Changing My Focus
Going from a large church to a small one can be a jarring transition. I grew up in a church of about four hundred people; not a mega church by any means, but not small by any means either. When I was at Heartland Baptist Bible College, I attended a church that ran over two thousand people on Sunday mornings!
The church I have served in since graduation is small; we run about fifty people. There are definitely a lot of changes to get used to when you start serving at a small church; and as time has gone one, I have begun to appreciate those differences; not just the bad ones, but the good ones as well! One area where I have had to have a paradigm shift is our focus in the music ministry.
We have six singers total that are involved in any way with our music program; that’s far fewer than the churches I grew up in. We also only have one piano to practice on…and it has to be set up and taken down every Sunday and Wednesday. Because we rent out building, we sometimes simply don’t have any time to practice between setting up, tearing down, and getting out when our rental is up. These challenges can make it difficult to have a lot of vocal groups singing on a regular basis.
When I first started at Foundation Baptist Church, I brought my “large church” mindset with me. I wanted to have as many groups singing as often as we could; I wanted to do the same songs larger churches were doing with five times the people, and twice the available practice time. I saw great choir and group specials going on at other churches, and I wanted to have that at our church!
Mostly I felt frustrated. It seemed like there was never enough time to practice everything (and it still does). It was difficult not to stretch busy people too thin by scheduling them to often (it still is). Things didn’t always come together like I hoped they would. Don’t get me wrong! I am incredibly blessed by the people we have in our music ministry; they are talented people who love the Lord, work hard, and have excellent spirits; but there is only so much a small group of people can do with limited resources (and a music director who struggles to stay on top of everything that needs to be done)!
I gradually began to have a paradigm shift; I began to realize that my large-church mindset was keeping me from capitalizing on the opportunities I have! For example, I have lots of adults, teenagers, and kids who want to learn to sing better. I was putting so much effort into matching what larger churches were doing that I was not making time for them. I also failed to put proper emphasis on the congregational singing. I gradually began to shift my efforts in that direction; focusing on training and developing people, as well as making our congregational singing great. I am still trying to do those things, and still struggling quite a bit with handling everything that a music ministry entails, but here are a few things that have helped our congregational singing flourish:
- Make it real
It’s so easy to come into church, sing the songs, and let your heart be a million miles away! Even as the worship leader, I often find myself thinking about other things. The congregational singing can easily become mundane and rote; or it become an extra ten minutes to get to church, get your coffee, and mingle with your brothers and sisters.
But it should be so much more! Congregational singing is an amazing time that comes once or twice a week. It’s a time for us to gather as a church family and praise and worship our God! I’ve tried to make it a point to encourage 100% participation through exhorting people to sing. I may also emphasize the words by commenting on them, reading some applicable Scripture, and having one of our members sing a verse as a solo.
2. Keep it Fresh
There are some truly great old hymns that minister to our church and communicate great truths about God! I don’t ever want to stop singing great hymns like “How Great Thou Art”, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” “There is a Fountain”. I do try to keep our song selection fresh, though, by introducing new hymns to our services. By “new”, I don’t mean they have been written in the last twenty years (although some have). I simply mean hymns we have never sung before. After all, why should the age of a song matter? Age has nothing to do with the quality of a hymn. There are some hidden gems that I’ve found in our hymnal. This year, our theme has been “The Just Shall Live By Faith”; I have loved seeing our congregation rally around the hymn “By Faith” by Keith and Kristen Getty. The excitement and heart are palpable every time we sing it!
3. Learn to Sing Parts
If you use screens in your church, you’re a liberal! No, just kidding. There’s nothing wrong with screens at all! They would certainly make my life easier; I often print out music for hymns that aren’t in our hymnal. It’s a real pain keeping up with all those papers, and reprinting when needed! But we go through the hassle because we want to teach our congregation to sing parts!
I don’t believe I’ve ever been to a church where the congregation has been trained in part-singing. Normally it would be the choir members and other singers who may sing a part, but most in the congregation wouldn’t know how. Both my pastor and myself have a burden to truly engage our people in singing praises to God; we believe a significant way to engage people in singing is to teach them to sing parts.
I’ll admit, I didn’t know where to start when we first decided to start teaching parts. In fact, we are still learning! But we have already seen some great success; we simply took a hymn and spent several weeks learning the different parts, much as you would teach a choir song. I explained how to read music, and then we would practice just the sopranos, then altos, then the men.
We also learned an actual choir song and sang it together as a special! Our pastor (who has a great voice) sang the first two verses as a solo, and the congregation joined in four-part harmony on the chorus and last verse. It was the most exciting and worshipful our church has ever sung! It has also sparked an interest in singing among our people. Some who thought they could never sing suddenly found that they could, and that they enjoyed it! I have had some of those come to me and express interest in working on singing one on one!
This is still very much a journey I am still on; but as we head into another year, I am looking forward to focusing more on encouraging and training our church to all take part in praising and worshipping God through singing!