This week’s question comes from a small church pastor. Can those of us who have enjoyed serving small congregations relate to this challenge?
I am a few months into a new call to another small congregation. They are delightful and I am happy to say that we are getting off to a great start!
One thing I miss from my previous small congregation is enthusiastic congregational singing in worship services. Even on Easter, with the congregation size doubled to about 100, I could barely hear anyone singing the joyous Easter hymns along with the piano. The room was full, so it’s not like the sound was getting lost in a cavernous space.
We have no choir, of course, and the pianist has no interest in worship leadership. I am not a musician, so I am not the likely one to encourage more robust singing. This seems like an opportunity, but I have no idea what to do. Any ideas?
Yes, our Matriarchs do have ideas. Read on!
Jennifer Burns Lewis
It’s hard to answer this question without knowing more about the congregation members and what their familiar hymns are, whether the accompaniment is loud enough and strong enough to follow confidently, etc.
It sounds like you might be missing vocal leadership. One suggestion might be to lean into your newness, invite them to adopt something new (a sung response, perhaps?) that could serve as an opportunity to share the hope that you will learn it together and offer it each week as a robust, joyful, confident, musical expression of their faith.
What a great approach, Jennifer, for a newly-called pastor to “lean into your newness.” I can imagine that a congregation could buy into a new tradition with renewed enthusiasm. And perhaps a non-musical pastor – ahem — might not know that a louder accompaniment would support louder singing.
Jennifer Burns Lewis
What about a pick-up choir for the summer that offers support for congregational singing? A survey monkey to see who’s hiding their musical gifts under a bushel might be in order, with a simple, no-fuss opportunity for folks who enjoy singing to sit together and serve as musical strength in the congregation.
On occasion I have had the congregation stand and face one another across the aisle to sing a favorite hymn a cappella. I have the organist start us and fade out. People have to sing out or the music is lost. It has worked beautifully for me. I also introduce it with the idea, “Don’t jump immediately to whether or not you LIKE this, but consider what you learn from this.”
Kelley Wehmeyer Shinn
Maybe an all-church hymn sing in a different setting would help to get their singing juices going. Or a hymn study on the background and meaning of hymns, followed by a “listen and learn” hymn sing led by the pianist and you.’’
Thank you, Matriarchs! Wise and wonderful, as always.
What would you add to these great ideas? Offer your robust congregational singing strategies in the comments below.
Are you a small church pastor facing a big challenge? Or are you a large church pastor dealing with a small but persistent unresolved issues? Ask our Matriarchs and get some support. Send your scenario to askthematriarch (at) gmail (dot) com and let us help.
Rev. Sharon M. Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor living in Austin, TX. She is a contributor to the RevGals book There’s a Woman in the Pulpit and blogs erratically at Tidings of Comfort and Joy.
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