article_images/23HateChoirs_843827614.jpg

Should choirs be a thing of the church's past?

“I hate choirs!”

So said a friend of mine recently at lunch as we discussed ministry matters. He’s your typical, middle-aged church-goer with a wife and three kids.

I could understand “dislike,” but “hate”? I asked him to explain his outburst. “Choirs are irrelevant. They perform boring, outdated music. I could tolerate boring, outdated music if it was done well, but amateur choirs usually sound terrible. You can’t expect them to sound good with an hour of rehearsal on Wednesday night.”

If my friend is saying it, you better believe people in your congregation are thinking the same thing. It appears people just don’t like choirs anymore. In fact, I can’t even remember the last contemporary church I’ve visited that had a choir (and I visit a lot of churches.)

As recently as 15 years ago, you’d find a choir in the typical church, even the smaller ones. After hundreds of years of dominance, the choir has strangely had a rapid and sad decline in a very short time. What happened? Let’s look at the problems and see if we can come up with solutions.

Volunteers are too busy. Two vibrant praise choirs I know are both out in the boondocks—isolated towns away from large cities. These ministries are similar to ministries of 100 years ago when the church was the center of activity for the entire community. There wasn’t much else to do and people had more time to commit to a choir and other programs.

Today’s hectic schedules make it hard for people to be faithful to choir rehearsals and Sunday services week after week. One friend of mine, a lady in her 50s, recently told me her beloved church choir (a very hip praise choir) has gone from singing weekly to once a month. I asked her if she felt bad about it and she answered, “Not really, I’m relieved. I’m so busy that the weekly commitment was almost more than I could handle.” Solution: Does your choir really need to sing every week? You might be running your choir ragged, especially if you have multiple services.

Choirs are too much work for a modern worship leader. Years ago, the choir was the music director’s main priority—finding music for, scheduling and rehearsing the group. Congregational singing required little to no preparation—the organist sight-read the four parts out of the hymnal and the pianist improvised.

The priority for the contemporary worship leader is the congregational singing. He or she spends the bulk of their time planning the praise set and scheduling and rehearsing the praise band. Then there’s creating chord charts, lyrics slides, etc. (I don’t think people realize all we worship leaders do!). There isn’t time for much else, especially for a part-timer or volunteer worship leader.

When I was a part-time music director, I would have loved to have had a regular praise choir, but simply didn’t have the time. When I did have a choir at Christmas and Easter, I felt like I was headed for a nervous breakdown. I had to do everything myself, from juggling the schedules of 20-30 people, finding or arranging music, punching holes, creating notebooks and rehearsing. All that on top of maintaining the weekly praise set and praise team schedules. Solution: If a church wants a praise choir, they’ll need to cough up some money—a frequent praise choir really requires a full-time worship leader (and an assistant wouldn’t hurt, either!).

Don Chapman Arranger/composer Don Chapman is the creative energy behind several websites devoted to contemporary worship: HymnCharts, WorshipFlow, and WorshipIdeas.com. He's the editor of the weekly WorshipIdeas newsletter that is read by over 50,000 worship leaders across the world.

More from Don Chapman or visit Don at http://WorshipIdeas.com

Please Note: We reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive, uncivil and off-topic. Read a detailed description of our Comments Policy.
  • Christoph Koebel

    First, I grew up on a different continent. We never had them. I believe these worship groups have replaced these choirs with the robes etc.

  • John M. Keeter

    Every one of these points gives cause FOR having a choir
    Lack of dedication, desire to serve God, too committed to self et.
    We need choirs more today than ever before

    • De Code Tea

      why…

  • Charles

    Clearly written by someone who knows nothing of the high church.

