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Hard Numbers for Children's Choirs

Does anyone have hard numbers they would be willing to share on congregational growth based on implementation of Children's Choir porgrams?
I am hoping to revive the Children's music and choir program at my church job.
Thanks!
Jason
on July 15, 2013 9:24pm
Jason,
I work in a Catholic Church in Suburban NYC.  We have the advantage of having an elementary school associated with the church which helps tremendously with rectuiting.  We also have a religious education program with another bunch of kids.  We had a seperate director when I started, but while she was popular, she did nothing.  Under her leadership, the children's choir had anywhere from four to 24 children show up on Sunday.  More at our weekday rehearsal because it acts as a free babysitting service for two hours after school.
I dismissed her, reduced the length of rehearsal, made it open only to grades 3-8 unless a 2nd grader begged to join and swore good behavior.  For two years we had about eight members.... but as we started sounding better, interest rose.  This past season we had 26 members, with nearly 20 in attendance each week.  On rare weeks (like a scouting weekend) I'd lose most of the choir. but they were pretty good.  I think it takes patience, and the willingness to be awesome in unison until you're sure they'll bereally good in parts.  we're working on parts this coming year.  Good luck!
Tom
on July 15, 2013 10:31pm
I started the children's choir in our Catholic parish church (with 4,500 families) 4 years ago and it has maintained 15-30 choristers through the years. I accept K-8 grade kids with new members joining each year and would lose those that have grown into teenagers. Being a member of the children's choir seem to instill the spirit of volunteerism as the ones who would leave would seek membership in teen choirs in our parish. The children's choir attracts already active families of the parish. Being a very involved member of the parish myself, I see the parents of the choir members in various other ministries of our parish. It does not bring in new parishioners. At the same time, I work at a small Lutheran church in our neighborhood as director for the children's choir of 10-12 choristers. We sing regularly during service but members would increase when we produce a musical, who would drop from choir as soon as the musical is done. Some of the kids attend "Youth Night" in other Lutheran churches invited by friends from those churches. But their families don't move to another church because of this. I am about to implement a music-led Youth Night in the fall. It is hoped that our kids will bring in their friends to our church and grow our congregation that way, but I'm doing it because my choristers are now middleschoolers. And there are other older teens in the congregation who I'd like attract to the group as well thru "Youth Night".
In summary, I do not think a children's music program brings in new members to a church, but it gets the current members involved with the church through music. In children's choirs, the whole family, not just the chorister, is involved with the choir each week and during special projects.
I hope I was able to help.
on July 16, 2013 3:10am
I think the question you're asking, Jason, while a reasonable one, is very difficult to answer with "hard numbers."  Although it may seem as though there might be some sort of correlation between the activity of children in a choral (or other) circumstance and the participation of adults, in my experience, it doesn't work as a "pull" to parents who are not already involved in the community - and insofar as bringing non-members into the worshiping community, I have to wonder about that. In fact, it tends to be rather the opposite:  involved parents involve their children in church activities.  Tom's experience is probably a good model of what really happens:  if you start patiently building a program that has good music, if not necessarily in parts at least at first, you will start attracting attention and new choristers.  My experience, which was to direct an already fairly well-established children's choir at our Catholic parish, with about the same number of families as Ina's, had 27 children in it - BUT - there was only one boy in the entire group.  Partly because of my own circumstances with my son, who was a second-grader at the time and attending public, not the parochial, school, for the first year I had to take him out for the rehearsal (which was on Wednesdays).  However, I did expand the choir (in fairness) to second- and third-graders, who had up until then been excluded.  My numbers exploded:  we went from 27 to 38 that first year, then to 47 the second year - and with 12 young lads that last year.  (This is an argument for modeling in bringing boys into singing - if a guy is directing, it must be okay for guys to sing, too.)  This was no baby-sitting service; we worked.  And attendance was expected on the Sunday the large group sang - and I would rarely have more than 5-6 who wouldn't be there, mostly because of either soccer (!!!) or family obligations.  We also, after the first year, moved the rehearsals from Wednesdays to Mondays, because here in Fairfax County, Mondays were "half-days" - i.e., school would end about 1:10 p.m. (which has since changed).  The move made it possible for kids NOT in the parochial school to come to rehearsals, AND to feel as though they were participating in the worship life of their church.  We also had a "schola" of 12 somewhat more advanced singers (not necessarily all older ones), who would tackle more challenging music (they loved it) and they would sing once a month, two weeks after the "whole gang" sang.  Sadly, a new pastor-in-training (we call them "parish administrator") was determined to remove me from my position (I wouldn't kowtow to him about a number of matters of importance, especially as he was "know-nothing" about music - or, so he said) and maneuvered the parochial school music teacher (who had been the adult choir director at one point, but was released for her incompetence) into a position to force me out.  As soon as I left, rehearsals were back to Wednesdays, and we were back to a 4th-to-8th grade choir only - which meant only the kids from the parochial school.  As a result, not only were the numbers down by the attrition of not including the two younger grades and making it impossible for non-parochial school kids to participate in rehearsals, but quite a number of the kids simply left - and it became, ultimately, a girls-only choir.  
 
