9 Reasons to Keep the Church Choir Alive

9 Reasons to Keep the Church Choir Alive September 23, 2014

I’m always a bit frustrated when I see articles like this one from Cathy Lynn Grossman on the Religion News Service, entitled “Many church choirs are dying. Here’s why.” They never tell the whole story. It’s accurate that many churches have traded the traditional choir for a more contemporary ensemble in their services. I don’t think we can argue with that. But what the article doesn’t say is that there are many churches in which the choral art still grows and flourishes. Beyond that, there is no real discussion of what is being forfeited in this installment of Christian culture’s relentless pursuit of what is trendy.

There is much in the article that could be addressed, but instead of offering a blow-by-blow rebuttal, I’d rather take a minute to discuss the unique presence good choral music brings into corporate worship.

Choir Practice from Flickr via Wylio
© 2011 Brian Smithson, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

1. Choirs support good congregational singing. A solo leader singing into a microphone sends a message to the congregation that its role is similar to that of an audience at a rock concert: “Sing along if you please, as obnoxiously as you please, as sloppily as you please.” If you’ve been to church recently, especially in churches that use only commercial Christian music, you may have noticed that most often, congregants choose not to sing at all. The amplification puts up a barrier to singing, rather than establishing a musical current to help the congregation. On the other hand, a choir demonstrates that the voice of the congregation is primary, not secondary. It encourages them to join in by lifting their voices, without overpowering them with a wall of amplification.

2. Their visual presence is an encouragement to the congregation.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a worship leader admonish congregants “to get alone with God,” and pretend that there is no one else around. There is a time and place for that, but worship gatherings are neither the time nor the place. We are there to be together, to worship God with each other, to be community. When there are only a few leading, it’s easy to forget this, to feel alone. But when we look up and see a mini-congregation of faces looking back at us, we’re reminded that we’re not alone, that we’re there to be part of a very special communion. And, of course, it’s all in practice for when we join that great heavenly praise team chorus around the very throne of our Creator/Redeemer God, the Object of our worship.


3. Choirs make a broader repertoire available for a worship service. With a good arrangement, choirs can sing selections from practically any genre, from classical, to folk, to world music, to contemporary/popular music, something that just isn’t possible for a “worship leader” and a praise band.

4. They can offer more difficult and complex music than is possible for the greater congregation. Besides leading in times of corporate singing, since choirs have the benefit of outside rehearsal time, they can offer up musical praises on behalf of the congregation that would otherwise not be possible. In this sense, a choir can be a preaching and praying group, proclaiming God’s self-revelation, to which the congregation can listen, meditate, and respond worshipfully in their hearts.

5. Choirs help singers develop and improve their musical gifts. Christians are a singing people. This is not only biblical, but is a tradition older than the faith itself. Church choirs provide a free musical education, and help to refine the abilities of amateur musicians who might not otherwise have the opportunity. And while in the Grossman article, Pastor Merritt claims that “the younger generation doesn’t gravitate toward choirs,” that perspective is short-sighted. Much of the general population has had experience singing in choir at some point in their formal education, while many others have had other exposure to applied musical arts through band or orchestra. This is a huge population that is ready to either sing in a choir, or to appreciate and be encouraged by well-crafted and executed choral music. Giving children opportunities for choral education in the local church setting further primes congregations to be accepting and supportive of choral music.

6. Participation in choir ministry can be an avenue for introducing outsiders to the church and the Christian faith. I’ve known many, many people who have come into a church by way of a choral ensemble, have heard the gospel, and have responded with committing their life to Christ. Or, as was the case in my life, choirs can help keep people connected to the faith. I was all but ready to leave the organized church as a teenager, but a move to a new congregation and finding love and acceptance in the choir loft kept me engaged, and ultimately set the stage for me to recognize my calling into vocational church work.

7. The choral process reflects the mission of the universal church. Participating in a church choir teaches Christians how to work together sacrificially for the common good of the group, just as the church is to follow the model of our Servant-Savior and give sacrificially for the good of Christ’s kingdom.

8. A church choir is an open, welcoming, and diverse group. Allow me to introduce you to my favorite YouTube performer, Mr. John Daker.

There’s no way John would make it onto any praise team anywhere. He’s not cool enough, young enough, or stylish enough, and his tendency toward performance anxiety doesn’t help, either. But, you know what? John obviously loves to sing, and I’m guessing his service in the Chancel Choir at First United Methodist Church is diligent and earnest. We already know he can match pitch (and sing in diverse styles), and having sought out the services of Mrs. Reva Cooper Unsicker, he must be quite teachable. For those qualities, he would be more than welcome in most church choirs. He could sing in my choir any day, although I probably wouldn’t let him do “Amora” too, okay?

Seriously, there seems to be a trend in contemporary worship culture that says unless you look a certain way, dress a certain way, have the right personality, fit into the targeted age bracket, or meet some other predetermined “coolness” factor, you cannot lead in corporate worship. This is wrong. Worship leadership should resemble the radical diversity of Christ’s Kingdom, and a choir facilitates this quite well.

9. They add creative artistry and beauty to a worship service. The profound poverty of artistry and imagination found in our culture’s popular musical output is staggering, as is our willingness to fill our worship gatherings with christianized versions of this stuff.

Michael Raiter refers to this phenomenon as the “Hillsongization” of Christian gathered worship, where everywhere “the singing in the church – both the songs that are sung and the style of music is just the same. Oh, the words of the songs might differ, but it’s the same music team singing the same way. There’s the obligatory leader with the obligatory two or three singers accompanying her, the obligatory drummer, the obligatory keyboard player and the obligatory two guitarists. You’re allowed some freedom in your choice of a sax or flute, depending on the resources available, but it’s all exactly the same for every song in ever place.” It’s as if every church has its own cover band, and the quality of the worship (or, rather, “music”) is determined chiefly by whose cover band is the best.

As our fragile and fleeting human ability to create beautiful artistic expression is such a striking example of our divine Creator’s image in us, I don’t think the church can denounce this trend strongly enough. Oh, to be sure, having a choir doesn’t automatically mean your church’s music won’t become “Hillsongized,” but it gives you a greater organic palate for exploring the full capability of the human voice.


In closing, we need to stop and think about all we are giving up when we lose a choral presence in corporate worship. I think decreased emphasis on choral music in church is costing us dearly in our ability to follow the New Testament admonishment to sing and make melody in our hearts to the Lord.

Comments? Concerns? Anything I left out?

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  • Paula Wissler

    Thank you so much for Ponder Anew. I look forward to each one.

    • barbara

      I wish the accompanist had worked with him to create a singable tempo. his heart is certainly in the right place, he can carry a tune AND sing with expression with appropriate accompaniment.

      • JoAnn Hill

        I agree completely.

      • Rita Mathsen

        Well, what do you expect? She thinks that she is God’s gift to music! And it’s her way or the highway!!

        • Alison

          That makes her a pianist/performer. Not an accompanist.

          • Enjoyed this article. Wish you had also addressed the issue of bad acoustics interfering with congregational singing. We have a wonderful pipe organ but we also have carpeting on every square inch of the floor in the Sanctuary. There is also acoustic tile on the ceiling. Singing can’t happen in this “dead” space.

    • Alan

      As to your point 1, it seems that choral singing replaces instead of supports g congregational singing. To suggest that a single song leader directing the entire congregation to sing together replaces congregational singing more than a choir which is “performing” rather than directing the entire congregation, is simply an illogical conclusion.

      As to point 2, a single song leader “leads” the congregation in singing together while a choir obviously replaces the congregation.

      As to points 3 and 4, the fact you state a choir can perform songs unattainable by the congregation indicates the choir is performing and attempting to sing for me. Sorry, but you can not worship for me or anyone else.

      As to point 5, the examples of New Testament singing shows that Christians are to be singing as part of worship. Once again, a choir can not sing for me.

      As to point 6, participation in singing is the command to all Christians, not just a select few in the choir.

      As to point 7, the choral process teaches only those in the choir to work together. What about those not talented enough to “make” the choir?

      As to point 8, a choir is not an open and welcoming group. It is by definition a select limited group excluding the less talented. To be open and inclusive the choir would include the entire congregation, which is contrary to the choral process.

      As to point 9, adding creative artistry and beauty to a worship service is surely a noble objective, but do we sacrifice individual participation and worship in the process of maximizing quality of performance by limiting those participating to the ones selected to train and perform as part of the choir? Clearly, yes. We must remember who the primary audience is for our worship in song. God. 1 Cor. 14:15 says “… I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.” Eph. 5:19 says “[s]peaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” Clearly speaking to each and everyone of us, not to a choir only. And no mention of musical instruments in Christian worship. Obviously, mention of use of musical instruments in the Old Testament is no more instructive for Christian worship than animal sacrifice under the old law. Speaking, singing, and making melody with understanding can only be done by a person worshipping for himself or herself.

