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 They perform boring, outdated music. I could tolerate boring, outdated music if it was done well, but amateur choirs usually sound terrible.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!).