Now, to more directly answer your question, Jason, there was no correlation whatsoever between a children's choir (even one that increased in numbers) and increased congregational attendance or increasing numbers in our parish - in fact, there was no increase in either attendance or total parish numbers.  That, insofar as I'm able to determine, if it occurred, was more a product of the normal ebb and flow of moves into and out of the area (this is the DC area, after all; with a large military presence and a lot of government workers and contractors, there's a lot of movement of families - but the parish's numbers remained, generally, pretty stable).  Bringing adults into a worshiping community, pace "Sister Act,"  is not going to be exclusively or even primarily because of the music - at least not in Catholic parishes.  There may be the one or two where this isn't true; but in the main, I would think if music is at all going to be a draw to bring people into a worshiping community, it's likelier in a Protestant community (because of the much greater centrality of music in the liturgy, as opposed to the view of music by most pastors in most Catholic parishes - but I don't have hard numbers to support that contention, just experience).  I think if you're looking for a quantitative, mensurable study that "proves" the relationship between a children's choir and increasing numbers, I don't know of any out there, and I would be surprised if such a study had in fact been done that would stand up to hard scrutiny.  The metrics are just too hard to measure and to prove - I mean, if you saw an increase in parish numbers, how do you correlate that to the presence (or absence, for that matter) of a children's choir?  Or an adult choir?  Or the programs otherwise?  Yes, you can ask, but the answers may leave more questions than give answers.
 
Now, in a smaller, non-metropolitan parish or community, it might be possible to show the relationship - but even there, I'd be doubtful.  How do you tease out the attraction of the children's choir from other programs in bringing in new members?  I don't know how you would, usefully.  I guess the answer, finally, is that any such correlation would be incidental, not cause-and-effect.
 
Sorry for the lengthy answer, but your question is important enough to deserve a thorough answer.  I think, if I were to summarize Tom's, Ina's and my answers, it would be:  we have no hard numbers, and at least for three Catholic parish children's choir directors, we noted no correlation between the children's choir and an increased congregational participation or draw to non-members to join.
 
Chantez bien!
 
Ron
Applauded by an audience of 1
on July 16, 2013 10:47am
I'm struggling with this myself. The church I serve has had a K-3 and 4-8 choir, a K-3 handchime choir and 4-8 handbell choir. In the spring, it was like pulling teeth to get parents to bring their kids. So, what I'm doing is that I'm having a meeting in August, laying out options of the groups, doing a musical here and there, etc. and let the parents commit. One of the challenges I'm trying to figure out is that we are limited in numbers of children in our church, so even if they all participated, there's some room for growth. So, how to do that? I've encouraged the kids to invite friends, and that's worked from time to time. How to reach out to the community? Now that's the real question. And it's one I haven't found answers to just yet.
on July 16, 2013 11:22am
Some more thoughts, if I may.... otherwise I have to go out and weed the garden, and I think it's 95 degrees here today.
 