      • Jonathan

        1. A well-blended chorus singing invites people to sing along. A soloist invites people to listen. Apparently you are CoC, so you probably are unfamiliar with what is going on in most evangelical churches, and I assure you it is nothing like the “song leader” you are familiar with.
        2. You do not have to sing to worship.
        3. Anyone in my congregation is allowed to sing with the choir. It is a very inclusive group.
        4. Proof-texting is not effective. There is nothing in Holy Scripture that suggests instruments are not permissible, but the congregation should still be the predominant voice. Frankly, I find the whole argument to be legalistic and entirely devoid of sound biblical criticism and interpretation. Acappella singing is a beautiful tradition, but it is not a biblical mandate.

      • Rae

        I have sung in many church choirs, and they were all very different from what you describe. 1. They lead the hymns. We specifically emphasize the melody so the congregation can be comfortable singing along, as they are expected to do. My current church went without a choir for a while and people always said how much they missed having one to help them sing hymns. We do sing an anthem at the Offertory, as our offering to God, but that’s the only time we sing alone.

        2. I have never been asked to audition for a church choir. Never. In fact, we are always begging people to join us if they have any interest at all! There are sixteen people in my current choir – one has had a few voice lessons and three can’t read music at all. We want people who will show up to rehearsal and try their best. I don’t even know what you mean by “the choral process”, but to me it means learning to sing with a group. If the whole congregation showed up for our rehearsal, we would arise from our shocked blackouts to welcome them wholeheartedly. (And we’d move to the nave for practice so we could accommodate everyone, as we now rehearse in a classroom.) They wouldn’t get auditions, they’d get folders full of music, and we’d all sing together, no questions asked.

      • Ramin Sanjar

        Dear Alan, I completely disagree with you on all points. I’ve been a member of several choirs over the last thirteen years, and each and everyone has been inviting, kind, and considerate. I’ve also been a member of several worship bands, and have lead worship for several years. I sing and play several instruments, and quite frankly I don’t know whether your comments are based on personal negative experiences, or just a desire to prove the author of this article wrong. Irrespective of your motives, when I’ve been in the congregation, my personal worship experience has never been subverted or replaced by either a choral or worship band setting. At the center of all sacred music, choral and otherwise, is the worship and praise of our Lord. You fail to take into consideration that in a church setting, corporate worship is the norm, and within that dynamic, one is also able to have a deep and private worship experience. The two are not mutually exclusive, just as worship band and choir are not. A choir may not sing for you, but nothing can stop you from singing along with the choir, and meditating on the text of the anthem, which will always put away from man toward God. The current choir of which I am a member travels to venues beyond my Home Church, and brings God’s message in the form of music to those who are unable to regularly attend church. It is a ministry of love, and it is inclusive because we invite all to sing with us. Your comment about a choir being exclusive perhaps applies to professional choirs that require auditions. However, in my experience, most church choirs have an open door policy and will take anyone who wants to participate. We have individuals in our choir who do not read music, and who do not possess angelic voices, but they are essential to the overall sound of the choir. I hope and pray that you will not be offended by these comments, but will take them in the spirit of Godly love. At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is that we worship and praise our Lord with all of our being.

  • Paul

    When a worship service is a concert and a lecture, the role of the choir is a mere enhancement, or embellishment, an add-on so to speak.

    Run through this mental exercise: one by one, eliminate those things without which worship would still be worship. Can a worship service be without choir? Sure, it just will have less oomph. Without hymns? Yep, easily. Without a sermon? Also true, and it was done. Without a sacrament? Most don’t even know what that is for. Then you find out that there is only one thing a worship service is no longer a worship service (can you figure out what that is?)

    In contrast, in the ancient church a service would not be worship without icons, choir, incense, complex liturgical action, and catechetical hymns. None of this was an add-on, embellishment, or enhancement, and all of it had to be present – and more. Sacrament was the center of it all, as the Liturgy celebrated the Resurrection of Christ.

    • Michael


    • Fran Kelley

      Many of the Psalms were written for choirs of the ancient Biblical days. Interesting too that Israel sent the choirs into battle in the first wave. I’m not quite sure what the purpose of that was, but choirs have been around for several thousand years. Now I do agree that there’s a difference when music is done as a performance and when it is given as worship to the Lord. A choir inspired by the Holy Spirit is a magnificent avenue of worship for a congregation.

  • Michael

    Whole heartedly agree! There is nothing compared to vocal harmony that a choir brings to worship

    The depth of meaning a choir can being too the soul is unmatched in choral music over a praise team, which teams are just to impoverished to reach such depths.

    • Diane

      I agree with these 9 reasons. Our church is facing the phasing out of the choir, which fills me with great sadness. The choir has been a part of my life for many years. For me, it has been a privilege to be able to offer my praise and worship to the Lord with fellow choir members, and to help set the worship atmosphere for the remaining service. I see music as the language of the soul allowing me to express what cannot be said with just words.

  • Pingback: In Praise of Church Choirs | Be Swift, Be Precise()

  • Curt

    I agree in general. However, as a retired priest and church musician I am in congregations of all sorts with wide variety of musical values. I think I witness almost every type of experience, and my personal musical tastes have broadened. What matters most to me is that the music comes from the people themselves – if there’s a choir it’s composed of members of the congregation, possibly with a little help from professionals. And there are conjugations without choirs whose hymn/song singing is exceptional. And for #8, I agree that a choir CAN be an open and welcoming group. However, many can be just a uptight and judgmental as a “happy flappy” band of singers. My sense is that we professionally trained musicians can be getting fearful that what we value will be lost. Maybe it will; maybe it won’t. There are never any guarantees. Personally, I’m far more concerned that the church be on the cutting edge of feeding the poor, clothing the naked, housing the homeless…. That’s our primary calling much more than any particular musical or liturgical style or set of values.

  • Brian Swenson

    Of course, none of this addresses the most obvious thing – churches with choirs are dying all over the place. Trying to defend choirs is a way of saying we don’t care whether or not the choir actually reaches the next generation, as long as it keeps Christians comfortable with the same old thing. http://www.religionnews.com/2014/09/17/many-church-choirs-dying-heres/

    • skatblueeyes

      Your comment is completely untrue. Church should be participatory, rather than watching a performance. The main reason churches are “dying” is that Christians are attempting to make church “cool” & modern. There are many more “cool” & entertaining things to do on Sunday mornings than church.

    • Jim Moore

      “Trying to defend choirs is a way of saying we don’t care whether or not the choir actually reaches the next generation, as long as it keeps Christians comfortable with the same old thing.”

      So, then, is the gathering (group worship) to be a time of “reaching” or a time of worship? And if it is a time of “reaching”, then is the “choir” or “praise team” to be what “reaches?”

      I am more than just a bit confused by this whole debate. I thought worship was for those who already believed to ascribe worth to the subject of belief. “The act of showing respect and love for a god especially by praying with other people who believe in the same god” (at -http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/worship).

    • Tim

      This is also demonstrably false in many churches with thriving worship and music ministries, mine included. The nine points listed here are but a few of the ways that a strong choir music ministry can and does impact people of all ages.

    • Jonathan

      Churches with choirs are dying, churches with bands are dying. Churches with choirs are growing, churches with bands are growing. We are always expanding, always creating, always adapting. It’s also simply not true that the next generation isn’t going to come to church because of what music we do. There are a lot who leave because of the sheer banality of what they see in commercial Christian worship.

    • Mark Nabholz

      Brian, your comment is silliness. This blog post is ALL ABOUT preserving choirs so that the next generation of the church can enjoy the same benefits in worship as Christians for the past 1800 years (and Old Testament believers as well) have enjoyed. Choral singing is one of the timeless elements of Christian worship that is being stripped away from God’s people, along with congregational singing.

  • Kendall Lord

    Good article-well worth reading. Ours is one of those churches with considerable musical diversity at both services, including a choir and the occasional Lecrae video during the Giving. Snarky comments such as “Hillsongization” were totally unnecessary, however.

    We don’t add anything of value to these discussions by denigrating other genres of worship music. Why must there always be an ax to grind?

  • Jeff Kile

    I wish that we could have this discussion without denigrating a different worship style. Choirs, rock bands, praise teams, emergent acoustic groups, there is room in the church for all of these. When presented earnestly with God as the focus, any of these styles can provide an opportunity for meaningful worship.

    • amerst722

      I agree with you. I have been in churches with both. I prefer the praise team service. I am 58 and would rather listen to it and sing those songs then the old slow songs of my other church I went to for 50 years. I like some movement in my songs. I like to praise the Lord with song and dance like the Bible says. Our church is a majority of older adults and they don’t leave because of the music so something must be keeping them. They sing right along with the songs.

      • Phil

        The old songs do not NEED to be slow! I am an organist and choral director and I manage to keep my congregation singing with energy. Even a prayer hymn does not need to be a dirge. I must admit that I prefer the more traditional hymns. I find that a lot of modern sacred music lacks good theology as well as good musical writing. And yes, some of them are dreadfully slow as well. There is a reason that classic music is classic. It has survived the test of time. Most modern sacred music lasts about a decade.

