As a worship leader in Anglican churches for over 20 years now, I’ve witnessed first hand the all-too-common polarization of worship ministries, with worship teams on one side and choirs on the other. And I’ve witnessed the slow and steady dwindling of choirs, as evidenced in this study by Duke University last year (Pay particular attention to pages 9 – 10.)
Over the last two and a half years, since I began as the Director of Worship and Arts at Truro Anglican Church, I have been forced to grapple with this problem, on a small scale in my local church. As a non-classically trained musician who doesn’t direct choirs, tasked with directing a music program with a long history of a vibrant choir at the center, but whose choir was experiencing the trend occurring throughout protestantism, I was suddenly face-to-face with the questions: Can our choir go against the trend? Can our choir and worship bands work together? Can our choir grow? Can our choir attract new people? Can the culture in our rehearsals change? Will there even be a choir at my church in 15 years?
I’m more and more convinced that the answers to those questions can be a resounding “yes!”
The answer to that question is not so easy. But within the body of Christ, and within the protestant Church itself, there are churches with vibrant, multi-ethnic, cross-generational, musically-flexible choirs, which are a worship leading force in their services, and attract members from a wide range of musical backgrounds, many of whom may have never read music even once in their lives.
And many – if not all – of the churches that actually have growing and vibrant choirs, are outside of the fairly narrow stream of white/reformed and/or evangelical denominations.
One such church is Mount Paran Church of God in Atlanta. Having watched their services online for years, I can say that they are living proof of the kind of wonderful and flourishing ministry that’s not just possible with a choir, but also possible with respect to partnership between generations. Their choir is a thriving cross-section of their congregation and community, and there is a beautiful community between the choir and band which is increasingly hard to find. Their worship director, Mark Blankenship, has served that church for 30+ years, and the fruit of his ministry is something that can (and should!) encourage all of us who are wondering if choirs have a future, and if they do, whether they can co-exist and co-operate with a worship “band”, or whether we’re stuck with separate services.
Here’s their choir/band/orchestra doing one of my new favorite songs, “How Excellent” (this is a special song – not intended to be sung by the congregation!):
My colleague/partner-in-crime/choir director Andrew Cote and I made a trip down to Atlanta a couple of months ago to visit Mount Paran, to observe one of their choir rehearsals, and to meet with their worship leadership. Tomorrow I’ll share some of my take-aways.