While I agree that it's hard to help the parish grow using the children's choir, at least the children themselves and their families attend religiously because of the choir.  I didn't mention that my choir sings the full service weekly, presenting a whole other set of hurdles, especially as new members join.  As for growing the parish, some people actually do church-shop, and will join a church because of a good program, or even just to hear the music.  Having our choir sing at our concerts, which do draw from the community, could act as a hook.  It's kind of hard to tell what impact it has in general because we have over 1200 attendees each weekend, spread out over 4 services.  My choir is also non-intentionally all girls at the moment, depite my maleness (or because of it?) and it is open to public school children as well as non-catholics.  We had two muslim girls in the past, and now have a few whose religion is not catholic, but I never asked.  I'm getting the impression (just attended an AGO convention in SC where one workshop focussed on choristers) that a program for younger children (2nd grade and lower, perhaps) that is not so ambitious in its music, creates a kind of feeder group for the bigger choir.  This way, you get kids used to the idea, with some skills that they learned in the younger group, making your older group better.  The speaker at the convention runs an English style chorister program with 100-200 participants, a staff, etc.  Don't know that I can do all that (or you) by myself, but at least it helps to aim high.
on July 17, 2013 4:33am
I have no hard numbers, either, but I have had families join because of my children's music program.  I agree with using a graded choir approach, as my preschool and youth choirs attracted new families, or at least brought families in when the choirs presented at services.  I think, too, that retention is improved, simply because older children are capable of more, and those same children usually do not want to sing with younger kids.  I'm a school music teacher with 21 years of experience under my belt, so my observations there helped shape my practices in recruitment and retention in my church choirs.  
 
Having built my first program in my Catholic church, I can say that I think the reason Catholic churches probably don't bring in new parishioners with a children's choir is because growth in the parish is largely due to moves from one Catholic church to another.  I've spent most of my career in Protestant churches, where families move from one church denomination to another more readily.  The move from a protestant church to a Catholic church involves a much greater commitment in terms of theology and personal faith.  A children's choir likely won't bring large numbers of new people in, but I did have a Methodist youth member rehearse and sing with my Catholic choir.  At least until she discovered that she couldn't share in Communion.  And then she left.  Just an example of what Catholic church music directors face.  
 
Spring is tough, anywhere.  I thought it was just in the Washington, DC area as Ron mentioned, but it's pervasive.  When I moved briefly back to Tennessee a few years ago, even Wednesday nights (formerly reserved only for church activities, even among school and community extracurricular programs) and, yes, Sundays have taken a backseat to sports.  Children run races-including races sponsored by Catholic churches, dang it!-on Sunday mornings in the spring and fall, attend swim meets and soccer practice on Sunday mornings, and the list goes on.  After school is improssible.  The best times I have found for rehearsals have been Sunday nights.  Extracurriculars just don't seem to happen then.  
 
Another issue with Catholic choirs is that, while some parish children will want to participate with the parochial school, others will not due to antipathy or lack of the feeling of belonging between the groups.  I was one of those children, and I was not alone.  I never felt I fit in with the school children, who tended to be close friends with other school children.   
 
I can't stress enough the importance of letting the kids do the recruiting.  I used the Chorister's Guild crosses and additions and gave children a certain number of "points" for bringing in new members, who had to stay for whatever minimum amount of time I specified.  Kids love to compete, and this was not based on musical ability, but on the power of persuasion.  Any child can bring another to rehearsal, even in a Catholic church, and once there, it's up to you to keep bringing them back.  I found that, by-and-large, the kids would usually forget to wear their pins when we sang, even when they were encrusted in pearls and rubies (fakes, obviously) and were given numerous reminders.  It wasn't about the pin, it was the feeling of being rewarded that they valued.  I was careful to give large numbers of point for other reasons, too, as some children (myself included) are not outgoing and just can't bring themselves to invite others.  
 
More on retention-my initial success in my Catholic church program was due to a huge effort on my part.  I called every parent in the parish to invite their children, I sent postcards to each child-not just to the family, but one addressed to every child-, and I had a welcoming party for each choir, complete with ice cream sundaes and a brief rehearsal.  Those things don't particularly work anymore.  This was back before there was caller ID and people started screening calls.  Postcards might still help as a hard reminder to post on the fridge (I always included a sentence stating that would help them remember).  Now we also have email blasts, too.  And you can buy mailing lists for your neighborhood.  
 
My summer choir camps brought in families, too.  Not many returned for choir in the fall, but that's a great time to establish relationships and give kids a taste of what's to come. I've also started to program a spring musical which will attract kids who can't necessarily, or don't want to, commit to a full year.  And they HAVE to be at rehearsals if they receive a part.  Otherwise, they will need to participate in the chorus or in some other capacity.  Same thing with the pageant, which I "took over" from the Christian Ed folks.  
 
I hope some of this helps.  You have to work hard, but once you put forward that initial effort yourself, and then institute some sort of point program, the children and their parents, will come.  
 
 
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