    • Libby

      I agree; why do we, as Christians, always have to be critical of other Christian’s methods of worship? God speaks to us in ways that are specific and intimate to us, and if choral music speaks to you and brings you into the presence of God, that’s great. But if praise and worship music does the same thing for the next person, why do we have to criticize them? How many more years are Christians going to argue about things that God never meant for us to argue about? I attend a church that has two worship teams, neither have a specific way you have to look, certainly not “cool,” and our congregation enters into the worship experience with all their hearts. We can have both and can agree on the basics of our belief without criticizing one or the other. I was raised in a traditional church and love the old hymns, but am able to worship God through the more contemporary music because I’m singing to Him, and not simply about Him. It’s not a competition between what’s right and wrong.

  • I agree with the points you made, but also agree with Cathy Lynn Grossman’s piece. Her emphasis is on the data from the latest wave of the NCS. That data suggests that the decline in choirs is consistent with the larger trend toward more informal worship. I include several such areas in my recent post on this matter: http://sowhatfaith.com/2014/09/15/how-worship-is-evolving/

    You are arguing for the value choirs add. The NCS is reporting on sociological trends.

    • Greg,

      I agree that Cathy Lynn Grossman’s piece was more about observations of the data. It seems that both sides of the music worship debate are looking for ammunition to fire back at the other side.

      • Jonathan

        No. Bringing up issues with the homogenized, commercial influence on Christian worship isn’t about throwing darts, it’s about calling ourselves to think deeply and honestly about what we do. There’s nothing wrong with that. We have to move past this silly notion that anything anyone wants to do in corporate worship is good and okay if they like it. We must be theological, we must be reasonable, and we must be contextual.

        • Jonathan,

          I apologize for the earlier post. I should of done a better job of explaining myself. I am one of those middle of the road worship leaders. I am one of those who feels caught in the middle between two extreme positions.

          All three of my church’s worship services are what most people call, “blended”. Our music reflects who we are as a church community – a Texas Hill Country church just outside of weird Austin that has an eclectic taste in music. You will hear gospel, bluegrass, jazz, classical and contemporary possibly all in the same service. We give praise and adoration to God in the musical language of our culture. I wish more churches would strive for that and not try to be the latest hip church. I often have to turn down requests from congregates to use a song that they heard on christian radio because of various reasons. But I also turn down requests for old hymns that I believe have bad theology or are just plain fluff.

          We use some liturgy from our denominational tradition but we often write our own. We don’t have a choir or organ mainly because their is no room in our sanctuary. We do usually have an ensemble of singers who do a great job of leading both vocally and visually.

          Your blog post makes many wonderful and valid points that I happen to agree with! However, I think most those points can apply just as easily in a contemporary music worship context. There is no reason why a worship band (praise band) cannot show diversity, artistry, music leadership etc.

          My main point is this – in our attempts to defend our positions, we often paint with broad strokes thus marginalizing the other side. One can possibly say that I marginalized both sides with my “darts” comment and I am sorry if it came across that way.

          • Gregg I just wanted to say I really appreciated your comments greatly about trying to marginalize either side of the contemporary/traditional music issue. I think both have important things to bring to a worship service and I wonder how much more we could bring the church together with intergenerational worship instead of separating our services based on preferences. Honestly, you big mixture of styles of music seem really interesting to me. Although I am not a big fan of all of the styles of music, as I said I believe it goes beyond our preferences and I think we should be willing to come together and worship. I just wanted to encourage you to look for ways to connect with your community it sounds like you are doing a great job. In case you were wondering I am a 35 year old pastor in the United Methodist Church.

  • Ken Meyers

    Helpful points. Someone needs to address the “performance-based” choirs and ministries over against “worship-based” choirs/music ministries. Sometimes that is in the eye of the beholder, but it is a fine line worth consideration…

    • Wendy Hall

      I firmly believe that “performance-based” and “worship-based” choirs/music ministries makes ALL the difference.. Technically beautiful or excellent music without a heart for what they’re singing about misses the whole point. Some people worship the music (or the musician) ..like many who sing or listen to Handel’s MESSIAH without giving praise to GOD Himself.. (Same as people who worship the creation rather than the Creator. It’s called idolatry.) We should all strive to do our best as we worship the King of Kings through music, but it’s not for performance’ sake. ..rather for HIS GLORY.

    • Carol

      My church choir is a worship based choir that does give public performances apart from our regular 3 Sunday services. But I wouldn’t exchange my 60+ years of singing in my church choir for anything. The comfort and joy I have found in it has saved my life more than once. I have read that music is a window to the soul and that sometimes it’s the only way to get there. So thanks be to God for dedicated church musicians and for the kind of music that can speak to any heart that is open.

      • Mary

        I don’t have time to read all the replies to the article about “9 reasons to “etc.” but I did read yours. I agree that a choir is another small group (in our choir) within the church to act as your close “church family”. When we take choral music (choirs) out of our worship service we have lost an avenue to reach into the soul of someone. I am a retired Director of Music Ministries and I consider all the 35 years of directing choirs was another opportunity to worship.

        I loved the article and agree with it. Thanks for sharing.

        Serving the Christ Together ………….

  • Kim Russell

    It is excellent when a church can give people a choice in worship, with both a service with a traditional church choir, and a service with a contemporary team. I am as traditional a singer as they come, but when my daughter was a toddler, it was a relief to take her to the less formal Contemporary Service, where we did not have to dress up, and where she could clap her hands and sway to the music. Both types of service have a wonderful place in worship, and both meet the needs of congregations. I don’t like when either side sets up a competitive either/or situation. We are at church to offer thanks to God….music…many kinds of music….traditional, contemporary, taize, jazz vespers, gospel…can facilitate that worship. Praise God!

  • chip rosenthal

    As a lifelong (at nearly 60) full-time church goer (who is also a full-time Christian…two different things), I have been a part of churches with a rich heritage of truly excellent choirs. It has been my pleasure to sing in them, receiving some of that ‘free musical education’ that you mentioned. In my later years, I was also privileged to be able to sing with a praise and worship band. While the music we did tended toward an older form of ‘less traditional’ music, it was, none-the-less, not normal choir stuff. And that, too, was not only personally rewarding, but touched many of the congregation as well as the choir did. So the answer is not one or the other, but a mixture. Our last church integrated a canned popular song to each service. Interestingly, the youth who were supposed to have initiated this idea were never there to be a part of it, leaving the rest of us to struggle along trying to sing without music to a modern recording that paid no attention to any musical value in terms of rhythm, let alone ‘sing-ability’ that we are used to in traditional music settings. Copies of the music would help, but that doesn’t happen in these days. So, my point, overly-wordy, is that both forms of music can be important to the worship experience, but the more traditional music generally follows a more biblical, and therefore instructional purpose, as well as one that is appealing to the ear and sense of the worship atmosphere.

  • I’d like to add that choirs are all over the Bible. Just google “choirs in the bible”.

    I love new approaches to worship and music, but I just can’t understand believers wanting to be rid of a ministry that is so clearly exemplified in scripture.

  • There is a percent of every congregation that uses singing – not just listening – in their personal worship. One function of the church is to harness that spirit and connect them with others as worship leaders. Having a choir that is open to anyone encourages them in their faith and encourages the congregation to participate in corporate singing. It is also a venue to bring someone into greater involvement in the church, to move them from the seat to the choir and into community.

  • Bruce Bonar

    Many defend comtemporary unison singing as a broadening of music style. Yet – many congregants have become listeners only – to a narrowing style. Traditional hymn part singing gets lost as the harmony & chord structure of most guitar playing conflicts with traditional part harmony. To drop all encouragement of congregation part singing surrenders too much. Music leaders can lead, teach or broaden in both traditional and contemporary directions. Always, we should: test the lyrics ( Is it Biblical? ) the appropriateness the tune & accompaniment – then ask God for guidance on the total message delivered. Worship music can be made or ruined by inappropriate acompaniment or voicing. But – when offered well – the impact can exceed the sum of the parts whether traditional or contemporary. Also – music and sermon message / text can be complimentary. Many pastors know the text weeks in advance. We can communicate to match music to sermon. It requires humility and cooperative effort. We have duties to make important spirirtual statements – and to teach / edify – some styles are acquired tastes. God blessing on a wide range of thoughtful, well prepared, and prayerfully delivered worship can be moving – even entertaining. BB

  • Jonathan, this is one of the best “defenses of the church choir” I’ve read. At the moderate Baptist congregation where I serve as Minister of Music and Organist, we have a thriving choral ministry with adult choir at traditional service and a children’s choir that educates about worship and the value of many worship songs (hymns and modern both) Three years ago we created a contemporary service, which allows our gifted guitarists, drummers, singers, and others to use their gifts, and they do so with dedication and love (for God, each other, and the church) This service draws many of our families with children and youth, and seems to be a bigger draw to newcomers to the church. The music at both services is chosen to support the pastor’s preaching theme. My concerns about having two totally different services is that it sometimes implies one must make a choice of preference. When we have once a quarter “unified services,” those who feel strongly about one or the other usually don’t come. But some of us, who enjoy both, feel a sense of joy and relief that we are finally all together! At the traditional service, we still have a full choir loft, with mostly older or middle aged people. And, the pipe organ and piano lead out, as do handbells and our instrumental ensemble several times a year. If we asked “what would Jesus do?” we would find him most concerned with our hearts–relationship with God and people. I choose to do what builds relationships, which means both choir and worship team, and points to Him who calls us to be transformed in our worship, then leave and make a difference in the world. (As someone else said, feed the hungry and clothe the poor)

  • Cathy

    AMEN! I have struggled to put into words the frustration in my heart regarding this issue. Thank you for giving me spot on words!

