Ministry is often defined as "spiritual work or service." As it says in 1 Peter 4:10, "As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace." But I think it's more than serving; I think ministry has a way of giving back and blessing us in return.
The key is, ministry is relational. It requires community, however big or small.
In fact, I believe the heart of ministry is community - a sense of connectedness, fellowship, and unity; shared responsibility and ownership. If we aren't united in our mission and work together as a choir, what kind of ministry do we have?
At a church I worked for earlier in my career, the choir was known as the "war department." They had specific seats in the chancel and choir room (and specific seat cushions). They were described as being a little territorial about their folders, robes, and music. And I was told they did not like being together any longer than they had to.
But slowly, over the course of two years, we cultivated a true community. The choir grew to enjoy spending time together outside of rehearsal (and they lived for the 5-minute talk break in the middle of our rehearsals). They became a community that grew together, changed together, supported one another, and genuinely cared for one another.
I can't take credit for it (because community is shared), but I can share my perspective and offer some insight. Here are a few thoughts on building community in church choirs:
01 | Be sociable
Arrive early to rehearsal and spend a few minutes talking with choir members. Prepare for rehearsal in advance so you can spend the 10-15 minutes before rehearsal relaxing and visiting with members. Take an interest in their work, their families, their hobbies, and their travels. Ask questions and get to know them a little better. (source)
02 | Include a talk break
Encourage choir members to talk to each, be social, and develop friendships - this is an important part of building community. However, letting them talk all through rehearsal is distracting and counterproductive to the work you have to do. Instead, give choir members a break mid-rehearsal - a designated time to catch up with their neighbor. This helps new members feel like part of the group, it promotes the social aspect of being in choir, and it helps members develop friendships and build trust. (source)
03 | Mix up
Feeling stuck? Try a new seating arrangement or get the choir up out of their seats, standing in a new formation. This gives choir members an opportunity to stand next to/meet new people and break out of those familiar ruts (source). Looking for ideas? Take a look at this handy infographic with 10 ways to seat a choir.
04 | Get together outside of rehearsal
If your choir is not used to getting together in social settings, start with something basic. Plan 1-2 social events each year (a Christmas party and an end-of-year family picnic, for instance). Invite families or spouses/significant others, have a potluck dinner or ask everyone to bring an appetizer or dessert to share. Hire a band or a cappella group or jazz trio. Plan games or activities for the kids if this is a family event (for an outdoor picnic, think balloon volleyball, chalk, hopscotch, relay races, jump rope, four square, etc.). Take a few moments to tell the choir how much you appreciate them and the work they do.
05 | Build trust
Trust means believing in "the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something," but it also means "being responsible for someone or something." It goes both ways. It means being vulnerable, honest, respectful, and dedicated. Trust is a relationship, a sense of safety and care for one another (source). Help your choir members build trust by trusting them - be open and honest, be authentic and real with them in rehearsal, share your heart for ministry, talk about your faith. Trust means sharing responsibility, having mutual respect, and genuinely caring about the well-being of others.
06 | Encourage them
Many of the people who sing in our choirs are volunteers and amateur musicians. Be supportive and encouraging. Build their confidence in rehearsal - teach them about music and worship and help them take pride in your work together and the music you sing. Honor and respect them and help them feel good about being part of something bigger than themselves. (source)
07 | Be humble
Show choir members what it means to serve the Lord wholeheartedly. Demonstrate humility and grace in your work, leadership, and dealings with others. "Wholeheartedness means focusing on giving our best in all we do, not for the accolades we might receive but out of a desire to do what we do as unto Christ (see Colossians 3:23). As we go about our daily tasks with thankfulness, integrity, and wholeheartedness, God sees and is pleased. Others see and His reputation is enhanced—He is glorified. When we seek to glorify God in all we do, all we do becomes ministry." (source)
08 | Pray together
A choir that prays together, stays together. Prayer is an active way to invite God into the work we do. A short opening prayer at the beginning of rehearsal or before going into worship helps focus our hearts and minds on the meaning of what we do. Taking a few minutes at the end of rehearsal to share joys and concerns and lift each other up helps build community among choir members.
The choir at my home church used to stand in a circle at the end of every rehearsal. We held hands, shared bits and pieces of our lives - things we were celebrating, losses, fears, hopes - and prayed together. This experience had a profound impact on the way I see church choirs and how I think about ministry. It's a tradition I've carried with me to all the places I've served. At my last church, coming together in prayer each week - drawing close to God - helped unite us and draw us closer to one another.
09 | Keep up with members
Take note of when people are absent without notice. Reach out to them (or appoint people in the choir who can). Send a quick email or call them to see how they're doing. "Personal contact between the director and members helps build a more committed choir" (source). For those with a new baby, or recovering from surgery, or dealing with a loss in the family, organize meals, send a card signed by choir members, or collect monetary donations for flowers. Let people know that you (collectively) care, that they matter, that they are missed when they're not there.
10 | Serve together
William Perkins once said, "The main end of our lives is to serve God in the serving of men in the works of our callings." In music ministry, we serve together on a weekly basis, in worship, but what else could you do? Perhaps you could volunteer as a choir to serve dinner at your local soup kitchen on choir night (near the end of the year when there are fewer anthems in the folder!). Or, you could host a coffee and dessert night for widows and widowers around Valentine's Day. Maybe a small group of choir members sign up for a community service project or church work day.
Did any of these things resonate with you? How do you build community in your choir?