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Input requested for future planning for church music program

I'm helping our church think through its vision for music ministries.  Our eventual goal is to have music activities or ensembles (either choir, chimes or handbells or combinations thereof) for all ages of children in our congregation, plus an adult choir and at least one adult handbell ensemble. Our goals are to bring glory to God through beautiful music, encourage the congregation in their Christian walk, and to inspire and educate future church musicians  


Many of the above-mentioned programs exist in fledgling stages in our church already.  The question concerning the future is how to staff such a program.  I'm wondering if all you church musicians could respond to this question: what are reasonable expectations for volunteer, part-time, and full-time church musicians in such a scenario?  Or, to ask the question slightly differently,  how many ensembles/groups should a volunteer be responsible for, versus a part-time employee or a full-time employee of a church?



Replies (5): Threaded | Chronological
on January 7, 2011 6:11pm
Hi, Barbara.  This is a reallly tricky question, since most churches don't have the money to fully staff a large music program without using volunteers, but volunteers often don't have the training or experience to work effectively with children--especially young children, and just being a mom is NOT necessarily enough.
My suggestion, if budget permits, of course, is NOT to have volunteers work with elementary aged children, but to have paid, part-time staff who DO have the necessary training, whether it's Kodaly methodology or one of the other well-organized programs.  Your "cherub choir" will not learn anything with volunteer moms doing the singing for them, but could learn a lot in a well-structured music CLASS that involves and includes lots of singing. 
The same could be said for a youth choir, although the real question there is how it is seen as interfacing with the adult choir.  At our church, when my wife directed the youth choir, her Choristers had responsibility for the Family Service every Sunday during the school year, as well as Lessons and Carols and other special services which the adult choir didn't really want to devote time to, and it was a tremendous learning experience for those youngsters.   Her Children's Choir was in fact a carefully-organized Kodaly class that actually taught the skills that would be needed later on, when they flew up to the Choristers.
As to pay scales, organization, and so on, I'm sure the AGO has recommended guidelines, but it really comes down to the skill sets of the individuals involved.  Job descriptions are fine, but there should be some flexibility to take advantage of individual skills.
All the best in working out your vision,
on January 8, 2011 4:56pm
HI Barbara --
Before I can answer this in much detail -- it would be helpful to know the following about your church:
1) size of church membership/attendance
2) what is the church's denomination and tradition for music -- and in particular, what does the church see as the role of music in the worship service?
3) what programs are currently in place and how many participate?  what is your current staffing?
Ralph Nelson
Choir Director: First Immanuel Lutheran Church
Oregon ACDA co-chair for Sacred Music
on January 10, 2011 6:35pm
Hello, Ralph:
Thank you for taking time to respond.  While I can't state the denomination without maintaining a degree of anonymity requested by my church leadership, we are a Protestant denomination and we see music as an integral part of worship.   Our average church attendance is approximately 200, with membership about the same. For a small congregation, we have a wealth of musical talent and interest.  We have a blended service, alternating  acoustic and amplified praise bands week to week to lead praise songs at the beginning of the service.  We also have a great love for hymns and sing several each week.  We currently have an adult choir of about 20 members (a few more at Christmas and Easter, a few less at other times), singing a range of music from Handel to pieces by several contemporary composers mentioned on choralnet; a ladies' handbell choir of 8, a teen handbell choir of 10, an elementary chime choir of about 9, singing instruction during opening exercises for Sunday school, and a mommy-toddler music session once a week for early childhood music exposure and education.  52 musicians participated in our Lessons and Carols this past December.  So far, all of this has been staffed by volunteers.  I direct the choir and two handbell groups, and a college student whom I'm mentoring leads the elementary chime choir.  Other volunteers lead the Sunday school opening exercises and coordinate the toddler music session (although I'm involved in both to some extent).  We have very fine pianists who volunteer their time (one of whom accompanies the choir). The praise bands function independently from the choirs.  None of this could have come about without the Lord's blessing, obviously, and I am extremely grateful for the opportunities for service in the music ministry of our church and for being blessed by the service of others.   
Since I am in my late 50's, I am looking ahead and thinking that I will want to 'retire' or scale back in several years, and I'd like the choir and bell programs -- plus more -- to continue.  I would like to have us offer private instruction on instruments and voice following the model of  a 'music academy' some day, and I'd love to offer group piano and further ear-training for our youth.  I don't want all of these things to simply vanish when I decide I can't do all of this any more, so I'm trying to develop a proposal for our church leadership for a means of keeping music education, choir and handbell ministries going long into the future.
Thank you in advance for your thoughts and advice!   May the Lord bless your ministry, and those of all the other church musicians out there!   -- Barbara
on January 9, 2011 3:22pm
Hi Barbara
National Pastoral Musicians also has a great deal of information on their website ( concerning job descriptions as well as guidance as to how to inspire the congregation, nurture those becoming more involved in music ministry and developing programs for choirs, cantors and ensembles.
In my church all administration, direction and accompaniment is done by paid employees who enable the voice and participation of all solo and group performance by the parishioners.
on January 27, 2011 11:11am
You said:
"Since I am in my late 50's, I am looking ahead and thinking that I will want to 'retire' or scale back in several years, and I'd like the choir and bell programs -- plus more -- to continue... I don't want all of these things to simply vanish when I decide I can't do all of this any more, so I'm trying to develop a proposal for our church leadership for a means of keeping music education, choir and handbell ministries going long into the future."
my two cents, please understand I don't mean to offend
The success and flavour of most church music programs – even some of the really large ones- are almost entirely dependent on you -the leader. You are kind of a ‘brand’ and although the congregation does have a role the leader is key. I have seen two music programs (plus one of my own) dissolve and flounder after a dynamic leader left – not that I would call myself ‘dynamic’. You might wish to preserve some of your efforts but I recommend you stick to doing what YOU enjoy, making the music with these folks. Do you really need to invest the energy and time in developing proposals etc. – does it not take away from rehearsal time, social time with your musicians, actual making music? - There are SO many variables that could play into the future music program of your church –the wrong leader, clergy change, economic change, disputes within the congregation, immigration/migration, death etc. etc.
I no longer play the curator role in my current position. It is noble to take on such responsibility but I encourage you to reconsider where you want to invest your time and talent. L
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