  • Richard B Barger

    Jonathan hasn’t really hit the prime benefit I receive from being a chorister: Choral music expands my knowledge, understanding, appreciation, and interpretation — and, I hope, that of the congregation — of biblical texts and church history. I cannot begin to count the number of times choral music, and the guidance and thoughtful commentary and elaboration from an excellent choirmaster, has reinforced and expanded and enhanced the messages of sermon, scripture, and other aspects of worship. Simply put, traditional choral music has helped make me a better Christian.

    • Jonathan

      Excellent addition. Thanks.

    • Virginia

      Richard, you hit the nail on the head with your comment. I grew up in the CofC and the music was awful. My father was even the song leader and I begged him to sing faster songs. It seemed the little old ladies of the church liked the slow songs out of the old hymnal and all of us young people could hardly stand them. It didn’t help me spiritually at all. I fled to the United Methodist Church and started singing in the choir. The CofC that criticize the way others incorporate instrumental music into their worship have never been to a service, much less stood in a choir and felt what I have felt while singing some of the great old hymns to a pipe organ, piano, or orchestra. There is no comparison! When people use their talent to play an instrument to worship God, there is nothing more spiritual! The great composers of music that we use in worship used the talent God gave them to write music that brings us to Him. Some of it has brought me to tears. Who is to judge that one is not worshipping while singing with an instrument? Somebody who standing outside judging what’s going on inside? Please….

  • Andrew

    I’m not discounting the benefits and positives impacts of having the choir as worship leaders, but I agree with some of the above comments that I could have done without the snark and denigration at the expense of a more contemporary style of worship. For all that your posts and articles talk about the need for unified worship and not discounting traditional worship, it seems to be a double standard when it comes to the other side of things.

    Quick jabs like crossing out “praise team” and replacing it with “heavenly chorus,” implying that the praise team isn’t as Godly as a choir, and lumping all contemporary music into one big giant category are just unnecessary.

    I’m all for the idea of blended worship, bringing in hymns from throughout Church history and singing them alongside worship songs from the 2000s. But I’m tired of hearing people talk about contemporary worship as if it’s not as pleasing to God, isn’t as worshipful, or isn’t “appropriate” for corporate worship. If you don’t enjoy it, fine. If you don’t appreciate its value, I can’t change that. But it’s offensive and unbiblical to imply (as is done all throughout this blog) that contemporary worship is all around inferior to traditional worship.

    Not all contemporary worship is Hillsong or Chris Tomlin, even though both of these really do put out some great songs for congregational worship. There are also groups like Sovereign Grace Music, or Keith and Kristyn Getty, or Indelible Grace, who are writing hymns today, as well as taking the hymns that have been sung for centuries and putting them to new musical settings or new melodies. Theology is not lost in contemporary worship, as you seem to think. In fact, it’s very much alive in well. Maybe you just don’t want to acknowledge it.

    Ultimately, people need to stop looking at contemporary worship like it’s the little children’s choir performing This Little Light of Mine at the beginning of a service (“Ohhh that was nice that you were able to sing a song like that. Okay now step aside, it’s time for adult church with hymns and no drums!”). It’s here, and it’s probably not going anywhere. I hope it doesn’t, anyway. Just like I hope the hymns and liturgy don’t go anywhere either. It’s all worship, and it’s all glorifying to God. And it’s all the more worshipful and glorifying when the Bride of Christ can join together, regardless of musical tastes or preferences, and sing praises to God in all different styles and genres. With drums, organs, electric guitars, and, yes, choirs.

    • Jonathan

      There’s a lot here, and thank you for your response, but I’ll just address a couple of things.

      I’m not arguing about what is pleasing to God, although there is much that we can derive theologically about that. I’m arguing about what is most beneficial for us. I think you’ve made the mistake of assuming that traditional worship means “old.” That’s not true. We’ve always sung new songs and used diverse instrumentation. That’s not blended, that’s traditional. When I speak about unified worship, I don’t mean unifying us all by our musical tastes. That’s really not the point. I mean unifying by teaching why the church does what it does, and using the best material available, whether it’s brand new or older than the church itself, and doing it with actual creativity and artistry. That will look very different depending on denominational affiliation, geographic location, etc., but it should include many of the same elements.

  • Jim Yearsley

    I am saddened by the number of responders who seem unable to discriminate between worship and performance. If there is a performance aspect to worship then it is imperative that we remember that we are not the audience– it is God.

    “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord…” is an imperative, not a suggestion. Further, it is not conditional or modified by such as: “… but only if it is hip, cool, traditional, sacred, et al.

    We made a conscious decision to converge an early service based on contemporary music and low liturgy relational stuff with our later service based in high liturgy and traditional music styles. This decision was predicated upon our dismay at having two discrete and disparate congregations who did not know each other or frankly really minister together.

    Our converged style includes a ‘praise team’ (with guitar, percussionist and keyboard support), a chancel choir anthem, service music, pipe organ, string and brass ensembles. The liturgical style splits the old differences and we are one. I think each church needs to find their worship m.o. but in order to do so, you MUST stop thinking of any particular music style as central.

    • “imperative that we remember that we are not the audience– it is God”

      This is not always true.

      Ephesians 5 says we should also communicate to one another with music. And it says this right after saying don’t be drunk, but be spirit filled. (amazing how culturally relevant that is, eh?)

      So saying that a performance cannot (scripturally) be to each other is absolutely false.

  • Jonathan

    Thanks for contacting me and reading. I will remove the geographical location. I’m not making fun of him, nor will I allow anyone else to do so on my blog. In reality, many of those who read this are already quite familiar with the videos.

  • Brad

    When I was in high school, our church first got introduced to contemporary worship. I thought is was the greatest and was a full supporter of it until I went to Israel. I also sang with my university choir in Italy in cathedrals in the Vatican. After those experiences, I realized that I had reduced worship to a rock show. I feel that we are striving to entertain rather than creating an atmosphere of worship and having an encounter with God.

  • Reggie

    Let me suggest another reason for the demise of choral music. There are fewer and fewer people able to competently accompany a choir on the piano or organ. Whereas an able accompanist is very hard to find, every church, regardless of size, has SOMEBODY who can play the I, IV, and V chords on either a guitar or synthesizer. Music, good music, regardless of genre, is a discipline. And too few people will do what is necessary to become proficient in the discipline of music, vocally or instrumentally. But the gospel has always been communicated within a cultural context. Our culture is changing and in order to communicate the good news, we must be able to communicate it within our changing culture. Blessings to all who strive to carry the gospel torch, for we all do it using the gifts we possess.

    • Steve Harter

      Regggie: You are correct about competent organists/pianists. I must share with you that I have now been twice blessed by having a recently retired organist from the United States Air Force Academy as the Principal Organist for my outstanding Chancel Choir as well as primary organist for our two traditional worship services every Sunday!

      • Having been a choir director, there is one more dimension that you may have forgotten. The Choir as a group itself is a ministry. We would travel to nursing homes and other such venues providing worship music for the community and it was always well received. I’ve also been in choirs where we would meet socially and pray together. Sometimes this is the only ministry in the church where people use their gifts. A person may feel inferior as a soloist but be very comfortable in a choir. I’ve also seen people leave a church when the choir disintegrates because that is their only means of ministry. I sure do miss it in my church!

    • Pauline Costianes

      The original church banned the use of instruments because pagans used them in their worship; because despite what you see in the Psalms about “praise him with timbrel and dance”, etc, there were no instruments in the Temple or synagogue, it was only in paraliturgical processions that these things were done; and because our worship is supposed to be sung prayer, and instruments cannot form words – they appeal to the emotions, and the early Church Fathers knew this. Even in the Western Church, instruments were not used in worship. “A cappella” means “in the style of the chapel/church”. These praise bands and instrumental groups have reduced it, as one poster said, to a rock band, because God knows, Americans crave entertainment 24/7, even in church. The idea of “Christian Rock” would have been anathema to the first Christians—sacred and profane were never to meet. And to this day, in the Orthodox Church, instrumental music is still forbidden. Now, the Greeks in this country have backslid and introduced the organ as a crutch for their singers, but in the main, we still sing acapella.

    • Melissa

      I have been a professional accompanist for almost 28 years and I see firsthand the trouble many people, churches, schools, musical theatre groups, etc. have finding a competent accompanist. Someone already mentioned the fact that fewer and fewer people want to accept the discipline and commitment it takes to become good at that skill (or any instrumental skill, such as actually reading music). Another reason, though, is that competent accompanists such as myself have tired of the whole contemporary vs. traditional music issues in churches. Over the past two decades, I have had the privilege of accompanying for more than one excellent, TRADITIONAL, church choral program. And each one was eventually torn apart or watered down by the intrusion of those who wanted the praise-band experience. I refuse to get in the middle of these issues any more. I have had several church accompanying requests since I moved to my current location, but I have turned them all down. In fact, I do not even worship regularly at a church any more. Jesus is my Savior, but I barely see Him in the church these days. It all seems to focus on being a big marketing product and stage show.

