Tag Archives: investing in next generations

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?

Generation X: Tolerant of All Types of Church Music?

I was recently reading a dialogue in a Facebook group I’m a part of that basically said that folks under 35 only want to sing worship music in church like Passion/Bethel/Hillsong, to name a few, while folks over 65 only wanted to sing traditional hymnody in a traditional four-part way—forget any creativity in hymn arrangements. The folks in the conversation then agreed that if all church members were of Generation X age, there wouldn’t be this polarizing disparity in congregational song. Obviously, these comments are not scientific and exceptions abound, but it sounded like something I would agree with. This conversation got me to thinking, “are folks in Generation X more tolerant of varying types of music for musical worship? If they are, why is that?”

I can personally speak to my own experience as someone who falls on the lower end of the 38-62 year old range. I remember as a teen in the late 80s and early 90s, the incorporation of new praise songs in corporate worship joined together with familiar hymnody. Back then, I don’t remember knowing any churches that had multiple services that were altogether different musically. But, by the mid 90s and early 2000s, I knew of many. Could this worship service polarization shift be a major reason why those older as well as those younger than those of us in Generation X feel so passionately about specific types of music for worship? Let’s explore further…

My church musical experiences up to the late 90s, and many of my generational cohort, was more than likely one of musical fluidity in church worship services—all types of music were used in each service (however lame or overly repetitive they might’ve been).   Those of us in Generation X who’ve grown up in the church can remember when churches were unified in their music approach yet had different musical styles. Sure, during this time there were churches that used more traditional or contemporary music (and instrumentation), but by and large, each church had a similar hymnody and basically one style of service.

Why is it that it seems those of us in Generation X are more tolerant of varying kinds of music? Do you believe this to be true as well?

Worship services, during the formative years of many Gen Xers, included lots of musical styles. So, when churches (in the late 1990s and 2000s) decided to segregate into music-specific worship services, many from Generation X were comfortable in any worship scenario. I believe we of Generation X are not as firmly stuck in our “old ways,” as the over 65 crowd. Remember, most Boomers were at least 40 years old during this shift. Being over 40 myself, I can tell you–change its much harder at this age! Likewise, I believe many of our younger Millennials and Generation Z (especially those born since the advent of segregated services) have yet to see passed their own limited experience, which may include internet-based or concert-based worship services. So, much more could be said here, but I think you get the idea.

Without proper research, these questions will remain. What I do believe to be true is people resonant with familiarity. Given to our own devices, all humans default to their comfort zone. Without exposure to multiple types of musical worship, we humans will always resort to the familiar or our preferences. That being the case, I hope that people under my care as worship leader will sing truth with as many available musical types of worship with strong texts. The key is exposure!

I’d love to hear your opinions on why Generation X seems to be more tolerant with music in the church?