4 Possible Reasons Your Congregation Didn’t Like The New Song

So you hear this great song and think it’s great for your choir or praise team. You go to all the trouble of learning it and teaching it. You perform it in the front of the congregation next Sunday and…. (insert cricket sounds here). The song bombs! It’s a very peculiar thing, isn’t it? Sometimes you’re just sure a song will bless everyone, because it blessed you! And then sometimes a song you don’t really care much for will tear the house up. It’s a very hard thing to predict sometimes. The good news is there are some pretty common things that can cause this to happen. Knowing what they are and making a couple of slight changes to your song selection process can dramatically increase your success rate with new songs.

Let’s start with the 4 most common reasons a song you loved ends up bombing:

1. Great music, weak message.

Gospel music isn’t like secular music. While we love our music, it is in fact still ministry. So if the song isn’t really saying much of anything people will pick up on that. We as musicians and singers love music on a deeper level than the average person sitting in the congregation. So we may grow so attached to a great musical arrangement that we become willing to overlook or justify lyrical content that is maybe more fluff than real message. This one is perhaps the most deceptive of the 3 I’ll give you today, because music just moves music lovers. But if you’re not very careful in this regard you could end up with a song that only moves the people in the music department, while leaving the congregation feeling like outsiders.

2. Great message, weak music

I know it’s hard to accept or even admit (which is why nobody else talks about this) but even a song with a good message can fail to go over well with the wrong arrangement. This one can get more complicated to explain, because of the propensity of songs to speak to people on such an individual way. So I’ll give you a case study. We had a director once who chose a song for us to sing. The message ministered to him in a deep and personal way, and he believed the message was too important not to do. Well, to make a long story short the song just went over like a rock with the choir. None of us liked it. We couldn’t feel it spiritually, and we just couldn’t get into it. The director felt so strongly about the song that he forced us to do it anyway. We obeyed. The song bombed. And we never did it again.

The thing about Gospel music is that it has to have both. It needs a great message AND a great musical arrangement. In the above example the message was a good one, but it was a very personal one. It was a song about God bringing someone back from the brink of suicide. Encouraging, but not something everyone can relate to. But that’s not what killed it for us. What killed it for us was the arrangement. It was a very slow, somber kind of musical arrangement that was very quiet and didn’t really build any sense of triumph until the end. Even the melody of the vocal arrangement had this sad, somber delivery through most of it. We were so depressed listening to that song we just couldn’t get into it. But because it meant so much to him, we did it anyway. You already know the results.

3. Great music, great lyrics, wrong style

Sometimes a song just has it all. Awesome musical arrangement, powerful message….but it still doesn’t go over well. Usually that’s because the style is wrong for your congregation. You should definitely bring variety to your music ministry. The key is being smart about how you use them, and knowing how far to go in either direction. There’s almost no extreme in the backwards direction. Older songs had a tendency to put much more thought into having both the music and the message. Then there’s that old-school sound that takes us all back.

Contemporary songs though, offer a lot more potential to get it wrong. Even with an audience that is receptive to contemporary music you have to be very careful how far you push the envelope. You are much more likely to end up with a song that fits scenario number 1 above when you’re dealing with contemporary Gospel/Christian music. The key is learning, observing and getting to know what your house responds to best. If you’re making the effort to do that and adjusting accordingly, your chances of success increase significantly. For example, even if your audience loves old traditional songs you have to be smart about how you incorporate them. In most churches an old traditional song will have a much more powerful effect if it’s used as a “throw-back” now and then instead of something that’s happening every Sunday. A really edgy contemporary song might bomb if the sanctuary choir did it but get a standing ovation from the junior choir.

One change you should consider if you don’t already do it this way, is to involve more than one person in the song selection process. We’ve done it this way for many years and it works very well. This gives you a system of checks and balances, so-to-speak.  That way you’re never choosing songs based on how it affected just one person.  Allowing a small group to listen, evaluate and vote on a song gives you a much better idea of how well it will go over.

4. Great Lyrics, Great Arrangement, Bad Performance

Let’s face it guys. Sometimes a song has everything it needs. It’s a great song, from front to back. Perfect for your audience, lines up with you Pastor’s vision, everything. And we just don’t pull it off.

A great song, no matter how amazing it is, can not overcome a bad performance. That’s why I’m such a big advocate of doing two things:
1. Choosing songs appropriate for your group’s skill level
2. Perfecting those songs to the best of your ability.

It takes a lot of honesty..and frankly, a lot of time…to realize a song is just not right for your group. It may be any number of reasons. And the thing is we often won’t know until we try it by learning it. But if you’ve tried it several times and just can’t get it down, it may be one you have to let go of.