  • Jenny Knutson

    Thank you! I, too, would welcome Mr. Daker into my choir. In our Lutheran congregation we have 60-80 in attendance each week. Our choir rehearses and sings from September through May (perhaps into June, depending on Pentecost and Trinity). And throughout summer, they gather to lead the introit. How big is that choir? We vary between 8 and 11. This year we’re starting with 7 – 4 of whom are men! The men let me know they prefer SATB, as they find SAB is just a little high for comfort. Just about everything you said has been true for these faithful individuals, and I appreciate the comment from the choir member who found the texts to have increased the depth of understanding when being able to sing the confessions of faith and scripture set to music. I’ve loved, in my experience of 2 choirs in 2 different churches, to give them music they protest vehemently – and then come to love. It is usually something a capella: “We CAN’T do that!!” In the beginning, I used to believe them. Even now I’ll say, “Let’s see.” I’ve wandered a bit here, but my goal was to say, “Amen!” to your post, and to encourage (and even revel in) the small choir. It edifies, uplifts, supports, leads – all to the glory of God.

  • Well said. Starting in on my 30th year directing (and forming) children’s and youth choirs in the church, I have seen how traditional sacred choral singing adds a unique dimension to ministry, and to life as a whole. However, the quality of music making should justify its use in worship, regardless of style. Contemporary praise music, well arranged and well-performed,might have its place in church. The lyrics themselves, however, are the reason for the singing! Therefore, shouldn’t hymns, songs, and anthems which praise our God should do so creatively and intelligently, and lyrics also teach the faith in its entirety?

  • martha

    I can worship in either service styles. That is because worship is not about me but about GOD. This article creates division between groups by arguing one side. While I see how choirs are relevant, I can also see how praise teams are relevant. I have to get my preference out of it and look to the One who created it all

    • Jonathan

      It’s ridiculous – almost laughable – that someone will pull out the “p” word during these discussions. This isn’t about preference, and you didn’t read the post very carefully if you think it is. We’re talking about why choirs are important, and along the way, bringing up some of the inherent problems, theological, musical, or otherwise, with getting rid of them.

  • Steve Harter

    As a Minister of Music for 33 years, I am totally in touch with the power of choral singing. I have administered a traditional choral program in two of the largest Methodist Churches in their respective Annual Conferences and I plan to continue doing so until I retire. Both of those churches also had a Contemporary Praise Team. I intend to continue to pour my heart and soul into excellent choral music.

  • Anne Nonna muss

    Very thought provoking. Only hope that this practice reverses and that more people return to their churches and are inspired by both the beauty and the commitment of the choral communities.

  • Nancy Hoover

    This is important for every congregation. Choral singing stimulates the intellect as well as the affective side of the brain. It is poetry in motion. It is praise which is both historical and contemporary. It is a great place for singers who have a great ear, but not a solo voice, to give back to God what He has given them, their gift of music.

  • Virginia Countryman

    Bless those who give their time and talent to attend weekly choir practice/rehearsals and appear early each and every Sunday morning to share their gift. May our churches, our congregations, be forever blessed with the choral presentations that lift our spirits and enrich the lives of both those sitting in the pews and those sitting in the loft . . . and yes, those many voices are most definitely a blessing to us all!!!

  • Johannes Tirén

    Jonathan – I personally think you lack one important thing in your list – it is generally easier to become an acceptable-standard worship(band)-leader than to reach the same standard as a leader of a choir. During my (not that many) years in ministry here in Sweden, I´ve met several young and middle-aged people who are blessed and trained to a good level of leading tho corporate worship. Apart from professionals, I know about two that are good or better at leading a choir. And that in a country where choirs are common, both in and outside churches, that says something.

    Personally I am very fond of most of the music my wife (organist, working in another congregation) brings to her choirs. Sometimes I help her with translations from norwegian or danish för her youth choir – and the music they sing is good! Yet I can’t go to my teenagers/twentysomethings-worship-leaders and tell them “for sunday, there will be [John] Rutter or Høybue” – because it is neither their cup of tea, nor is it something I can lead them in or help them doing themselves.

    In my church “choir” has unfortunately been reduced to “something the very old folks do”. A choir was started 60 years ago, and it still exists – the leader stays the same… Not a good start – most of the songs are mid 20th century, and the arrangements aren’t really made on a computer – some are pre-xerography=)

    Things change. Taste changes. I am certain that there were people who couldn’t stand the influx of new music 1400 years ago. I know that there were much grumble about the swedish early 19th century hymnal – new melodies, new songs. And this new hyper fast way of singing! (There is a recording from Estonia 1938, where a swedish-speaking congregating is singing in the old style. A rural island and a conservative population. Very, very special to hear). And what will remain is more likely than not to be those songs that were good in the first place.

  • Ned Webster

    I love singing in my church choir. To blend your voice in harmony with others as one in praise and thanksgiving seems to me a model for our everyday lives.

  • Larry Ramey

    What gifts can each of us bring in worship? How can we invite and include each other in offering our gifts? How can we celebrate and affirm each other’s gifts as an offering to God?

    How we worship, including music, reflects our understanding of whom we worship, whom we are as individuals and as a congregation in worship, and whom we seek to include in corporate worship.

    Great worship leaders identify what the gathered body has to offer, as individuals and in groups, in ways that invite, gather and include the body in worship. That might take place within the same service, maybe in more preference-based groups (particularly for those not yet fully connected-committed to the community).

    I love singing in a choir and being led in worship by a choir, for all the reasons you mentioned and more. Some faith communities need something else as primary or complementary worship music, based on either the gifts or preferences of the body. I feel like I’m worshipping in the Kingdom of God with the church eternal when I hear the Mass in B Minor. Some folks feel like unwelcomed aliens on a distant planet.

    What gifts can each of us bring, what gifts can we nurture and develop for our worship together? Whom will we include in our worship?

  • Terry Lindsay

    Thank you! This was very well said.

  • Steven Batts

    As a choir director, this is a encouraging piece. However, I have to take exception to point 6 that states “Participation in choir ministry can be an avenue for introducing outsiders to the church and the Christian faith.”

    While it may be true that many have been saved while singing in the choir, that should be the exception and not a reason to have a choir. The point of the church to gather as taught by Scripture is for teaching, fellowship and breaking of bread (worship). They then went out to share and spread the Gospel, not the other way around.

    Inviting unbelievers to come be a part of the choir, especially the choir is on public display. By contrast should be ideally made up of strong believers that represent the local church and more importantly our Lord in a positive manner.

    • Pauline Costianes

      In the Orthodox Christian church, unbelievers may not lead or sing in the choir. Our music is not entertainment, it is sung prayer. If you don’t believe what you’re singing, you have no business being there. Better to sing simpler music well with fewer people, than to have people who are just there for the music and do the big puffed-up stuff.

  • Jonathan, I have two questions for you:

    1) May I reprint this article, with links back to your blog, on United Methodist Insight, a forum for leaders to discern God’s will for the future of the United Methodist Church; and

    2) What is your last name and church affiliation?

    Please reply to one.scribe56@gmail.com. Thank you for you consideration. (PS I’m in the choir, too, so I doubly appreciate your response.

  • I do not understand all the silly bantering that is going on here. Jonathan makes a point for choirs and traditional hyms….that is all fine if you like that style of worship.

    Personally, I prefer contemporary worship and that is fine too. Traditional music and worship will not die as long as there are people who still like it. I honestly think it is dying out, but I have nothing against it. I worship to glorify God as much as anyone who wants traditional worship.

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  • Kevin Kinsey

    1. Please adjust your stylesheet … your text is quite light on the white background, particularly on older hardware; hard to read.

    2. Christians are commanded to sing, but the mission of the believer was never about music, and neither the elders nor the youngers seem to understand that. Be careful to expend more energy on the growth of the Kingdom and less on tickling its ears. And yes, that’s to me as well … all that said, I do love a good choir and love to sing in them. But I’m OK on the praise team too … especially if we can have better real Kingdom growth with one as opposed to the other.

  • John

    I just resigned as Music Director for my church after 19 years. I was down to 4 choir members this past year. And this September came and I have, well, me. It was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made. I will miss it terribly!

    • Jonathan

      I’m so sorry, John. Peace.

