Let’s face it, people seem to be afraid of commitment these days – especially any kind of a long-term commitment like singing in a choir.
As church music directors, how do we make our singers’ commitment worth their time and energy? Furthermore, how do we keep people excited about singing in the choir while maintaining their engagement in the ministry? In other words, what can we do to keep people coming back?
Consider these thoughts concerning the topic of keeping our choirs engaged and excited about the music ministry.
People want to be a part of something great and something that is greater than any one of us individually. This is why the emphasis on community is so important in our choirs. We understand that we are more than a group of individuals who sing together; we are a community of believers who seek to use our God-given gift in our worship of God.
What are ways that our choirs live into their identity and role as a community of faithful followers?
The most obvious way that choirs facilitate community is through the joining of our voices, hearts, and minds in the leading of worship. Community happens when we align our gifts and hearts in the worship of God.
Consider ways that you might plan social times apart from rehearsal that cultivate a true sense of community.
- What about a potluck gathering a few times a year? Everybody loves food, right!
- Consider celebrating birthdays or any other special occasions monthly after rehearsal. Invite people to sign up to bring cupcakes or some kind of dessert to share as you celebrate others in the choir.
- Ever held a choir retreat that focuses on the community experience more than music? These events can do wonders for your community-building.
- Invite your singers to bring a breakfast dish to share and show up 30 minutes before they normally do on Sunday mornings for a time of fellowship.
How can you care for one another? Community is built and strengthened as we walk through the ups and downs of life together.
- Consider setting up a meal train for one of your choir members who has had some health difficulties or who has experienced the loss of a loved one. This will go a long way in showing that you care about one another.
- How about sending a card to someone who has been out a while and needs a word/sign of encouragement? Assign someone in your choir to be the “Choir Care” person. They can either send a card on behalf of the entire choir or they can have the entire choir sign the card then send it.
Expect the Best
Did I mention that people want to be a part of something great?
As leaders, if we expect the best out of people, we will often be pleasantly surprised that others can meet or even exceed these expectations. As directors, we have the incredible opportunity of helping our singers reach a higher level of excellence than they ever realized.
While they may gripe and complain, many choirs want to be challenged. It is a healthy practice to challenge our choirs because it will help them grow musically, emotionally, and spiritually.
One caveat that I will add is: it is vital that you, as the director, know the limitations of your choir and do not push them past the limits of what you know they are musically capable of. If you program an anthem each week that challenges them and pushes them beyond their limits, it will stress some singers out.
Excellence attracts excellence! If your choir is able to reach a level of excellence, then others will want to be a part of your ensemble. Always strive for excellence!!
The choir is often one of the most visible groups in the church. My expectation is that their actions and words are the same outside of the rehearsal room and choir loft as they are in them. People watch us in public, and we are representing God even when we don’t wear a choir robe. Expecting the best goes beyond the musical side of things; it crosses over to the spiritual side as well.
Variety Is the Spice of the Choir
I have long believed that the more variety we have in our repertoire as a choir, the better the musicians we will be. I understand that we all have preferences (and there is nothing wrong with preference), but if we are able to perform a variety of styles, it offers an exciting way to keep both the singer and listener engaged and growing.
When programming your repertoire for each season, consider choosing anthems from these categories:
- a variety of musical genres (Baroque, Classical, Jazz, Gospel, Contemporary, etc.),
- anthems with a variety of instrumentations,
- a cappella anthems,
- new and fresh hymn arrangements,
- brand new anthems,
- intergenerational anthems,
It’s okay if each choir member doesn’t absolutely love every anthem you choose. Don’t take it personally! One of our goals as directors is to help our singers grow and experience something new. If they trust us, they will have a better appreciation for a variety of styles and even more of an appreciation for the things that they love. Also, consider offering ensembles for women’s voices, men’s voices, chamber choir (more advanced music), etc. to offer more variety to their choral experience.
Make It Fun!
However you can, make the experience of making music fun!
- Keep a fast, but fun pace during rehearsals. If you keep things moving, it will keep singers engaged.
- Don’t be afraid to stop and praise the choir when they have done something really well. Too many times, the only moment we stop in the middle of the anthem during rehearsal is when we need to fix something. Don’t forget that we need to praise our singers as well.
- Don’t take yourself or your choir too seriously all of the time. Share a joke or a funny story each rehearsal. People love to laugh, and it breaks up the monotony that a rehearsal can have at times.
One side note… I constantly remind my singers: Remember that the process is just as important as the performance! What I mean by that is that the process of rehearsal and preparing to lead in worship is just as important as the leading of worship. God is glorified just as much in the choir rehearsal as in the worship service!
Make It Spiritual!
Let’s not forget why we do all of this in the first place! When we lift our voices in praise to God, we are doing the very thing we were created to do – worship!
- Pray together: many times, the choir can serve as a larger small group where members can pour out their hearts in the ups and downs of life. Find a way for members to express their prayer requests each week.
- Devotionals: consider leading a short five-minute devotional each week during rehearsal. You can also ask various choir members to lead these devotionals. I know that every minute counts in the music rehearsal, but your ensemble will only be better and stronger because of a weekly emphasis on God.
- Meaning of texts: Don’t forget to talk about the significance behind the texts that we sing on Sunday mornings – both the anthem and the hymns that we lead. Church choirs are some of the best preachers I have ever heard! We preach through our music!!
As the director of the choir, we are also the shepherd of the people we serve. Many times our choir members look to us as their “pastor.” We need to remember to find ways to stay connected to our choir members outside of the rehearsal and worship times. How can we find effective ways to shepherd the people in our choirs? If we show them that we care about them, then they will care even more about their engagement and participation in the music ministry!
At the end of the day, it is vital that we, as church music directors, value our people more than the music we make. The biggest thing I have learned in my experience in the ministry is that the foundation of every ministry is relationships. If we cultivate deep relationships with those in our music ministry, we are more likely to keep our singers/instrumentalists more engaged and excited.
Grace and Peace to you and your music ministry!
About the Author: Dr. Michael Cromwell serves as the Minister of Worship at First Presbyterian Church in Roswell, Georgia, where he oversees all aspects of the communal worship services. Michael’s passion is to see others actively engaged and participating in corporate worship no matter the style.