Tag Archives: diversity

The Decline of Church Choirs and Lack of Unity

A few months ago I wrote an article about the rise of choral singing in America from a study from Chorus America.  If you missed that blog post, check it out here: Church Choirs Shouldn’t be Declining Because of Lack of Interest. Last week, I ran across another article called 1 in 6 Americans sings in a choir — and they’re healthier for it.
This article cites the same study, but this paragraph stood out to me:

It’s no secret that America’s social fabric is unraveling. Participation in churches and religious institutions is down. Fraternal organizations are shrinking. Marriage rates continue to decline. Voting is up, but volunteering is down. The differences dividing us seem greater than the similarities.

That last line stuck out to me. Our differences are dividing us and churches are not immune. In fact the enemy has targeted the bride of Christ, who loves nothing more than to create division. This division is contrary to the admonition of Scripture. 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). 

I’m suggesting that our churches have a unity problem. The decline in church attendance is doubtless linked to the decline of church choir mentioned in this study. 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 demonstrate unity in worship leadership. Further, when we get rid of graded choirs, we don’t have the opportunity to start this “discipleship of unity” early in the spiritual formation of the students. Sadly, I believe many of displaced church choir members are the reason community choirs are on the rise.

Any choral group, by design, must strive for unity in various ways. While striving for unity, our 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 together 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.

 

You’ve Made me Learn to Love Contemporary Music

Last night I was approached by an octogenarian woman during our family night meal. She looked me dead in the face and said something to the effect of, “Will, you’ve made me learn to love contemporary music.” As I’ve thought about this over the last day, I’m starting to wonder how I’ve made her learn to love contemporary music? I didn’t realize I had that power! Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to continue our conversation because I needed to get to my first rehearsal. Of course the next time I see her I’m going to ask her, but for now, I can only guess why she said that to me—and 80-something year old woman whose church music heart-language likely does not include the latest Passion tune. However, something in the way we present contemporary music resonates with someone from our Builder generation.

While I don’t have an exact answer to why she felt compelled to stop me at the coffee bar yet, I have some guesses:

  1. Utilize contemporary songs that are biblically-rich. I refuse to put on the lips of our people songs that aren’t clear in theology and Christ-glorifying.
  2. Utilize contemporary songs where the music and text complement each other. Much has been said about this, but effective text/word painting is crucial to cementing the truth in the minds and hearts of the worshipers.
  3. Utilize contemporary songs with a hookYou all know what I’m talking about—songs with the indelible earworm. Songs that have sections that contain melodic (or even harmonic) sections that you can’t get out of your head. My current earworms are Way Maker and I Belong to Jesus (O Hallelujah). If you don’t know them, be prepared to invest lots of time hearing the song in your head. But you know what? These songs reinforce the TRUTH of who God is and my relationship and response to Him. If you listen any pop music at all, the most popular songs have hooks–and rightly so, we humans respond to them. No matter your age, a fantastic hook transcends generations!
  4. Instrumentation. I don’t think we can overestimate the importance of how the music is played and sung. A rock band is going to sound different on most contemporary songs than a full orchestra (even if you have the same rhythm section in your orchestra). We use orchestra every week and my guess is our chosen method of presentation is more intergenerational friendly.
  5. Volume. I CANNOT stress how important volume and decibel level is in a worship service. I talk at length about this in my article here: The Noise is Deafening and It’s Not My Fault!  Basically, as we get older, we get more sensitive to sound. If you want to ostracize older people, disregard decibel levels. We make very sure that we set volume levels appropriately for our worship space.
  6. Relationships. I care about the people I serve. I care about the content that God has given me the responsibility to feed them musically. My octogenarian friend probably has learned to love contemporary music because I do not lay aside our historically-rich hymns of the faith either. In fact I try to find creative ways to use textual similarities between new and old and put them together in worship services. I want all generations in my church to know that no music is off-limits based on it’s copyright date alone. By this I’m able to bridge gaps and build relationships across generational lines. It’s kind of an inter-musical approach for the intergenerational church!

What might you add to my list here?

Let’s Just Call it What it is…

To divide congregations into groups, style groups, and preference groups is to be semi- or even pseudocorporate. The body of Christ is as chronologically and stylistically whole as it is spiritually whole Harold Best in Unceasing Worship (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003).

If music were to be eliminated from so called “traditional” or “contemporary” services, would there need to be different types of services? That’s right, very little. Let’s call it what it is—preference of music is the driving factor for having separate types of musical types at one church. And because music seems to be the driving factor in these decisions, worship becomes less about the preaching of the Word and the proclamation of the gospel and more about preferences of music, which are at best subjective. Hear me, I’m FOR all kinds of music…especially music that fits the cultural context of the church and demographic of your area. Be authentic, but be unified. It’ll take everyone being mutually submissive.

We’ve missed the point of, and driving force of worship, which is the centrality of the Word of God infused in every aspect of our corporate worship. Our churches should crave the spiritual food through the exposition of the Word week in and week out. I don’t want to hear platitudes on how to live my best life, I’d rather hear what the Word of God preached through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit has to say about how I need to be daily humbling myself, taking up my cross, and following Him by  loving my neighbor as myself.