Coming Out of the Dark

Stepping Into the Light...

The title of this article perhaps made more sense in 2011 when it was originally written. You'll get the reference (at least the non-musical one) further on in the article.

Many years ago, I was sitting in my office, when a phone conversation with a friend brought up an interesting topic. The question he asked me, as you'll see in a minute, didn't lend itself to an easy answer. Before I give you the question, I want to frame the context a bit. First, my friend is a great musician, a fine conductor, and a smart person. He was not asking me about something that should be part of any church musician's Bflat intelligence. Instead, his question comes from a unique situation. Let me explain...A number of years ago my friend got “burnt out” by demands of being a modern-day church musician. His church landscape had shifted under his feet, and, like many of his peers, he decided that serving the church (or at least the particular church at which he then served) wasn't worth the trouble. (This is one of those pastor/musician thingies, but that's not important at the moment.)

Very recently, my friend, who lives near, and works in a college town of a little over 100,000 people in the midwest, climbed back into the church music saddle. In many ways he is typical of the “new deal” church musician, in that he is now “just” the choir director at his church. He's much happier. Things are going swimmingly. The quality of the music making, and the worship leadership at this church has taken a noticeable (by the pastor and the congregation) step forward, and everybody is happy.

So let's review: Smart guy. Great musician. Good situation. Happy campers.

No worries, right? Nope...none.

Except one teensy little thing. Here's his question:

How do you let the musicians in your community know that there is an excellent choir (or any other) program at your church...without making it seem like you are trying to steal people from other churches?

In other words, how do you recruit new members from the community (either people who are not participating in a music program, or are unhappy in the one in which they are participating).

I have to confess that his question has crossed my mind once or twice over the course of my church music career. A lot has been written about how to recruit new members from within your own church, but how do you look outside your campus without stepping on your colleagues' collective toes?

My own approach over the years, in several cities of 175,000+ and in a suburban venue in a large urban area, has been rather passive. My attitude has been, more or less, that word will get around. In my current situation (a town of less than 2,000) I don't feel that in good conscience I can do anything. The town is too small, quite frankly, for there to not be hard feelings if I tried to recruit anyone from another church, and if there are musicians who are not going to any church I know about them, and why they are not church goers.

So I basically had no answer for him, other than starting a facebook page for his choir.

So I turned to a bunch of my colleagues, and asked what they would do. Here are some of the responses:

It is my belief that each local church is a part of the whole body of Christ. And I also believe that God provides the musicians He wants for each local church. Adapting the choir ministry to available men and women in the local body is the way to go. At the same time it is important to pray for God’s leading in contacting present and past attendees. ~ William Lock

Here’s what I’m trying in my relatively new context: let choir members and congregants carry the message and be your recruiters in the community. They’re asking friends and colleagues to share in something they enjoy and believe in, not “head hunting.” ~ Terry Heislen

Thanks for the opportunity to speak about a problem that we all face. Your statement “So I basically had no answer for him, other than starting a facebook page for his choir” is so right on target. Interestingly, you make it sound as though it is a negative. Absolutely not, but link your church’s YouTube Video page to Facebook. Take videos of everything your church is doing, post them on your church’s web site (you have one don’t you?) and tell everyone about the wonderful things going on at your church. Then tell them to go to the web site and look at the videos. And invite them to come to church, meet the people and say hello to the pastor and listen to the music. We may get some musicians to come in and join up. The music may be the hook to bring them to church but the purpose of the music is to hear God’s word and it is up to the pastor to take over. We spread the Good News any way we can and invite all. We have three different services and realizing that people have different preferences as to what church should be, we have an early piano service, a praise and worship service and a traditional choir service. I guess it comes down to something that we have been doing forever...”Spread the Word.” ~ Michael Garazzo

Get your choir involved in community activities outside of the church building. Search out community service opportunities as well as opportunities to sing (music festivals; large community gatherings; etc). A choir that sings well and gives a meaningful performance will increase the number of conversations around the community about their program. “Have you heard that choir over at _________?” ~ David

Great article. Even though I have served in a larger city, I’ve spent most of my ministry in a small town and I’m in one now, so I understand the animal. You’re right that it is harder to recruit from outside the church when you are in a small town. One other difficulty that I have had is in recruiting those folks who used to sing in the choir, but for whatever reason don’t sing any more. I’ve found it especially difficult to pull high school graduates who stay in town into the adult choir when the music they’ve experienced in venue worship within the youth group or in youth choirs built on what is popular in CCM circles right now is so different from the worship style of the church’s Sunday morning worship gathering. In most of the places I’ve served the youth minister has sought to build an attitude toward worship that is contrary to developing a strong youth choir, so most of the kids don’t get the experience of singing in a choir and when they become adults they have no passion for doing so. I’m in a church now where I get great support from the Student Minister. He serves on the Student Choir Parent Council alongside me. We are beginning to make headway into building a strong youth choir that, hopefully, will build within our teens a passion to continue singing when they become adults. ~ Mark Bowers

It is tempting to prey on programs that are not as intense or that are not staying with the times, etc. I certainly don’t want other directors planting a seed for my folks to sing elsewhere. We are a small coastal town and we recognize that we are all “the church” in Destin and do our best to work with each other for holiday presentations and other events. It seems to me that there are plenty of musicians/singers in the area that are not involved in church and those should be our target, not the “sheep thievery” that has gone on other places. I believe that part of the answer is recognizing that the Kingdom of God is bigger than any one church and working in cooperation with other directors and having a fellowship where there is open accountability. Encourage each other to promote their own programs and discourage musicians from leaving where they are just to be part of something better. ~ Kim Cannon

I live in a very different place than yours, and, as a little part of my activity, I conduct a small choir in a small church in a small town out in the country, north Italy. I can only say that the only way we have to find new people is to let talk people around about good atmosphere, nice songs, relaxed study we have into the choir. In this way someone can become curious and come and try the experience to sing in the choir. I don’t know other effective ways. ~ Matteo Zenatti

Hopefully there is something there that you can use...

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