  • Drummie

    This article as well as some others I have read and commented on lately points out what I see as a BIG problem, too much emphasis on music. Even the term “worship leader” is a problem. Define worship. It is NOT MUSIC. Worship is showing adoration to God. That takes many forms, which includes prayer. Why is everyone so hung up on having a rock concert PERFORMANCE ? For some that might be showing adoration to God. To me it is a BIG distraction and gets in the way. I see too many egos and too many performers, not worshipers. Church services seem to have become all about entertainment, NOT worship. What happened to readings from the Bible, Old and New Testaments and having a lesson on that which is the sermon? What about prayer? I hear only two prayers in many places I have visited, one from the “worship leader” when they quit the concert and one from the minister in closing. What part have the people been involved in this? They sit there and are “entertained” and then hear a 45 minute TV style sermon. Generally when I come across this type of service, I feel worse when I leave than when I got there and I come across them more and more. I feel totally cheated by the performances I have witnessed. What worship have the people actually taken part in? When has God really been worshiped? The ONLY enduring thing we have in Church is the Love of God and the hypocrisy of people. Why do you need rock music to “reach” God? When two or more gather in His name, He is there and we don’t have to make a lot of LOUD noise to attract Him. What are people worshiping, God or music? I see far too many “praise bands” hawking their latest locally produced CD during the “worship” or their next performance in the local community theater venue. For one, I am tired of “worship leaders” “praise bands” and all the entertainment based Church services. Now, I must say I come from a liturgical background and I am accustomed to a reverent focused service and the hectic type of service I see in many places does nothing that makes me want to come back and does nothing to help me worship God. It is a distraction. Also, I have to agree with an earlier post, this article points out the NEED for choirs. Put the emphasis back on God, not who sings the best or the drummer in the glass booth and the “hot” piano player.

    • Fernando Villegas

      I’m glad that you enjoy and are blessed by the “high church”/liturgical style of worship. I’m curious, is there no such church in your community that you can worship in?

    • lilia

      Couldn’t agree more.

  • Andrea

    Wow…I couldn’t disagree with this more.

  • Pastor C

    You haven’t visited the right church. I just left a Campmeeting where two awesome choirs led us into the presence of God. Maybe you should visit some great Pentecostal churches or Non-dominational churches who believe in “outward” worship. Maybe it all location. Choirs still have an awesome place in worship…. If anointed to help the worshippers touch God.

  • Greg Washington

    It appears we have another straw man scenerio being attacked by a paper tiger. Instead of worshiping God corporately, we are trying to appease and appeal to cultural and personal secular preferences and styles in during worship. This line of thinking leads to accepting the lowered standards of carnality and worldliness during worship as well as flawed models of discipleship, service, and stewardship.

    When an unsaved person, or a carnal professor builds a logic of worship on the sandy ground of man centered and man focused principles, it is easy to knock down and destroy it when it fails to meet his expectations. Build a choir (or other worship practice) based on flawed thinking, practices, and expectations described in the article (or some of the comments) and it will tumble and take weak and immature believers down with it.

    Consider the solid rock of God’s Word. The standard of genuine worship is set by God himself, “in spirit and in truth”. The object of worship is God. The agents of worship are God’s people. The purpose of worship is to adore, honor, and praise God . The posture of worship should be that of reverence of an awesome sovereign God. We should approach him humility, as a slave coming before his master, but also affectionately, as a child coming to a loving father. Worshipers should come in the righteousness of Christ, carrying with them the evidence of faith – devotion – obedience – service. This will fuel the fires of worship more than music (choir or band, hymn or rock, worship leader or liturgical ).

    Oh come let us adore him.

    By the way, if preparing for worship is so difficult and frustrating that it leads you to believe it’s not worth it I can’t help but wonder if you’re doing it wrong, doing it for the wrong reasons, or if you should be doing it at all.

  • CJBloyer

    I understand where you’re coming from, Don, but I think you’ve missed a major point of the topic. Our church has a “twice-a-year” choir. We sing at Easter and at Christmas. I’m the director and I’ve struggled with all of these issues, but our worship ministries team firmly believes that our particular choir serves several important needs in our church.

    1) It’s an opportunity for people to serve. We have a praise team. Because they lead worship (not just musically, but in prayer and readings as well) every Sunday, there is a stringent application/audition process that has to be completed in order to participate in that ministry. The choir allows people who want to be involved in music ministry to participate without the stricter requirements and/or pressure that the praise team has.

    2) It’s an opportunity for community. Since our choir isn’t a standing group, anyone who can carry a tune (and some people who can’t) are welcome. The idea is that by singing together, practicing together, learning together, and praying together, we find a sense of community and connection with the Body of Christ.

    3) It’s an opportunity to worship and lead worship. I disagree with your premise that choirs aren’t worshipful. Our choir is dedicated to worship and to leading worship. Even if the people in the pews aren’t singing, their participation is in spirit (which, by the way, is how we are supposed to worship – “in spirit and in truth”.) I can’t tell you how many people say, “Thank you for doing this [choir,] God spoke to me today through the music/readings/drama.” Our goal is to lead the congregation in worship. Just because they’re sitting and watching doesn’t mean that they aren’t worshiping.