  • Travis

    Part of the problem I have with this article is not that I disagree with it, because I would love to see more choir music, but that there are a lot of things presented as facts but there is no citation given for them. I don’t know that it is necessarily true that “Much of the general population has had experience singing in choir at some point in their formal education” is a true statement. Maybe 30 years ago this might have been true, but no longer is music a required activity in school. The reason churches are moving in the direction of praise bands is because we are no longer training our children to appreciate instrumental and choral music. In fact, I argue that it makes many people (particularly of the younger generation) feel distanced from the music. They feel that they “can’t understand it” or that they must have some level of skill to participate in it. At the same time, they feel that to participate in contemporary music they don’t need any particular level of skill (something they find to be false when they join a band) because the tunes are often far more singable. And their inherent singablility has almost nothing to do with the melodic content, but the fact that that is what our ears are exposed to on a regular basis. And the comment about all the music being the same? Well, take a good, close look at some of the older choral music. In fact, we can look at just masses to make things simple. In the Renaissance period, there are HUNDREDS of masses that are cleverly written with the same exact melody disguised inside of them (l’homme arme masses), they have the same basic harmonic structure, they follow the same general rules…. the point I am getting at is that if you look at any period of music at a particular genre you will see “Hillsongization” So if you want music that is of a higher level (because while I agree that contemporary music is an art form, I am of the school of thought that it is not high art) you have to start at the root of the problem, which is music education. If you want choirs, you have to start them young. And you need qualified teachers doing it. And generally, you have to make it enjoyable for elementary age kids because they are not exposed to this kind of music in their daily lives. The other thing the article leaves out (and this is citable research) is what choral singing does to the brain. There have been studies that show that singers’ heart beats actually synchronize! There is a connection that is formed between a choral group and their conductor that can’t really be explained. And by extension, if you have an actively participating congregation, there is a connection there. It is unfair to say that the volume or content of contemporary worship stops the congregation from singing too. I played in a Creole worship service where contemporary music was used and was played very loudly, but holy cow that congregation was on fire!!! So I conclude by summing up: if you want choral music, you have to create a choral culture (either in public education or in your church’s education system), there are better reasons to keep choirs alive than “commercial music lacks skill” which is a false statement. And the problem isn’t the music, the volume or the group on stage, its the congregation (you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. In the same way you can try to create a worshipful atmosphere, but you can’t create a worshipful congregation).

    • Jonathan

      In short-

      – Hillsongization refers more to bland, rote, and uncreative performance as much as uniformity of repertoire.

      – Where I live, the arts is still a vital presence in public education.

      – You’re 100% correct that a cultural shift in our churches is needed. This post did not address that, but I’ve talked about it before.

      – Some groups will sing with loud amplification. It doesn’t mean they are singing well, and it doesn’t mean the music is of good value. And though there are exceptions, you will often find these groups bit singing much at all.

      Good comments. Thank you.

  • Michael

    Interesting article for sure. I find that the bigger issue is not in the VALUE of a church choir. I believe you can find value in MOST things a church does. I would stand on the premise that while church IS for the believer, it’s also the MOUTHPIECE of Jesus to reach the UNBELIEVER.

    I’m just not sure that the majority of unbelievers prefer the choir over the live band. I think the live band component of a church appeals to more people possibly BECAUSE they don’t feel like they have to sing, but they can sit and enjoy / take it all in. At the end of the day, a church’s goal is to MAKE DISCIPLES. What’s more appealing? I like choirs, but I also like the band. Both have value. I just think the band is more appealing to the UNCHURCHED, which is who we’re trying to reach.

  • Jes

    Sigh…. It bothers me so much to see people continuously trying to pit “contemporary” worship style vs. “traditional” worship style. I feel like I’m caught between the two “sides” of the whole debacle because I’m a classically trained musician who teaches a traditional choir day in and day out (high school choral director) AND the leader of a contemporary “Hillsongized” (that term… oh man…) praise team at my church.

    Can we all just agree that worship has VERY little to do with the style and a WHOLE lot to do with what we love, what we live for, and who we are before God?

    Choirs. Praise teams. Gregorian chant. Contemporary anthems. The Hallelujah Chorus. Hymnals. That’s all preference and window dressing. The heart you bring before the Creator is what determines *worship*. You can be completely centered on self or solely on “performance” in any style, and you can be completely focused and worshiping God in any style.

    Let’s stop creating walls within the Kingdom that have no place there.

  • Matt Howard

    Just think of the countless life’s that could be brought to Christ if we used our time more wisely. I have spent 30 minutes reading this article and these comments. If I and all of you had spent that same thirty minutes on the phone or at breakfast with an unsaved friend, what could have happened. I am so frustrated with church members thinking the church is their’s and that it is all about what makes us happy. If the choir is growing (with unsaved people, not church hoppers) then stick with it and make your choir the best in town. If your church is growing with unsaved people and you rock the house, then rock it better Sunday then you ever have. Either way people get off of this forum and stop arguing over what makes you happy. Get out and reach some unsaved souls and teach them to do the same. At the end of the day if you aren’t seeing people baptized into Christ then whatever you are doing is not working. I don’t know who this author is but I have to believe you can spend your time more wisely for the Lord then debating whether Old Aunt Nell singing Old Rugged Cross for the 356th time, is hurting the church when then tell her to take a month or so off and try out something different.

    • Jonathan

      Nobody is thinking the church is theirs. Nobody is just seeking what makes them happy. We’re talking about something extremely important.

      By your estimation, any ecclesiological or theological discussion not directly aimed at converting someone should be a waste of time. Or anything else, for that matter. So nobody should go to seminary. Nobody should serve on a church committee. We don’t need to discuss the virgin birth or the resurrection. Heck, I shouldn’t even play mini-golf with my kids.

      Nope, I don’t buy it. Talking about the gathered worship of the visible church is of huge importance, and the way we do it matters a great deal.

      It’s not just about doing what gets butts in the seats.

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  • Buford

    Choir people are so near-sighted, they think church ought to revolve around them. This whole article is about how important MUSIC is, how much better CHOIR music is than regular music, and how much fun the choir people have. But what does any of this have to do with religion? Why the assumption that churches have to have music in them, let alone choir music? If I proposed that everybody ought to do yoga in church, you’d laugh at me or call me a heretic, no matter how many people swore that yoga is great fun.

    Not everybody CAN sing, you know. Not everybody can hear music. Also, one of the crucial things about choirs is that not everybody can be in them. Oh, I know–your choir may take damn near everybody they can get, but there’s still going to be this gulf between the choir people who are off doing there on thing–singing, wailing away in ways using little flourishes not everybody can follow–and the ordinary congregation, who are just watching/listening.

    Choir may be traditional, but it’s also just a little bit faggy (in the sense of insipid, like a bad episode of Mosterpiece Theatre). Don’t give me this crap about preserving the musical heritage of Western civilization–if that’s all there is to it, then we’re better off with rap. And why is vocal (and organ) music so much more important than, I dunno, tuba quartets or something?

    Seriously–traditional church services have to struggle not to be boring. It’s like going to a funeral, or one of those PTA meetings where the kids perform for a couple of hours. And it’s the fault of you choir people (okay, and the minister) that people yawn.

    Anathema, anathema, anathema!

    • Jonathan

      Wow. Just wow.

    • Johannes Tirén

      And what is wrong with western civilisation?

      No, for real – one of the strengths with Jonathans original piece was the idea that the community of the choir is something important. Your reply is that not everybody can sing.

      A friend of mine had an Alpha Course in his church north of Stockholm, Sweden. One participant had a significant neurofunctional disability – he could hardly sit on a chair for more than three minutes. Every week, they went outdoors, the other leaders handled the remaining group, while my friend talked to this guy, who literally walked around him in circles for over an hour. He loved the Alpha course, but where on earth do you find a church, based in western tradition where you are able to join in when your brain runs like that. It is quite difficult. And not a bad analogy to your rather unwise comment about some peoples inability to sing.

      But since you obviously are trolling… well, you got this response, didn’t you?

  • Once again, you say nothing to disagree with–but much to reflect on, which I have done here: http://pastchristian.wordpress.com/2014/09/27/in-defense-of-the-church-choir/

  • 1. Choirs support good congregational singing.

    Good amplification does not erect a barrier, but bad amplification does. I’ve seen bad amplification of both small and large groups (choirs) erect barriers. Secondly, suggesting that obnoxious and sloppy praise singing should be eliminated or relegated to other venues puts all of those who are less able, for what ever physical or developmental reason, at a spiritual disadvantage when attending your church.

    2. Their visual presence is an encouragement to the congregation.

    The average choir, as depicted in the photograph, doesn’t provide visual encouragement, but rather in the minds of some, pretentious piety. To many people, the choir is just another reminder that there are some within the Church Institution that are permitted to function within a special class of ministers, and others who are not. At least with a Praise Team, most of the congregants know they can’t participate in that manner because they can’t play an instrument. And in their minds, that is better than being told no for whatever reason.

    3. Choirs make a broader repertoire available for a worship service

    Any good musician or Praise Team can pick up a hymnbook and play a tune. The problem is there’s just not a lot of good material in most hymnals – otherwise why do most churches limit themselves to about a dozen hymns?

    4. They can offer more difficult and complex music than is possible for the greater congregation

    Is the congregant supposed to be singing, or praying and meditating? Secondly, if the music is that difficult, then the congregants won’t be participating in the first place. Conversely, if the Praise Band is playing properly amplified music and the melody is easily followed, very one is encouraged to participate.

    5. Choirs help singers develop and improve their musical gifts

    Musical education is not the purpose of the Body of Christ, nor is it the purpose of the Church gathering. Jesus said for us to “teach them to observe all that I commanded you.” No Choir can lay hands on the sick or the dead while singing, or counsel the defeated or administer emotional healing, or counsel a repentant to an encounter with Jesus.

