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.
8 thoughts on “A Vibrant Future (Together) for Choirs and Worship Bands – Pt. 1”
Hi – I appreciate your blog. Though this blend of choir and band sounds great, I find that this style doesn’t lend itself very well to congregational-style singing. There is so much going on vocally that I believe the average congregant would just sit back and enjoy and not sing themselves. Is that helpful? Does that make one more of an observer rather than a participant? Thx!
That choir and setup is something to behold. However, I’m trying to figure out where How Excellent (as they’ve performed) falls on the spectrum of “Performance” to “Full congregation participation”. This looks a lot like what we would consider a special music piece that the congregation would be watching…I can’t see how you would get the congregants to know how/where/what to sing on this one.
Still an amazing performance…would love to be part of that choir.
I’d love to see continuing discussion about how the choir can participate/help/aid in the typical morning worship congregational singing.
Thanks, Herman and Greg. Yes, that particular song is 100% a special performance song. I’ll edit the post to clarify that. I wouldn’t see it working as a congregational song, though when we’ve done at my church, it’s been incredibly moving for the congregation. The reason I posted that particular video/song, is because it demonstrates the vibrancy of the choir (not to mention the age ranges, different ethnicities, etc.), and how it makes you say (in the words of Greg) I “…would love to be part of that choir”.
I appreciate the post. I was going through some of Lifeway’s “top articles” from their Worship section and they had a lot of focus on choirs. They brought up the idea that a choir can invite people in who wouldn’t be able to sing w/ the praise band as well as supporting that group that spans all sorts of demographics of those who love to sing. I’m currently at a church that has a small praise band, orchestra, and choirs. They are mixed at various times with good success. The choir can still help lead in the musical worship and still can perform those special pieces for more skilled musicians. The praise band and smaller ensemble can lead in different types of music. The orchestra is a chance for musicians to continue praising God past school and can be a wonderful addition to the congregational singing.
I really liked the fact that those writing recently have noticed the ability of a good choir to draw in singers of all types and then disciple them while giving them a chance to serve. Even in small churches of 100 or so, the choir still provides people who love to sing a chance to do so – I see that in our friend’s church. The joy on their faces is great to see as they get to use their singing to lead and worship. A good choir is usually a good “small group” as well – people coming together for a common cause and enjoying their time together while praising God. I don’t think I’ve been part of a choir yet where there wasn’t a lot of genuine fellowship among the members.
Our church is getting ready to embark on a blended, combined, or whatever you want to call it, service. We’ve been running 2 services for the past 6 years and neither have grown much. So we “getting back together”! But our choir is very traditional with robes and music folders. Any pointers on a real blending of their musical talents with our praise band?
Such good questions, Nancy. Could you join us in Atlanta? We’ll be talking about these kinds of challenges.
This is timely for me. I am taking on a Worship Director’s position in a smallish church of 250. The last five years the church has attempted a lay-led-only ministry and the choir fell by the wayside. I’m no choir director, but I absolutely believe there is a place for it in a contemporary church. My challenge is finding out how to expand the choir from its current size/age of 12 senior citizens and integrate it into a contemporary evangelical service. I hope you keep us updated with posts!
Hope you have some success there. We found that inviting people in who showed some ability in singing helped – especially if it was just for a short time or a special event. It also helps to try some extra recruiting when you come on as there tends to be a little extra excitement. Add in just the right amount of challenge/growth for your members (always hard) and you should be able to recruit some more. Encouraging your singers in their role as worship leaders helps quite a bit as well. The fact that you have a choir already should be helpful.