip students for audio/visual ministry
  7. Allow students and children to have a voice in the worship ministry

            Children and students must have the opportunity to develop their skills as they learn what it means to lead in worship. You never know who God is calling to not only vocational ministry, but who He’s calling to serve the church after you are gone. Truthfully, isn’t it worth it to invest in even a few students if someone gets plugged in for life? If not, the church of tomorrow will be severely lacking musicians.

            No matter what size church you have or what your style of musical worship is, find many outlets for your students to serve. It just makes sense to provide opportunities for the greatest number of students to participate. Certainly, extremely talented musicians should have greater responsibility as needed, but don’t forget the moderate level musician in your church. We need all kinds in the body of Christ, and that extends also to music ministry also. We must foster an environment that seeks to honor the giftedness of all and provides avenues for them to serve.

            I get it; the pressure, worship leader, is undoubtedly high in your church to produce a quality worship experience each week. Taking a “training” approach to music ministry takes guts and a solid plan. The beginning product might not be awesome, but keep plugging away, training, investing, and praying for God to move and the quality will continue to rise if you raise the bar high and encourage along the way.

            I tell people often I’ve had key people in my life that invested in me. They saw something in me that needed to be utilized for the building of the Kingdom. I think of them often and remind them of their specific encouragement and risk they took letting me accompany or sing when I didn’t even think I was ready. Because of their investment in me, I’m able to invest in our next generations.

Who are investing in?


[i] Powell and Clark, 98-99.

[ii] Ibid, 98

[iii] For further reading, I commend to you the great book, Growing Young, by Powell, Mulder, and Griffin (Baker: Grand Rapids, 2016). These authors highlight the fact that a warm community is essential for keeping young people connected to a local community of faith.

Using Context as Gutter Guards

No matter what size, location, or style your church is, you must consider your church’s history, culture, and context. While we should always hold fast to the biblical foundations of worship, we cannot forget that each church is a unique body. Don’t try to blindly emulate another church without considering who God has fashioned your body of believers to be.

Many leaders desire to make changes because they are convinced the Lord has given them the vision to enact change or to avoid continued numerical decline, but fail to consider the full picture of the church’s history and current situation philosophically. Some leaders attempt to make changes too fast and make quick shifts in philosophy of ministry out of panic or desperation. Too often the results create more division and disunity. This is especially prevalent in worship music. I’ve seen worship leaders fired because they couldn’t sing contemporary music well enough or the pastor wanted to get rid of the choir because they are convinced a choir cannot grow a church so they unilaterally disband it because it’s not culturally relevant.

Friends, the music in your church should reflect who you are and what God has brought to your church. If you have a thriving choir of all ages, use it as a model for worship leadership. Having a praise band only with multiple generations on the team can also communicate that all ages are valued. In regards to your congregational song, there should be a mix of familiar songs and new; songs which meet the stringent criteria of being theologically rich and musically appropriate for your context. Sure, incremental changes are always necessary as time moves on, but don’t make sweeping changes without communicating a unified vision.

Churches, like ships, cannot make a 180 degree turn quickly. Most leaders desire to reach young families in their community, so they make assumptions about the types of music they like or the types of programming they want without considering the effect on other generations in their church. In fact many decisions are made to invest in younger generations without considering how older generations could be part of the solution before they make the changes. With evangelism and bringing in families as a primary motivator, many church leaders become myopic in their perspective and miss the chance to bring all ages together to share the vision in unity. Remember Acts 2? The Lord added daily to the number being saved in the early church not because they were hip and current, but because of their UNITY.

            When my sons were young, I used to take them bowling. Because I knew they’d likely throw gutter balls each time, I made sure the gutter guards were up each time they bowled. Not providing the gutter guards would’ve meant they would’ve felt defeated whenever they bowled. The goal of the gutter guards is to give their ball the chance to hit some pins so they feel a sense of accomplishment each time.

            Consider this analogy: the gutter guards are the biblical foundations and context of your own church. As a leader it’s your responsibility to protect your flock from the errancy of the bowling ball headed toward the gutter. Your goal is for your church to always knock down pins. These pins represent your UNIFIED goals and the vision to which God has called your particular church. There’s a lot of latitude in the middle and sides of each bowling lane, which means you should always be moving forward and side to side as your church grows, but always consider any movements forward through the filter of who God has called you to be authentically. Once you know who you are, the “gutter guards” keep you from striking outside of the biblical foundations and context of your own congregation.

