How to Teach a Congregational Class or Workshop: Part I

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Have you ever considered teaching a class or workshop?

Some of you may already do this - at a community music school, K-12 school, or local college or university. But, have you ever considered teaching members of your congregation?

Short-term classes, workshops, and mini-series are a great way to teach church members about music, worship, denominational history, etc. and help build a sense of community among the congregation.

Plus, if you plan a class that's several weeks long and happens to meet on Sundays, you may also (inadvertently) encourage regular attendance in worship.

If you love to read, research, and teach and you have curious congregation members who love to learn, this post is for you. Here's what you need to know:

Getting Started

1. Brainstorm a Topic

This is the fun part. What are you most excited about teaching? What interests you? What interests people in your congregation? Historical perspectives on hymnody, contemporary music, gospel/spirituals, your denomination, worship, etc. are great places to start. See more topic ideas and resource links below.

2. Decide How Long Your Class Will Be

Will it be a 1-day workshop, a 3-part series, or an 8-week class? Think about your time commitment and what you’ll be able to add to your schedule and what people are likely to be able to commit to. 

3. Find a Meeting Time

Think about what goes on in the life of your church during the week. When do people gather for meetings, classes, or rehearsals? What does your schedule look like during the week? When would you have some free time (and mental energy) to teach a class? Come up with a few options - maybe Sunday before or after church (during Sunday School hour), midweek (morning or evening), or Sunday evening, if your church has other events going on on Sunday nights. Poll a few people to gauge their interest and availability. Once you have a schedule in place, make sure to reserve a room and add your class or event to the church calendar.

4. Get the Word Out

Write up a few sentences about your class or workshop for the church newsletter, weekly email, bulletin, etc. Invite people to sign up for the class or event in advance so you have a better idea of who your audience will be.

5. Pick a Format

The format will likely vary based on the topic you choose. Will it be mostly instructional, with you giving lectures each week? Will it be more interactive for participants? Will it be music-based (will you ask participants to sing)? Depending on the topic, you might be able to do a mix of formats - lectures some weeks, interactive workshops other weeks. Also, think about your audience - are they mostly musicians or non musicians? Young adults, middle-age adults, older adults, or a mix of ages? This will help you determine how best to present your content.

6. Begin Planning

Once you’ve narrowed down your topic, determined the length of your class, set a meeting time, put the word out, and chosen a format, you’re ready to begin planning. 

Short on time? Here are seven (free) ready-made classes and workshops to use with your congregation. Class outlines, handouts, presentation slides, and suggested musical material are all included!

Seven Ready-Made Classes

01  |  The History of Congregational Song (10-week class)
includes teacher workbook and detailed course outline

An in-depth look at the history of congregational song, presented over the course of 10 weeks, written by Monica Harper. See p. 52 for a comprehensive teacher workbook, course outline, and related resources.

02  |  The Future of Traditional Worship and Music (seminar)
includes lecture notes, class handout, and PowerPoint slides

What is the future of traditional music in worship? Where are we going as a church? Examine the role of traditional music in worship from past, present, and future perspectives. (Make it more participatory by asking a few guided questions along the way and letting participants discuss in small groups, then as a large group.)

03  |  Singing Styles and Techniques (workshop)
includes leader notes, class handout, and PowerPoint slides

Experience a variety of musical styles and techniques in this workshop by singing hymns and songs from The United Methodist Hymnal, The Faith We Sing, and Worship & Song.

04  |  Metrical Singing (60-90 minute class)
includes leader notes

Learn about the metrical index of the hymnal with lots of musical examples and opportunities to sing along.

05  |  Communion liturgy (workshop)
includes leader notes and class handout

Explore the liturgy of Holy Communion, including the musical settings in The United Methodist Hymnal, The Faith We Sing, and Worship & Song and related hymns.

06  |  Indigenous music in worship (60-minute class)
includes leader notes

What is our indigenous music as a church? What is its role in worship? Explore the answers to these questions through group discussion and conversation. (Make it more participatory by planning ahead and singing a few examples of indigenous music of your congregation.)

07  |  A History of the Church’s Music (60-minute class)
includes class outline and reference list

Learn about congregational song through history in this introductory class, with musical examples (and opportunities to sing!) throughout.

Write Your Own Class

Feeling creative? Try your hand at writing your own class. Here are a few first steps:


Think about all the content you’d like to share. Make a master list of topics and musical examples as things come to mind. Review your content master list and begin grouping like items together into categories (the goal is to have 1-2 categories per class). Depending on your topic, you might have only four categories and you want to spend two weeks on each one. That’s totally fine. In other cases, you might have six categories that you’d like to cover in three weeks. Also fine. You have lots of flexibility here.


Spend some time thinking about the sequence of your content. Order your categories in a logical progression (this will give you a nice overview of the class) and rearrange the subcategories or topics in a way that makes sense (this is what each individual class will look like). Remember, the longer your class, the more in-depth you can go. For shorter classes/workshops, try not to cover too much content. When you finish this step, you should have a detailed, organized outline of your entire class.


Now it’s time to start filling in the details. Start fleshing out your outline with more detailed information, links to helpful resources, and guided questions and insert any musical examples throughout. I find it easiest to teach from a detailed outline with clear, succinct bullet points rather than reading from a  transcript. It might take a little experimenting to figure out what's easiest for you!

Helpful Class Resources

Whether you’re using a ready-made class or writing your own, here are a few helpful resources, guides, and historical overviews:


History of Hymnody
Nine online lectures by Kevin Twit on the history of hymnody and the role hymns (ancient and modern) play in worship.


Worship Order History
A historical look at the worship order and how it developed - from ancient times to present day.

A History of Worship in the Christian Reformed Church
A 10-page historical study by Bert Polman on the development of the Reformed tradition, from the Dutch Reformed liturgy of the 16th century to the 20th century Christian Reformed Church.


Singing the Psalms
A historical perspective on singing the psalms, a guide to singing psalm tones and from the psalter in your hymnal, and six creative ideas for using the psalter in modern worship.

African-American Spirituals are rich with heritage, musical history, and spiritual significance. This lecture recital, written and presented by Randye Jones of Grinnell College is based on the development of the Spiritual as a musical genre - “from cotton field to concert hall,” as the author puts it.

Music of the Early Methodist Church
In this paper, Scott Shaw outlines the relationship between music and Methodism, including biographical profiles on John and Charles Wesley and an examination of their four hymnbooks.

Singing Our Faith: The Power of Musical Theology
Nine insightful articles and indexes based on the theology of hymns and contemporary worship songs

Have you ever taught a class to your congregation? Let me know if you end up doing it this year - I’d love to hear about it!

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