Three Things That Mark a Successful Choir in Modern Worship

Featuring Vern Sanders Posted on March 31, 2010

The Social...

As a third generation Californian, I have watched the state change in many ways over my lifetime. One of the most significant changes is how the state looks: the color of California’s population is much less white, and much more colorful. As this is written, California’s largest city now has a Latino majority, and the state will likely follow suit in the next decade or so.

Am I advocating multicultural choirs? Not exactly. I am suggesting that if a choir is perceived by its congregation as a “minority” group, it will probably grow smaller, not larger. Take a look at your most recent choir picture (or at your choir on any given Sunday morning). If all you see are elderly white faces, the perception may well be that the choir is a “closed shop.”

Can it be painful to invite people – young people, people of color, people who are different – to join a choir as new members? Yes. But the laws of nature are clear: if an organism is not growing, it is dying.

Too often, a choir membership drive consists of a director telling his or her singers: “Be sure to ask your friends if they want to join the choir.” When the current members do ask a friend, and the answer comes back “Why?” it is not surprising that the one asking doesn’t have a clear explanation.

In general, human beings are drawn to groups of people that seem interesting, or provide a perceived benefit to theone who joins.

I once had an extraordinary bass join my choir, out of the blue, because we had done a piece of Russian music, and he had been looking for a place to sing those low notes that he had. You can bet I did more Russian music. If a choir’s repertoire is “all the same,” don’t be surprised if you have “all the same” members. Similarly, if a choir’s membership never seems to be having fun – if there is no sense of a social benefit to join the choir – it is likely that the choir will attract as new members and be populated
by people who don’t like to have fun.

I’m not suggesting that a choir needs to have a social calendar that looks like that of a cruise ship. Social get-togethers are great. More to the point, if outsiders don’t have a sense that the choir members are having fun being together, that the choir’s task leads to satisfaction, and that the people in the choir genuinely care about each other, the chances are that an outsider will not consider joining.

The bottom line here is this: when the choir is in the fellowship hall after the service, are they a “shoulders in” group or a “shoulders out” group? If members of the choir stand in a tight circle, talk in choir “jargon,” tell “in” jokes, and never look outward, the visual signals, and perception, is that this is not a group to be is a group that is “full up” – or, perhaps, to be avoided at all cost. The choir whose members reach out and touch people socially, has a much better chance of being a growing, vibrant group.

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