Advertise on ChoralNet 
ChoralNet logo
The mission of the ACDA is to inspire excellence in choral music through education, performance, composition, and advocacy.

Church choir recruitment/attendance

Hi all!
I'm new to the forum and I'm guessing this is a common topic, but I'm curious to hear from other church choir conductors about their experience with recruitment and attendance. We are a smallish church of about 300+ active members. There are about 16 core singers on average, but the choir could be double that if everyone who ever sung with the choir or who has an interest in singing actually came even half the time! We provide an anthem every week during the school year and at times I'm sweating it out because the people at the last rehearsal may be different than the people at this rehearsal may be different than the people on Sunday. I'm even challenged to get people to commit for major church holidays. Ability of the group as a whole is moderate with a mix of novice singers and those who have sung their whole lives. Range is also moderate and I'm always hurting for Sopranos and Basses. We do a variety of repertoire from classical to contemporary. Thoughts? 
Replies (6): Threaded | Chronological
on March 8, 2014 6:01am
Book a concert. Folks seem to need big reasons to fit things in nowadays. Make it whatever size event is sure to be successful. My church choir started with a pass-the-plate performance in our resonant gym. We now do an annual electic Christmas concert with a local jazz singer (we do the Rutter, she does the gospel) as a major fundraiser, and it's a smash every year. The quality of the choir has risen tremendously since we started and the commitment to rehearsal is quite good for the whole year. 
Best of luck!
Applauded by an audience of 2
on March 8, 2014 6:02am
Hi Ellie, 
That is frustrating!  But on the other hand, 16 singers for a church of 300 is not bad at all!  
To pick this apart...  when people don't come to rehearsal, why don't they come?  Since you have steady numbers of people who are regularly interested, (they aren't dwindling slowly over time, they just have irregular attendance), it sounds like you have a busy congregation, not a motivation problem.  That's not something that you can do anything about, or should do anything about.  Good for your parishioners!  They are active and engaged!  What a great church!  You don't need to start competing with the Sunday school or church committees for their attention.  That's just going to cause bad feelings.  
What you can do is make it as easy as possible for everyone to keep you informed of their schedules, to limit your own frustration and allow you to plan in advance as much as possible.  I'd bet your singers feel a little guilty when they can't make it to rehearsal, and that may make them a little reluctant to let you know about absences in a timely manner.  Be sure it is clear that you love to have them whenever they can be there, and that it helps you plan if you know in advance.  Put a calendar in the choir room for everyone to mark upcoming absences, put it right next to the pencils, or the folder cabinet so that they will remember.  Remind everyone periodically to let you know that they will be missing, particularly when school vacations are coming up.  
I'd also be sure that it is as easy as possible for your singers to be prepared, even when they have missed a rehearsal.  I'd bet you occasionally have someone who misses a rehearsal, and therefore skips a service because they feel unprepared.  I'd bet you also have people who are unprepared and you wish they had skipped the service.  Everyone doesn't need to know their part perfectly, you just need critical mass of those that do.  Email around the list of upcoming music to work on once a week.  With links to youtube videos of performances so people can get a feel for their part, even if they don't have the notes perfectly.  Not everyone will take advantage of this, but some people will.  Encourage everyone to take their music home to work on their own.  (Send them home with photocopies if you worry about them remembering to bring music back.)
I'd also work ahead as much as possible in every rehearsal.  Spend five minutes per piece working ahead in your schedule and then 30 minutes on the intended anthem for that week.  If you have a bunch of music that you have touched lightly on, you can make a quick substitution on Sunday morning when you discover that you have no basses whatsoever.  If you have spent all of rehearsal just working one or two pieces, you have limited options for substitutions.  Be sure you always have a few easy pieces in your rehearsal rotation.  The Sunday that the stars align and everyone is there, do the big number with all the divisi.  (Start touching on those as far in advance as possible.)  The rest of the time, you will have something to fall back on.  (Working ahead like this will also gradually improve everyone's sight-reading.)
Keep good notes for yourself on what you've worked when, so you are making good decisions about how to use your rehearsal time going forward.
Finally, be sure that the church administration knows that this is a challenge for you, and understands how you are dealing with it.  Let them know that at this point, it's not realistic for you to let them know what the anthem is going to be a month in advance.  Be sure that they trust you to have a variety of seasonally-appropriate pieces in progress.  Occasionally, blow their socks off with something that you have been touching on here and there for six months.  
Good luck!
M. Furtak
Applauded by an audience of 2
on March 9, 2014 10:55am
Thank you Karen! Even if a concert doesn't improve weekly attendance, it sounds like fun! I'll seriously consider it! -E
on March 9, 2014 10:57am
Thanks Maggie! I appreciate your practical tips. Great ideas. And I need to remember that everyone is doing the best they can, make the most of it, and appreciate the level of contribution they can do! 
on March 9, 2014 11:48am
Find a hymn that's melody is in the lower middle range of the voice, for the congregation to sing.  Write a descant to it that's easy and pretty.  Include the descant in the bulletin.  Have ladies in congregation sing it when it comes to that point.  Ask your pastor if he/she can make an announcement about church choir auditions, and say that it's things like what we just sang that you'll get to experience on a more regular basis.  Involving the congregation in a more-than-unison way is they key, and the challenge.  Good luck!  :)
on March 9, 2014 4:35pm
I agree with Maggie that believing the best, strong communication and plenty of lead time go a long way.  My choir likes it if I hand out the list of upcoming anthems AND email it.  My church is smaller than yours (ca 180 on Sunday) as is my choir, and many singers are heavily involved in church leadership, mission, teaching--not to mention PTA, soccer, etc!  I had a conversation with the choir and asked how many times a month they wanted to sing, and they pretty much agreed that 3x per month was better than 4.  Even for the people who come regularly, they are glad for a chance to sit with their family, see the front of the preacher rather than the back, listen to other musical offerings.  It seemed to take some pressure off.  In our case, that works well because we also have a children's choir, handbell choir, talented instrumental soloists who can fill the anthem slot.  So we generally have handbells 1/month, kid 1/month, adult choir 3/month, more or less.
For major church holidays, I always invite college students and young adults who sing to join us if they are coming home. At Christmas, that adds 4-6 more singers. And most are good enough musicians that they can pretty much sightread normal church anthems.  One guy gives "singing in the choir on Christmas Eve" to his mom as his Christmas present every year. 
As for the novices, say you are willing to come 15 minutes early to work parts, do vocal coaching, teach sight-reading.  Provide part recordings if you can make the time. We have one lovely grandma who had hever been in choir, couldn't read music.  If I make her a CD, she works on it at home.  And she keeps saying "I can't believe I am getting to be part of something like this." 
You will figure out what works in your situation!
  • You must log in or register to be able to reply to this message.