Special music can add so much to a service, when done with the right heart and in the right manner. It is a blessing when a church has a great number of folks willing to volunteer their time and effort to be a blessing to others and praise the Lord through song. However, it can also be a daunting task trying to oversee this ministry. At my church, we have three people involved in the administration of this ministry, and we still have challenges and surprises all the time!
Below are some tips I’ve discovered that can be a great help to you as a music minister, whether full-time or volunteer, when trying to faithfully carry out this portion of the ministry.
Have sound checks.
This is a help to your sound man, and it also gives the vocalist/accompanist a chance to run through the song in a “service” setting but without the crowd. It helps to minimize surprises. Make these required and make them regular.
Screen songs for approval.
You will have people participating in your special music program from all walks of life, all backgrounds, and all preferences. They’ve all heard different groups sing different songs, and they all have different styles. This is a good thing; however, it necessitates a system of approval for each song to ensure that the special music is communicating the proper message in the proper way.
Involve the pastor.
A church in which the pastor takes a completely hands-off approach to the special music is in a dangerous position. As the leader of the church, he is called of God to oversee all aspects of ministry. As the music minister, talk to him and try to get a vision of his heart for the special music ministry in your church. What does he prefer? What does he not prefer?
Push for excellence.
Find ways to encourage folks to memorize words (this leads to better communication than when someone sings while reading a piece of paper). Find ways to kindly instruct a group who needs some musical assistance (parts or blend, for example). Communicate the schedule in enough time for folks to begin preparing early.
Keep good records.
Record every special sung, who sang it, and on what date it was sung. This encourages variety by helping to avoid the same song being done in a short time period by two different people/groups. Also, keep records of when a song is disapproved (and why) so that you don’t forget and approve it later for someone else, sending a mixed message.
Use all your instrumentalists.
The tendency will be for the pianist who can pick up a new song the quickest or who has the best accompaniment style to end up playing for every special. This can lead to stress for that pianist. It can also discourage others from ever playing who are still learning. Use a variety of accompanists for your soloists/groups.
Encourage the right heart.
Obviously, we want our singers/musicians to communicate with the right heart for the right reasons. We lead so much by example in this area. If your heart is not right, how can you expect your volunteers to catch the proper special music spirit? If someone is not in a good place spiritually, it may be a good time to give them a break from the special music schedule, even though they may be a strong vocalist.
Use choir members only.
There may be some exceptions on a case-by-case basis for this, but the general idea is this: Why would we allow someone to be on the platform for special music who is not willing to dedicate their time to faithfully serve in the group setting of choir each week?
Involve your young people.
Have a youth night every so often where the teens or children can participate in special music. Perhaps the reason so many teens grow up and leave church is that they were not given opportunity to serve and be a part as a young person. You’ll find that youth services will be a great blessing to the older folks in your congregation.
Your schedule will not go as planned. This is a given. You will become frustrated very early on in the special music ministry if you cannot be flexible. Also, if your singers see that you “roll with the punches,” they are more likely to have a flexible spirit as well.