Sometimes though, a great choir learns a great song but is still a bit unsure. But because they learned it they sing it anyway. Mistakes happen and it doesn’t go well. So don’t sing it until you have it down. There are other scenarios of course, but the main point here is to choose songs you can do and do them to the highest level your ministry can do them.

Help take your performances to the next level with professional vocal training. Study in the comfort and privacy of your own home, at your own pace. More Info:

Image courtesy of “Grant Cochrane”FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What Gospel Choirs Are Singing Across The Country

You may have seen my blog post recently entitled 47 Songs Youth Choirs Are Singing. In that blog I told you that the list was compiled entirely from the input of followers on my fan page. By the way if you’re not connected with me on Facebook you really are missing some great content. All day every day, 7 days a week I post content to the page.

So anyway I thought I’d get the FB family’s help once again and compile a list of songs Sanctuary choirs are singing. We got a lot of great feedback once again. Only this time I thought I’d include the actual post right here in the blog. This post is actually live, meaning you can like it, share it and even add to the post some of the great songs your choir is singing. Just click on whatever you need and you’ll go right to the post. So enjoy the entries we have so far and add your own. And don’t forget to click the like button if you’re not already a follower. Take care!

20 Questions To Ask If The Audience Won’t Get With Your Praise Team

I’ve seen and even written about the subject of unresponsive audiences in regard to praise & worship or even just selections from the choir. If you’ve ever done any research on the subject, chances are your search led you to articles that list some of the common reasons audiences are unresponsive to the praise and worship music going forth. I think they are important things to consider when you’re trying to figure out why your audience is unresponsive, so I’m going to list some of the most common questions you should ask if you find this situation.

But then I want to get into another aspect of unresponsive audiences that I don’t see covered very often at all. More about that a little later in the article. First though, let’s look at 20 possible reasons why your congregation may not be responding

 Song Selection

It’s important you know your audience well and what they respond to. This can sometimes be harder than it looks, because honestly most of us choose songs based not on whether or not we think our audience will be blessed by them, but by how much we like them ourselves. Sometimes we can get so caught up in the musical arrangement or the beat that we don’t pay as much attention to the message as we should. Sometimes it’s the style that’s losing your audience.

1.  Is it too contemporary?
2. Too dated or”old school?”
3. Too much of one or the other?
4. Are you doing too much new material (it’s hard for your audience to participate if you’re never doing anything they know)?
5. Are songs easy to catch on and sing?
6. Are the songs really praise and worship songs?

Musicianship

7. Is the music being played with a level of competence?
8. Can the audience recognize the song?
9. Is the volume too loud or too soft? (ok it’s never too soft, lol!)

Vocals

10. Is the harmony right?
11. Are the group members well-versed and learned on the material (do they know the song?)
12.Are you putting competent leaders up to lead songs?
13. Are your leaders and/or group members screaming?

Sound

14. Are the microphones too loud?
15. Are they feeding back?
16. Are the house speakers too loud?

Leadership

17. Is the leader actively exalting and leading the audience?
18. Is the leader reprimanding or scolding the audience for not participating? (don’t ever do this!)
19. Is the leader moving quickly between songs with little to no dead time?
20. Is the leader being led by the spirit and allowing for unscripted, organic worship and praise? (real praise and worship can’t always be scripted)

All of these issues and more are very common issues that audiences find very off-putting and distracting. It is very difficult for the audience to overcome those things and concentrate on praising and worshiping when these things are not being addressed regularly. And while it may seem almost unfair to some people that really haven’t fully grasped the importance of perfecting music ministry, the truth is it can be any one thing. Everything can be perfect, for example, and the microphones are way too loud or feeding back. Or everything is sounding great but the music was way too loud. Or the group sounded great but the leader didn’t really have the skill that the song required.

But let’s flip this coin for a minute and talk about something almost nobody touches on. Because you see, if we’re all being honest here, there are times when absolutely everything is the best it can be. The band is on point. the song selection is perfect. The group/choir sounds great. The leader is bringing it. And the audience is STILL unresponsive.

There are just days when despite your best efforts, the audience simply won’t be with you. Who knows what it is from one day to the next, but it does happen. It is on those days that worship leaders and song leaders make the worst mistake they can make. I touched on it in question number 18 but it’s important enough to elaborate on more here.

I’m speaking of the tendency many leaders have start reprimanding the audience to get them to participate. Understand what I’m referring to here. I’m not talking about the act of encouraging the audience to open up and feel free to worship. Encouraging them to lift their hands, stand, or sing along.