    4) It’s an opportunity to learn more about Christ and His Church. Most of our newest congregants and members haven’t been in church all their lives. Many of them haven’t been to church at all. During choir practice we talk about what we’re singing: what do the words mean? What does that phrase talk about? Why is the composer talking about God in this way? Music tells a story. Even a choir can communicate the gospel.

    5) It’s an opportunity to teach people a skill they don’t have. Okay, so this one isn’t as “spiritual” as my other points, but you also spoke about how difficult it can be to lead a choir full of people who don’t sight-read music. My current choir is primarily made up of people who don’t read music at all. I see it as an opportunity to teach them the basics of music. Before we delve into a song, we go through the music line by line and I explain a bit about different aspects of reading music. I use a white board to show them the things that are most important for them to know and throughout rehearsal, I encourage the choir members to ask questions, both of those around them and of me. So, the schools don’t always teach people these things, that’s fine. There’s a way to deal with that.

    I know that much of what you talk about in your article is focused on the “old, traditional” choirs where they sing every week and it creates HUGE amounts of work for the directors and the singers, but I think throwing choirs right out the window isn’t the way to go. Like any “traditional” activity in a church, the need to update and “freshen” the activity is all about focusing on what God is leading your church into. If a choir speaks to your people and leads them into the presence of God, whether weekly or seasonally or occasionally, then continue to use a choir. If a praise band/team does that duty, use that. The key isn’t about the method, it’s about the outcome. The focus HAS to be on worshiping God and bringing people into His presence. If that’s the end result/goal, then it doesn’t matter what style or method you use.

    The “worship wars” aren’t new (see Jesus’s conversation with the Samaritan woman in John 4) and the conflict can be resolved, not by changing the style, but by changing the focus of the congregation/church as a whole. We worship “in spirit and in truth” and to claim that one particular style or type of music or readings or liturgy isn’t effective for anyone is to claim that God can’t use particular styles to speak and that’s just wrong.

  • alltojah

    I tend to think, by reading the posts of others’ comments, that no one really read the whole article by Don Chapman. People are negatively critiquing specific statements of the post. Mr. Chapman ended his post by stating the maybe we should try to find a way of bringing the choir into the church, instead of putting them “out to pasture”. His reasoning for stating this is because the Bible speaks of choirs. If anyone knows the history of the Israelites and their praise and worship ministry, one would know that they would train for years and years (sometimes 40-years) to worship the Lord with skillfully and with excellence. In this day and age we are not accustomed to do that for obvious and various reasons. But still let us bring praise and worship to light in all our churches, combining our talents for God’s glory, not the glory of our church or ministries. We should help one another, come together in a spirit of unity. God looks at our hearts. He knows us well.

    I use the Word of God, when I speak of anything that deals with the church and its ministries. I understand the frustrations of the praise and worship ministry, but that does not give music directors, pastors, worship leaders, vocal leaders, etc. a reason to give up or go with the flow of this world. We should worship Him in spirit and truth.1 Peter 2:9 tells us that we are a chosen people that belongs to God so that we may declare the praises of Him who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light. Psalm 150:1 tells us to praise The Lord. Psalms 22:3 God is in our praise. We should not be praising The Lord in our own way. This applies also to our congregations, The Word tells us to lift up hands: Psalm 28:2; Nehemiah 8:6; 1 Timothy 2:8, Psalm 63:4…Psalm 47:1 (KJV) states, “O clap your hands, all ye people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph” If we are or our congregation have not learned to worship The Lord, they can learn and and be blessed because they have humbled themselves to learn –Psalm 89:15

    Let us just pray for one another and become a solution so that God receives the glory. We will not all agree on method(s) and administration of praise and worship, BUT we better all agree that it is all about God and His Son and The Holy Spirit to receive glory from the ministry of praise, whether people like/have/cheer/train choirs or not.

  • Jon Kempson

    We had the Dave Williamson experience for our local churches. Obviously our whole choir did not go, but enough went to really understand the role of the worshipping choir. Getting a handful of choir members to buy in is key and it spreads through the group. It is also important for the worship leader to include and love the choir (if saving/revamping your choir is your goal, that is). Your WL must get rid of the “Us vs. Them” mentality in regards to the band and the choir; and approach it as a collective “We.” This approach has given our Choir an opportunity to really feel appreciated and has pushed for them to work harder to make their part of the worship service. Ot only better, but more spiritual. But again, this only works if you still want to incorporate the choir and have a few people who share your vision. The Music Director can force them to want this mentality.

  • Wendell Craig Woods

    This type of setting would not work for me. I prefer choirs! I don’t much care for those “praise teams”. I find them to be annoying!