Why Start a Choir in a Small Church?

 Lisa Ridenour 

Stepping onto a homemade plywood podium in the back corner of the local fire hall, I looked into the attentive eyes of the nineteen volunteer singers of our small church plant. With an assuring smile, I gestured their entrance, knowing full well that the acoustical tile ceiling was waiting to absorb their carefully prepared anthem. Despite the cramped “choir loft” where the congregation’s folding chairs encroached into our singing space; never mind the tired keyboard pushed to one side—I felt an inner confidence that this young ensemble had the potential to take on an important ministry in the life of our church. Then I was thinking music ministry; but to my delight and surprise, their ministry has moved beyond Sunday preludes and offertories.

Churches that are being revitalized and planted could greatly benefit from starting a church choir not only by enhancing the worship service, but by contributing, in unexpected ways, to the life of the church. The choir can take a critical leadership role in the congregational singing. Engaging fifteen to twenty congregants in weekly rehearsals gives the director an opportunity to develop their vocal ability and prepares them to be skilled participants in congregational singing, which, in turn, helps the congregation in their singing to God!

When well-prepared voices sit evenly distributed in the pews among the congregation, the singers function as worship leaders from the pew. Right alongside other worshipers, they assist the church by carrying the melody, and sometimes they even stimulate part-singing. What’s more, choir members aid the improvement of the tone and quality of the congregation’s singing with thoughtful singing.

The choir can also help the congregation expand its repertoire of songs. Commonly, smaller churches face many challenges when introducing a new song in a worship service. Non-singers can feel discouraged when attempting to sing a new song with confidence while remaining engaged in thoughtful worship. Here’s where the choir can help.

Preparing the choir to present a new song as a prelude, a week or two in advance of its being introduced to the church, makes for easier congregational participation. As the choir members sit scattered throughout the church, the congregation experiences the musical support that allows them then to sing and worship freely during the service.

Finally, a church choir can model to the congregation what it means to be a part of the Body of Christ and encourage the use of gifts and talents which would otherwise lay dormant. Just as a body functions best when all its parts are healthy and active, so a well-functioning choir sees its members faithfully present at weekly rehearsals in order for the ensemble to be at its best. Although initially members may fulfill their commitment to the choir because of the director’s expectations, in time they begin to function together in a way that fosters accountability and camaraderie.

Times of fellowship, in addition to weekly rehearsals, such as dinners or attending concerts enhance the choir’s relationships with each other. In addition, setting time aside at each rehearsal for prayer together not only develops bonds that further their functioning as a body, but creates a group within the church that is regularly thoughtful and prayerful about the upcoming worship service.

The blessing of our choir has continued, extending past our local church. This past year, because of our mutual involvement in the ACM, our church choir joined with the choir of Proclamation Presbyterian Church in a joint Maundy Thursday Service. The joint rehearsals and conducting training I received greatly improved the quality of our ensemble; and, the encouragement received by our church in worshiping together with a sister church, is immeasurable.

No longer in a fire hall, today we worship in an acoustically beautiful church. There is no denying the giftedness of this ensemble. Their skill and size have been greatly blessed by God, especially when I consider the limited resources of our small church. But when I now step onto the same plywood podium and gesture their entrance, acknowledging all ways God has used this group of Christians to impact the greater Body leaves me in deep gratitude to the One who promises, “I will build my Church.” (Matthew 16:18b)