I’m talking about those who actually, in a sense, scold the audience for not being more engaged or participating more. Listen, nobody understands how frustrating an unresponsive audience is than I do. But scolding them will only cause them to resent you. which will only make them close off even more. Only now it may very well extend past the musical selections to the Pastor and the word of God itself.

That is why when you worship and praise God in song, your worship must be for real. It has to be about God, and NOT about the audience. I wrote in an article a while ago that it’s not a good idea to sing your entire selection with your eyes closed. That’s absolutely true. But much more importantly than that, you must never allow your worship or praise experience to depend on or be affected by the reactions of the audience.

When we sing, we should always sing to the glory and honor of God. As one speaker once told us at a choir banquet, we are to minister to Him, and He in turn ministers through us to His people. If you’re always looking for the audience’s reaction when you sing, you could find yourself very discouraged when you don’t get what you expected

It’s really not our job in music ministry to “make” the audience do anything. Any number of things could be the cause of unresponsiveness. I’ve seen times when, heck the people are just tired! The church has been in revival all week, or we’ve had back-to-back services, or a Saturday night service of some kind so everyone is kind of tired Sunday morning.

So yes, it is extremely important that we do everything we can to perfect, enhance, hone and polish every aspect of our music ministries. But at the end of the day every single minute we spend on any of that has to be for one reason and one reason only. That God be glorified. And when we stand before His people knowing that we’ve done everything we can to prepare ourselves to minister in excellence, even when they’re not responding we can then just worship Him from a pure, honest, deeply sincere place that has nothing to do with how many people stood up while we were singing. Or how many didn’t. For more praise team training check out my new e-book Praise Team 101

 

Tips for growing your choir

The gospel music industry is constantly evolving. With few exceptions, choirs have become almost extinct. But they remain a strong, viable and important element of music ministry in local churches across the country. Many local choir directors and ministers of music sometimes find it hard to keep their choir healthy and growing. I ran across a great article last night that listed some great tips in that regard. The article is entitled 5 Steps To Build Your Choir .

The website I found this on, http://ministry127.com/ , is a great resource for church leaders in all aspects of ministry, not just music ministry. Under the music ministry category I found several great articles just on choir alone.

For the African-American church anyway, it doesn’t appear that the Gospel choir is going anywhere any time soon. But like anything, a Gospel choir must continue to grow or it eventually dies. Recruiting members isn’t something most of us give much thought to. This article gives some simple, practical tips on how to keep your choir growing and why it’s important.  Make sure to head over to the link above and take a look at the article.

Having trouble finding new song leaders in your choir? Most would-be song leaders don’t come forward because of one thing. They’re afraid of doing adlibs. Develop and encourage new leaders from within your own ranks with my new  training video Adlib Like A Pro.

 

The top 5 most used choir director hand signals

When you’re learning how to be a good choir director, job one is learning how to give clear directions to your choir. To be effective though, you need to do two things. You need to learn how to give them early enough so your choir has time to understand what you want and be prepared to execute it. Secondly, you need to use gestures and/or hand signals that they can clearly understand. While every choir director develops his own style of giving direction over time, there are certain basic commands you need to learn right away to move your choir through a song. In Gospel music these commands have over time developed hand signals that are almost universally used in black churches.

Today I’ll reveal the top five Gospel choir hand signals:

1. Go back to the top!

This tells your choir to go back to the beginning of the song.
The hand signal: Place one hand over the top of your head, palm facing down

2. Sing that again!

This tells your choir to repeat something that was just sang. It’s most commonly used when you first take the choir into the vamp, but it can be used anywhere you want something repeated.
The hand signal:  Repeatedly make a circular motion with one arm, index finger extended.

3. Sing the verse here!  

Use this to let your choir know a verse is about to happen; whether it’s your leader or the choir that has it.
The hand signal:  Hold up the” Peace” sign nice and high so everyone can see it.

4. Let’s go to the vamp!

This tells your choir it’s time to” take it home”, as they say.
The hand signal:  With your thumb, do the hitch-hiking move over your shoulder.

5. Let’s end the song now! 

This tells the choir we’re about to do the big finale and end the song.

The hand signal:  Hold up one or both hands, arm(s) straight up. You can use clinched fists or open hands.

 

There ya go! Now, this is no means an all inclusive list of everything you’ll ever need. For example, you’ll need to learn how and when to ask them to clap, move from side to side, etc. For more reading on the subject you may also like 4 Things Every Good Choir Director Must Do.

 

 

The one unpleasant thing every music ministry MUST have

If there’s one thing all choirs, praise teams, and pretty-much any other music ministry with more than one member have in common it’s personnel issues. That’s a broad term, to be sure. But I’m speaking specifically of the common problems most ministries deal with in regard to people just consistently being there and being on time.  It can really throw a monkey wrench in things when you’ve rehearsed material for Sunday morning and you’re depending on key people to be in place, only to find them absent or simply arriving too late.