    6. Participation in choir ministry can be an avenue for introducing outsiders to the

    church and the Christian faith

    I do agree. But I was kicked out of a choir for not being a Christian. So yes, it can be an avenue in some circumstances.

    7. The choral process reflects the mission of the universal church

    A nice platitude, but far from actuality. As suggested before, the choir is more of a means of establishing separation from the consumers and the doers in the minds of some.

    8. A church choir is an open, welcoming, and diverse group

    Most musicians are open, welcoming and diverse. Others, not so much.

    9. They add creative artistry and beauty to a worship service

    They most certainly do. But so does ministering to those in need and healing hurts and wounds. I do love singing in choirs and playing my instrument in church orchestras. But I’ve given all that up – willingly – for the ability to participate in a Church gathering that emphasizes the abilities and faithfulness of all members of the body of Christ to do Jesus’s work – both inside and outside the body – rather than limiting it to a select few.

    • Jonathan

      There is much in your comment that doesn’t sit well, but rather than rehash most of it, I’m wondering what you mean about hymnals not containing mhch good material. That’s a very strange assertion.

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  • loren

    As a 75 year-old Methodist, I am confounded by the conscious cultivation of Catholic worship. Mr. Wesley, in his articles of religion, forbade the use of language not understood by the congregation. So, why are we in the choir singing in Latin? We split with high-church frippery a long time ago. Perhaps it is time to get back to our roots.

  • Rosemary Parrott

    AMERST 722

    Perhaps the ‘old slow songs’ you mention were being played by old, slow organists! Traditional hymns come in many different styles and tempi, so there is no need for them to be dull. I think a heavy, traditional style of delivery might have a lot to answer for.

  • Joel

    Church’s are like people. Each is unique and has its own personality. There is no one size fits all for worship in churches. I have the opportunity to lead in rural churches. Some of the sweetest worship has been where they don’t even have anyone to play a piano and the congregation sings a Capella .

    There are others that have a small bluegrass style band leading that is great as well. The churches that still have choirs in our area struggle to keep enough voices to maintain a workable choir due to lack of commitment, availability, etc. while I personally prefer a choir or even a mix of choir and praise team, the idea of worship is engagement.

    I am thankful for so many churches that get that idea and do a very good job with the resources they have. A joyful noise is not limited to the choir loft and engagement by a choir in worship can be lacking if the worship leader does not help the choir stay focused on that one thing.

  • Bill Krieger

    I absolutely love this article, especially the last point. Worship teams of today are nothing more than copiers (usually inadequate at best) of the songs that are cranked out in the same guitar friendly keys, pitched way too high for an average singer to reach most of the notes, with a syncopated rhythm that people don’t understand including the acoustic guitar leader that plays the same rhythmic pattern for every song with the same open 5ths and sus4 chords regardless of the original chart.

    Where is the creativity? I squirm in my seat when we’re told “we’re going to teach you a new song today”. Really? Sorry, it sounds just like all the other ‘new’ songs with the drummer counting it off the same as the last one.

    Sorry for my rant but as a professionally trained musician I’m more than ready for something different, and when I lead worship from the piano I try to incorporate fresh chords and rhythms to enhance worship. The Psalmist challenges us to “sing to the Lord a new song”.

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  • Rivegauche610

    Reminds me of a book I loved because it was so laughably true, though a bit dated now: “Why Catholics Can’t Sing: The Culture of Catholicism and the Triumph of Bad Taste”. We music directors just ride the diminishing wave until religion dies out, which, given the tenor of the time, it will (let’s just hope the phaseout starts with the murderous fanatical muslim fringe). But given the realities of banal music overtaking liturgy like a bad case of indigestion, it seems inevitable that christians’ music (and worship) may slide into oblivion on a wave of bad taste, too. Like the one percent’s creeping fascism overtaking American life because poor, ignorant, undereducated people continue to vote for republikkklans and Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas continue to breathe (alas), musical banality in liturgy will kill off corporate worship. And if so, maybe such was meant to be…oh, and I think electronic organs are just dandy, as long as they’re not Allens. :::ducking:::

  • James Holt

    I totally agree my church Elim Baptist on 32nd and Greenwood Avenue has the best and i’m partial to them so you have to agree with me!

  • Jason

    Wow, I can’t believe how much discontent for other Christians and “music” is in this post. This is a article is garbage at best.

    • Jonathan

      I think maybe you mean “contempt.” I’m always surprised how voicing an opinion on this subject is so threatening. Believe me, there is no contempt. I just want to be a reasonable voice of caution. Thanks for reading.

  • to add or restate from the perspective of a choir director:

    – A strong church choir offers significant opportunity for lay leadership in worship for a larger and more diverse segment of the congregation than any other avenue.

    – A strong church choir offers deep fellowship amongst a broad age range. Rehearsing and performing together weekly over the course of several years in a group of 40-50 provides connections that are not easily generated in other ways.

    – We have found that, very consistently, some of the most active members of our church also sing in our choir — singing provides the choir members with “spiritual food”, strengthening them for their many other roles within the congregation.

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  • Lisa Kay Galloway

    I appreciate your thoughts. I’m glad to say that my church choir is anything but dying. I think as we continue to embrace the church choir (which is so biblical!) we also need to learn to embrace the beauty of modern worship. Instead of having a choir or a worship team, why not both? That is what we have embraced and God is truly blessing us for that. It’s important that in all worship forms we recognize that God is worshiped. Some styles I may not enjoy as much but as a daughter of the King I will choose to Worship God with Bach, John Rutter, or Hillsong because He loves it and He is worthy of all praise.

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  • C E Ripper

    Greetings ~ The factor that was not addressed in “9 Reasons . . . . ” is that music touches us, speaks to us, inspires us and uplifts us in ways that no other form of human expression can. The church that I attend here in Hollywood, as well as the church that I formerly attended in Wilmington, Delaware, grabbed me, pulled me in, and held me BECAUSE OF the music. Both have fabulous organists and gifted choirs. To me worship without music is flat; we hear the human voice speak to us every day with positive and negative messages. The voice in song, led by an organ whose notes fill every niche of the sanctuary, cannot help but reach the darkest hollows of the human heart. Long live choral music.

    • Jonathan

      Excellent! Thanks.

  • Turkeykicker

    Choirs aren’t dying because churches choose to execute them. Choirs are dying because choir singers are voting with their feet to kill them. They’re choosing other priorities over choir: their kid’s sports, their busy schedules, their jobs, their weekends off, etc. Churches discover they must work so hard and expend so much energy to keep singers involved in choir (or recruit new singers when others leave), it burns leaders out. Meanwhile they see that people normally gravitate to other ministries, which makes it a better use of time and and effort. In addition, younger adults and teenagers are simply not attracted to church choirs anymore, which makes a choir’s potential pool of singers that much smaller. I’ve been leading choirs in local churches for over 30 years and I’ve NEVER worked this hard to keep my choir vibrant. The number of singers who want commit to a regular weekly rehearsal and being in the loft on Sunday mornings is – and has been – on a steep decline. Don’t automatically blame church leaders when the choir ministry dies; its often a matter of accepting a hard reality that people just won’t commit the time anymore.

  • Every point you’ve made contains an element of truth and is also a bit of either mischaracterization, misunderstanding, or outright mistake…beginning with the opening accusation that churches not making use of choirs are doing so because they are in pursuit of what is trendy. Who can know the heart of a man but God? And what movement is singularly and homogeneously motivated? Not one.

    As a touring professional musician for 15 years and a church musician since I began singing in the choir at age 13, I am thrilled with the diversity of church music in the world – Every church worshiping in it’s own unique way – I see this weekly, in 100 churches every year.

    How creative is our God that He has gifted so many in so many unique ways. Instead of fighting other gifted members of the Body of Christ over non-essentials, why not choose instead to celebrate their different gifting, their peculiar calling, their unique contributions to the long ever-changing history of Christian music?

    You’re not the first intelligent talented Christ-follower to question the intelligence and talent of the generation coming after him. I do wish you were the last. When will we learn that we are not the authors of history, and that the One who is will always be worshiped…with new songs in each generation. Much to the chagrin of the most trained, intelligent and talented.

    The pipe organ was once denounced as the devil’s bagpipes! Polyphony was trendy evil ushering the vulgarity of popular cultural into the church! It was sacrilege at one point to allow non-clergy, non-monks to sing in church! And what about the fiasco over sheet music! And the misguided placing of the choir at the front of the sanctuary to “perform” for a sitting crowd!

    Music evolves, and as it does we redeem it and employ it in worship of the God who created it.

    • Jonathan

      Hey, Shaun Groves! No way. Sic ’em, Bears.

      Thank you for your comment. This piece is nothing more than a support of the good things still happening in sacred choral music, and why we should think twice.

      As far as choosing to celebrate all things as valid and good, nope, not going to do it, and though I’m particularly concerned with much of commercial Christian music, I have also been known to share concerns about the traditionalist mindset, as well. Check out my current post for an example. Sometimes this includes calling people our from time to time. Jesus did it, the apostles did it, the early Christians did it, the reformers did it. Sometimes it’s necessary. That doesn’t mean I love my friends and family, many of whom disagree with me vehemently, any less.

