LOVELAND, CO (August 15, 2011) – Editor’s note: closing ministries in a church can be difficult – re-launching them can be difficult as well. Jessica Perez, worship arts director at Crossroads Church, an Evangelical Covenant Church in Loveland, Colorado, recently did just that, but it meant making some changes. The following is a slightly edited version of an article she wrote for the denomination’s Worship Connect Blog. Each week, the blog posts an article by someone involved in worship planning.
By Jessica Perez
Crossroads Church is relatively young. We started in January of 1996, and I came on staff in July of 2001. We were in need of a well-crafted audition process for choosing a band and singers. As I developed that process while raising the bar of quality, I noticed the need to also have a choir that was open to anyone.
I often say, “If you love singing, have passion for worship and love having fun, then I’d love to have you in our choir.” As a former middle school music educator, I’m sensitive to people’s fears about singing alone, and I tell them so. I never put anyone on the spot by asking them to sing alone. I like to help these adults to open up, risk and sing better than ever before.
The worship choir model hasn’t worked perfectly for all 10 years. This past year, I re-launched it after a two-year break. Some of it was limping so badly that I needed to put it to bed and let it rest so that in the re-launch, we’d have a chance at success. Because this ministry has been life-giving to so many, I wanted it to work. When it restarted, all of my dedicated choir members were there again.
Re-launching meant holding true to our essentials for the choir and making changes from the way our choir operated before:
The first is essential is it must be fun. I approach choir understanding that these people have worked all day. They’re stressed. They need community. We laugh so hard that we cry. It’s an absolutely crazy and wild time. We talk often about needing a midweek boost to worship God with all of our hearts. They practice letting go and pouring their hearts into it. It’s loud and fun!
We’re a core part of the music ministry, but choir is also its own ministry and support group. Sometimes I wonder what is the best part of choir – participating on the weekend or doing life together big time on Thursday nights? There’s always someone in choir who is hanging on for dear life. We’ve loved, supported and carried people through painful seasons of life. Two examples: We’ve prayed with the wife of a deployed soldier, helped move the single mother who had one hour to move from one home to the next, and currently, a tenor fighting cancer.
The people who are drawn to sing in a worship choir with a rock band are bold, courageous, spontaneous leaders. They take the participation of worship in our services to a new level. They are leaders, modeling how to worship. I encourage them to open their hearts, raise their hands, close their eyes, clap and move. Go for it. And if they’re new and a bit scared, I put them in the middle row and tell them to “ride the wave.”
They’re also passionate about serving God and the church. They’re always available to jump in and help anywhere. Easter weekend this year, they sang all seven services and went from the stage to children’s ministries to see where they were short children’s volunteers. I’m proud to lead this group of servants.
There were important changes as well.
We have a uniform for dress, which has made a huge difference in the choir package. They dress modestly and wear solids. Black, grey, dark denim, accenting in white or a color I’ll add for them. Visually, they flow, and they understand I am protecting them from drawing attention to themselves.
Members must commit seasonally. At Crossroads, we have four weekend services – 4:30 p.m. on Saturdays, as well as 8:30, 10 and 11:30 a.m. on Sundays, so it is quite a commitment for a volunteer choir. It has helped me maintain the choir by scheduling them seasonally and asking for a commitment. Each season, they get the rehearsal schedule and the six weekends that we’ll be singing. Then it’s another six weeks off.
We are strategic and certain about when to sing parts/unison. Whenever we break down to the congregation voices, we don’t always want harmony. Most of the time, choir raises a big, fat unison. Their voices fill the room as the church and you can feel the participation in the room rise, too. Sometimes I’ll hear, “You can’t hear the choir!” But really, in my approach, choir is supporting church singing.
We purchased new choir risers. I really wanted the choir steps to be sharp stage pieces that would look great even when choir is not up singing. These were affectionately named the “Star Wars, death star steps.”
By holding to the essentials and making changes where necessary, Crossroads’ worship is better than ever.