There are times when a choir or praise team can’t do the song they planned to do because the leader who was supposed to sing it isn’t there, or the musician, or the director, or half the alto section- you get the idea. And while every music ministry who is preparing themselves well at rehearsal will have back-up songs in place for just such occurrences,  when it’s happening all the time it can really become a hindrance to the group’s ability to minister effectively. Not to mention it’s just plain frustrating and unfair to everyone involved with the process of learning, teaching and perfecting the songs.

While I haven’t always felt this way, as I’ve grown and matured over the years I’ve come to understand that you can’t always assume that what things look like from your vantage point is the Gospel truth. There may in fact be- and there usually is, to be honest- very valid reasons why a person is consistently late or absent at key times.  But if we’re going to be honest, we must also point out that for every person having a serious life circumstance that causes them to continually be absent or late, there must be 2 or 3 who could absolutely be on time with a little more effort.

There’s really only one way to effectively and fairly handle issues like this. But it’s one many choirs and praise teams don’t want to resort to. It’s the one thing that is, I believe, necessary and vital to the success of ANY organization, but especially music ministries. This unpleasant thing is:

Rules.

Rules are a no-brainer for most organizations. It just makes sense. It’s expected. Music departments though-especially smaller ones who don’t have many members to start with- have a hard time enforcing rules. You see if my choir only has about 10 members then I need every single body. So if 3 Sopranos come in late, I’m just glad they showed up. Come on up here!!

There is also the emotional difficulty of the task itself. It’s no fun telling people they can’t sing today. Especially when you really don’t know what the underlying issue is. But the truth is, the consequences of not having any rules in place-or having them and not enforcing them- soon become greater than the unpleasantness of enforcing them. When there are no rules that govern attendance and timeliness, then spotty attendance and tardiness become the acceptable norm for many members.

When you know you can be a half hour late on Sunday morning and still come on up, that’s exactly what you’ll do. As I said earlier, not every person that is late or absent is habitually doing so without cause. There are people who have real challenges that are valid. Challenges that they are working through and praying about. Issues that they’re fighting through in order to be there. But there are also people who simply aren’t putting forth the effort to be there on time.

As unpleasant as it is to do, rules are the only way to filter the two and make the whole thing fair for everyone. You will find that when there is a consequence for tardiness, for example- that people who are tardy for a reason they can’t help will come to you and discuss a solution. They will come to you in humility and explain their situation, offer to sit out for a while, try to work something out.
But the first time the person who is just late because they don’t want to leave home earlier has to sit in the audience and watch that ministry go forth in the Lord, they will feel something they haven’t felt before. They will feel the unpleasantness of not being able to come up and participate in the ministry. That is a powerful motivator, believe me. I’ll never forget one time my keyboard was in the shop for a while. Now, I didn’t sit in the audience, I simply went up and joined the Tenors in the choir stand. But the whole morning I was looking over there at the band going forth and just burning inside wishing I was over there too. And I LOVE to sing! So imagine what a person who enjoys singing in the choir or on the praise team would feel sitting in the audience unable to participate.

That feeling alone is often enough to motivate a person who is habitually late on Sunday mornings or absent at rehearsal to make an effort to be there that they simply hadn’t made before. But if I can miss rehearsal and still sing Sunday; AND I don’t even have to get up any earlier because I can still go up and sing even if I’m late…then there just isn’t much motivation for me to make any additional sacrifice to improve my attendance or my tardiness.

And as long as we’re talking about sacrifice, the fact that enforcing rules comes with sacrifice for the whole ministry isn’t lost on me. I understand better than anyone that when you start enforcing rules that force people to sit out when they miss rehearsal or show up late on Sunday, it can really put the ministry at a disadvantage. That’s especially true of smaller ministries where every member is critical.

This is in fact the most common reason most ministries don’t have, or don’t enforce rules that govern attendance and tardiness. But the fact is, your ministry will be held hostage by the issue until it is addressed with some kind of consequence. Your choir may have to do the crutch song  one Sunday instead of the one you rehearsed. Or the Praise team may have to go with plan B. Or there may be fewer bodies up there than you’d like.

But in all likelihood you won’t have to deal with that scenario too many times once you start enforcing some standard that does not allow people who habitually miss rehearsal or come in late to perform anyway. Rules are unpleasant to enforce and can be hard on everyone, really. But they have a very powerful way of making people either step up or step aside. Either way your ministry ends up better off in the end.