A Fun and Rewarding Experience for Your Youth Choir This Season

Hi friends! 

Today, I'm sharing another post by my church musician friend, Janis Maxwell. Janis is Director of Youth Music Ministry and Organist at Athens First United Methodist in Athens, GA (Go Dawgs!). When it comes to youth choir and youth ministry, she is a wealth of knowledge and creative ideas and I know you'll love what she has to share.

Have a topic you'd like her to write about in the future? Leave a comment at the end of this post! - Ashley

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Whew! Take a breath.

It’s that time of year again. We are rushing to get music learned, behavior modified, costumes made, lines learned, food prepared, and everything cleaned. Rushing to the manger, with a little chaos, a lot of excitement, and, hopefully, the right spirit.

This is the time of year that we do a lot of outreach (especially in the “assisted living” department), so I want to share with you an idea that we found to be fun and surprisingly rewarding.

A few years ago, I scheduled our youth choir to sing at a local assisted living facility, very early in the school year.

What was I thinking?

I realized pretty quickly that we would have no music prepared that early in the season. I am still not sure how someone with as much gray hair as I have could have made such a rookie mistake, but there it was. The visit was looming and we had maybe one song learned.

To cover my error, I had to get creative and do a lot of praying. The result was proof that God answers prayer! 

I dug around our church closets and found a box of old paperback songbooks full of the “oldies but goodies” hymns that our seniors love. Then we spent one choir practice going through this book and singing through the most familiar tunes. I was surprised how quickly the kids caught on to things like “I’ll Fly Away” and “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms”. 

(Note: If you don’t have songbooks, you can always make a booklet, with hymn sheets or just the words typed out.)

When we arrived, we sang our one song that we knew. Then we passed out the books and had an old-fashioned, intergenerational, sing-along! The residents loved it and really sang out with us! We mixed a few praise choruses in and the kids were amazed these “older” folks knew a lot of the newer music as well.

After about 15 minutes of singing, we did an activity. I love the interactive stuff and think it is so important to get the kids into the “audience” to talk with these awesome seniors. I had each student “interview” an older adult.

I typed up a paper for them to go by with questions like:

  1. What job did you have when you were 16 years old?
  2. Where is the furthest place you have visited?
  3. What is the most adventurous thing you have ever done?

We helped the kids all find a partner and gave them about 10 minutes to do this.

Then, a surprising thing happened.

The kids came back up to the front of the room and I thought we were about to say our goodbyes. On a whim, I said, “Who would like to share one of their answers?” Every hand in the choir went up.

I realized something off-script was about to happen.

I called on one student to tell us what adventurous thing her interviewee had done and she said, “Mountain climbing in Africa”. Then, I turned to the seniors and let them guess who had done this. Turns out, they didn’t know a lot of things about each other! They had a blast trying to figure out who had traveled the furthest, what kinds of jobs their peers had done, and many more things!

This activity helped our students realize something fundamental: that seniors are people with real pasts and amazing stories. It also gave the residents an opportunity to find out things about their neighbors that they hadn’t known before.

If you are looking for an outreach activity to do during the holidays, I hope this is helpful!

My prayers are with you as you do what music ministers do best: spread love and peace and comfort through the music we make together.

Happy Holidays!

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Janis Maxwell serves as Director of Youth Music Ministry and Organist at Athens First United Methodist Church.

Her passion for youth choir ministry began at age 16 and her excitement for the power of music and its ability to transform lives has never diminished. Janis holds music degrees from Anderson University and The University of Georgia. She does continuing education with YouthCueChorister’s Guild, the Chorister’s Guild Institute and the American Guild of Organists.

She and her husband, Mark, live in Athens, Georgia and have three grown children.

Photo Credit: SC Stockshop. Used with permission.