A Case for the Church Choir

Chorus America, a nationally-known advocacy, research, and leadership development organization that supports the choral art, has written much on the benefits of singing. Most recently, an article came out in June of 2019 that lauds the benefits of singing for a lifetime. After first reading this article and the major findings of the story, I was very encouraged by the increase in choral participation in America.[i]

            At the same time I was reading this article, I was discussing with friends across the nation about the continued decline of choirs in churches all over the nation. I don’t want to list the myriad of reasons why choirs are declining in our churches because they are vast and many. 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 to sing in a choir. 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 the intergenerational church:

  1. 43 million American adults and 11 million children are singing in choirs today. A total of 54 million Americans.

             Please remind me 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 e.g. community, school, or church. The researchers also find an increase in participation to 17% from 14% since 2008.

  • 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 fully graded choirs from pre-school through students will never have a strong adult program.

  • Having a choir might actually increase your attendance in your faith community

             In every church I’ve been a part of, the music ministry participants are among the more faithful and more committed to corporate worship. I believe people are more committed when they have a place and reason to serve.

            The National Congregation Study, a research project from the Association of Religion Data Archives, has conducted several research projects related to congregational life, including data related to music ministry. The original study, conducted in 1998, has since been replicated four times for the most current data and compared.

            In the initial data collected in 1998, choirs were present in over half of all US congregations. In latest research “wave” conducted in 2018-19 the percentage of choirs in worship had decreased 12 percent in twenty years to just over 40 percent of congregations. Not an encouraging sign for those who value the choir in worship. Here is a snapshot of the data trends in the study:

  1. Churches with choirs are more likely found in churches in the southern United States.
  2. Theologically moderate churches are more likely to have choirs than liberal or conservative or evangelical churches.
  3. Black Protestant churches are the most likely to still have church choirs at 75 percent, followed closely by Roman Catholic churches.
  4. White liberal congregations are more likely (47 percent) to have a choir than white conservative/evangelical/fundamentalist churches (34.3 percent), but both are at least a third behind Black Protestant and Roman Catholic churches.[ii]

            A few things concern me about this data. First, evangelical, white churches clearly have fewer choirs than any other religious group in America. Secondly, outside of the southern region of America, fewer than a third of all white evangelical churches have choirs which lead in worship. Where have all our choirs gone? Our white, conservative, evangelical churches have clearly moved from choir-led worship in favor of band-led, praise team only worship services because music in worship services certainly hasn’t lessened in importance. The percentages, which have made a downward trend since the 1998 original study, suggest this trend will continue.

            Before too long, there will only be a handful of white, evangelical churches still using the choir. This trend concerns me because I believe there is 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 has certainly called more than a few very talented people to serve in worship ministry. It is essential for the skilled to sit alongside the weaker singers of all ages 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.

            While having a choir or not does not indicate whether or not your church is intergenerational, I believe our churches have deeper problem. Our churches have failed to remember that the church should be made of people from varied and diverse backgrounds, various ages, and skill sets. When we fail to recognize that relegating worship leadership to a select few today will result in no new worship leaders tomorrow, we’re short sighted. When we get rid of a fully orbed music ministry for all ages, we don’t have the opportunity to start this “discipleship of unity” early in the spiritual formation of the kids and students, the future worship leadership of our churches.

             I have to wonder if one of the reasons evangelical churches are seeing a decline in church attendance is linked to the decline of church choir mentioned in this study. It makes sense to me that the more people are committed to serving in worship leadership, the more they make church attendance a priority. Further, the decline of the church choir has removed one of the most visible models of unity on display in our local churches. Week in and out, vibrant church choirs model unity as the Body of Christ in worship leadership. Let’s not abandon them.


[i]https://chorusamerica.org/sites/default/files/resources/ChorusImpactStudy_SingingforaLifetime.pdf

[ii] Mark Chaves et al. “The National Congregations Study (2018-2019.” The Association of Religion Data Archives. https://www.thearda.com/Archive/Files/Analysis/NCSIV/NCSIV_Var341_1.asp