      • This post is not “nothing more than a support of the good things still happening in sacred choral music.” It is full of over-generalizations and assumptions about other forms of church music.


        “Christian culture’s relentless pursuit of what is trendy.” -Every church not making use of choir music is motivated by nothing more than a pursuit of what is trendy?

        “If you’ve been to church recently, especially in churches that use only commercial Christian music, you may have noticed that most often, congregants choose not to sing at all. ” -How many observations, in what venues, for what duration of time are you basing this broad statement on? I’m leading congregational music every Sunday, either at my church here in the Nashville area, or somewhere else in North America. I’ve been doing so for 15 years. My experience does not support your generalization. In my experience (though very limited, both growing up in church and traveling over the years) I notice trends in participation correlating with denominations, age, gender, and regions of the country but no discernible trends linked to musical style (e.g. choirs versus bands).

        “The amplification puts up a barrier to singing” -For you and others of your disposition, personality, upbringing etc. This is simply not true for all and maybe not even most people. You have no way of knowing.

        “something that just isn’t possible for a “worship leader” and a praise band.” – This is simply untrue. I’ve never heard a choir convincingly pull-off a folk or rock song as you claim they can. And you’ve apparently never heard a single voice with a band condignly pull-off anything other than a modern commercial worship song. How unfortunate for both of us. But we’d both be wise not make the assumption that because we haven’t heard it, it doesn’t exist and cannot be done.

        “Besides leading in times of corporate singing, since choirs have the benefit of outside rehearsal time, they can offer up musical praises on behalf of the congregation that would otherwise not be possible.” I don’t know of a church making use of a band approach to congregational music that does not have “outside rehearsal time” and is therefore incapable of making music that serves the church in many ways.

        “Giving children opportunities for choral education in the local church setting further primes congregations to be accepting and supportive of choral music.” In many communities. But not all. I live in a bedroom community outside of Nashville. Half young couples, half blue collar factory workers and farmers who originally settled the area. Our church is heavily bearded, overalls, pick-up trucks…and new to church. Half our congregation wasn’t in church 10 years ago. When I introduced “Just As I Am” one Sunday morning one gentleman complimented me on the new song I wrote! My point being, that there may very well be many more communities like mine in which the majority will never be “accepting and supportive” of choral music. That doesn’t prevent me from encouraging children’s choir and occasionally exposing the entire congregation to choral music, but choir may never be the main course in my community.

        Points 6 & 7. I love what you say in these two points. You may be implying though that these same things can not be said of any other musical ensemble serving the local church. If you are? Simply untrue.

        “There’s no way John would make it onto any praise team anywhere. He’s not cool enough, young enough, or stylish enough, and his tendency toward performance anxiety doesn’t help, either.” Oh brother. Were you picked on as a teenager by some hipster with an electric guitar? (I’m only half joking.) Yes, there are churches with praise teams that look like Abrercombie models – but these are the exception. There are plenty of middle-aged, elderly, frumpy, nerdy, unattractive, unstylish, serving churches through music of every variety. I’m forty. I drive a minivan. I’m skinny as a rail but still, somehow, spongy in the middle. My teenagers pick out my clothes.

        “The profound poverty of artistry and imagination found in our culture’s popular musical output is staggering, as is our willingness to fill our worship gatherings with christianized versions of this stuff.” I heard this disparaging kind of generalization daily while studying music composition at Baylor. I was made to feel as if the music I was drawn to and gifted to write and perform was second-class. There is a craft to creating music. Period. I was named ASCAP songwriter of the year for my work in commercial music. And I was also awarded a full scholarship to Baylor to study “legit” composition. As a guy who has composed in both worlds at a high level I can say with certainty that there is talent and skill, “artistry and imagination” in both genres. And there are lazy musicians in both as well. To judge tens of thousands of compositions by a small sample of lazily crafted ones is elitist and inaccurate. There are some truly horrific choirs and choral compositions out there. Should I assume all choir music is just more of the same?

        • Anthony Dangler

          Yes, the article presents some generalizations, such as the amplification of the praise and worship singers drowning out the congregation. However, the corporate influence of Christian Rock or Praise and Worship Music is hard to ignore. I promote the compensation of artists’ hard work but something about the commercialization of Christian Singers doesn’t sit right with me. If our choir ever got offered a recording contract (not likely), then I would question the direction of our efforts.

          I’ve been to a few mega-churches that accentuated their band and I did feel more like an audience member than a participant even with the lead singer clapping his hands to the beat, encouraging the congregation to sing. I’m not generalizing all mega-churches or praise and worship music, It’s just my experience.

          The dichotomy of church music, traditional choirs and praise and worship music, is analogous in my mind to “school music” (band, chorus, orchestra, etc) and garage band; reading music vs. playing by ear. I’m not suggesting one is superior to another, only that they are quite different in terms of their traditions, pedagogy, and the genres associated with them. I have too straddled both of these worlds and I see the challenges from musicians on both sides. Without the necessary experience and education (whether formal or informal), it is extremely difficult for praise and worship musicians to “pull-off” a classical piece or a traditional choir to “pull-off” a rock song.

          Inclusiveness and purpose are the important considerations here. Which ensemble, style, or genre satisfies these considerations?

          I think overall that this is a fascinating debate with interesting philosophical underpinnings. I hope we can continue the conversation.

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  • Anne

    I am a lifelong choir singer, and in addition to Sunday services, we also offer several concerts each year in varying styles (Broadway, patriotic, gospel, etc). So much of what we sing in worship speaks to me directly. I always leave church with a certain musical phrase or lyric in my heart, that can sustain me for the whole week (and rarely does the minister’s sermon affect me or stay with me the same way). For me, the music (created by a human being from the inspiration of God) is a very important form of worship. For 3-4 years now my church has had both contemporary/praise and traditional services, but is discussing moving toward one “blended” service. Drums and guitars (with what I call “7/11” songs, i.e., the same 7 words sung 11 times) just do not represent worship for me. If our church stops using traditional and classical music (which is under discussion), I will be searching for another church … or else just worshipping at home with my Hymns/Anthems or Choruses playlists on iTunes.

    • Jonathan

      I want to reiterate that I’m not advocating for blended corporate worship, at least not as it’s usually intended. Of course, it’s blended if we sing Bach and a Timothy Dudley-Smith hymn in the same service. But again, it’s not about taste, it’s about meaning.

    • john

      Our Lutheran church is going thru a new phase. Our minister of over 35 years retired and our new pastor is mid thirties. Our choir director of 25 years saw the writing on the wall and also retired and left a musical legacy of a great tradition of music and a well trained choir. We now have a “minister of music” who has a contemporary background. We are leaving behind almost all Classical( Bach) and traditional music and going contempoary to bring in more church members and losing Choir and musical people. Have sung for over 50 years at church and considering leaving it .

  • Breed7

    i used to belong to a large church choir (75 members when I joined). We brought in many, many visitors to our services. We sang for funerals and weddings. We welcomed “unchurched” people into our group and taught them what a blessing true liturgy could be.

    Then a jealous pastor fired the much-loved, much-respected choir director.

    Our numbers dropped to about 25 people. All the professionally trained singers — volunteers — left to sing at churches where the musicians were respected. Others left because the joy of making music had been taken away. I decided that Christianity is not for me, because all I see is hatred. Hatred aimed at good people.

    Did the church see any benefit from the total destruction of its choir programs? Attendance dropped. Contributions dropped. Lives were destroyed. If that was the pastor’s goal, then he was very successful.

    • Norm from GA

      It is sad that you discovered that Christianity “is not for me,” based on belonging to a church where jealous pastors are tolerated, and choir directors have their own followers.

      I pray that God may lead you to discover an alternative view of Christianity, where ALL believers are respected as singers, regardless of ability or training, because they are all commissioned to, in all wisdom, teach and admonish ONE ANOTHER with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs…

      Once you experience an entire congregation join in one accord to worship God in song, led by a song leader who can’t be “fired” because he was never a hireling, you may reconsider your decision concerning the Christ’s Kingdom.

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  • John sounds like me when I can’t remember the words. lol But I LOVE to sing and make a joyful noise.

    I enjoyed your article and will be sharing it with our Director of Music and Arts. Thanks! 🙂

  • I direct a very small choir in a very small Lutheran Church. The tradition when I got there(5 years ago) was that the choir wore robes every sunday. When I got hired, the pastor asked me to introduce more modern music. They had ONLY been doing classical music. We wore the robes for two years every sunday. Then a few of the older members started complaining about how hot the robes are…so we decided to wear them once a month…It also went along in my mind with making things a little more contemporary…well now, there is a full on fight going on. There are a few that HATE the robes and a few that LOVE the robes and many in between who could care less. I got blasted last sunday by someone who LOVES the robes…I came close to walking out. So…Thoughts????

    • Jonathan

      Always wear the silly robes!!! That’s been my experience. Or, and I don’t know what kind of climate you live in, but you could say wear them unless it’s above 90 degrees outside. Might be worth a shot. Otherwise, tell complainers to take it to pastor.