As people have become busier and overcommitted, scheduling rehearsals and other music and worship ministry activities is increasingly challenging. With many longer working hours, economic challenges, two career families, children involved in extracurricular activities, long commutes, and the advent of technology and our being always reachable and connected, many people are left with little margin for other activities, and often church commitments may be the first to go. Yet, those in leadership realize both the benefit of music and worship ministry participation for the individual and the contribution that regular participation makes to the faith community. What can we do to encourage participation by those with little time to offer to the church and its ministries?
Alter rehearsal location(s) – If commutes are problematic, consider holding rehearsals at locations other than the church. If most people in the group live in a certain part of a city, relocate rehearsals to another location that makes participation more convenient.
Rehearse parts of the whole – Meeting with small groups in sectionals, rehearsing those who need help the most apart from others, and holding bonus rehearsals for those who can come speeds up the learning process and reduces the time needed for large group commitment.
Well-planned rehearsals – In order for every rehearsal to be efficient and carefully planned, the person in charge must spend considerable time in advance of the rehearsal anticipating problems and imagining solutions.
Shorten rehearsals – Well-planned and fast-paced rehearsals can accomplish the needed amount of work in less time. Even by shortening a rehearsal by fifteen minutes, some would-be participants may be able to attend.
Offer pre-rehearsal assistance – Post recordings and other learning aids for participants to download in advance of the rehearsal. Listening to these recordings prior to the rehearsal can significantly enhance learning time when the group convenes.
Consider smaller ensembles – Rather than working with a larger group each week, consider dividing the group into several smaller ensembles that lead worship on a rotating basis or for a one-month stint every three to four months.
Evaluate youth and children – Traditionally, most children’s and youth music ministry groups have met for weekly rehearsals during the entire school term. However, when participants and their leaders are stretched for rehearsal time, consider meeting for six weeks in the fall and six weeks in the spring or consider working on a specific music project during an intensive camp or weekend experience. Leadership and potential participants may be able to commit to six consecutive weeks twice per year but not be able to meet for the normal twelve to sixteen week semesters. Sometimes an intensive several weeks (sprint) is more effective than a much slower paced (marathon) many-week commitment.
Explore intergenerational experiences – When family members have to come to the church for multiple rehearsals on different days and times, we risk the possibility that none of them will participate in music and worship leadership. Offering non-conventional music groupings offers the possibility of having families of various ages participate in music making together – choirs, worship leadership teams, and seasonal presentations.
Intensive up-front rehearsals – Rather than meeting weekly, consider having an intensive Saturday or Sunday after-church rehearsal to learn the bulk of the music in advance. In our church, we front-load all summer choral music for our choir during late spring rehearsals. Consequently, we only meet each Sunday morning during the summer prior to worship in order to polish the day’s musical presentation.
Meet when people are already present – Rather than coming back to church later on a Sunday or at another time during the week, hold rehearsals when people are already present. Often times providing a light lunch or small snack allows people to stay for an extra hour of rehearsal. The time saved in commuting, etc. may be well worth the effort.
Commit to using time stewardship – In our church, I commit to the main church choir that we will not hold extra rehearsals for regular weekly singing or for seasonal presentations. Instead of extra rehearsals for special services, we lengthen the last rehearsals before a major presentation initially by fifteen minutes and up to one hour the rehearsal before the presentation. Rather than rehearsing with any outside instrumentalists the day before, we meet prior to the presentation for this rehearsal. Consequently, we are better able to remember what we have rehearsed when the rehearsal and presentation are on the same day.
Go public with the calendar – Publish the rehearsal calendar for all music and worship ministry groups many months in advance. For the school year, calendars should be available for all groups several weeks before school starts. Include all rehearsals and expected commitments.
Learn to live with good enough – The idea that we have unlimited time to perfect the musical art is not relevant to our culture. In reality, we have a given amount of time to rehearse both for weekly and longer-term presentations. When the time expires, we present what we have prepared in whatever stage the music happens to be. In a sense, public presentations may be viewed as opening the door to rehearsal and giving others the opportunity to participate in the music at its current stage in the developmental process. On a different day or time of the year with a different configuration of people and circumstances, what we present and others hear and see would be different. What we offer is our best within the context of a given moment. It is good enough, and we must accept and affirm our musical offerings.
Utilize easier music – Often the need for multiple extra rehearsals is a result of choosing music that is too difficult for the ensemble. Consider choosing music that requires fewer singers, less divisi, more traditional harmonies, and greater reliance on instrumental embellishment instead of unnecessarily difficult part writing.
Consider shortening songs and presentation lengths – Few if anyone will criticize a shorter program, yet seasonal programs are often much longer than most people who attend would prefer to hear. A special program of 45 to 50 minutes is adequate and usually appreciated.
Utilize others in programming – Greater reliance on the congregation, soloists, ensembles, and instrumentalists can make the rehearsal time needed for larger groups much less intensive. Such programming can also provide greater visual, tonal, and style diversity.
Adapt music to fit – Too often we believe that we have to sing a song as it is recorded, printed, or presented in some other setting. Congregationally, singing only a portion of a song (perhaps omitting a complicated bridge) can cut minutes from a rehearsal. Chorally, cutting the back-up parts to a solo section (or assigning them to a quartet who reads well) can shave blocks of rehearsal time. Simplifying complex endings by reducing parts, combining all voices for unison sections, and assigning intricate sections of pieces to a smaller group can significantly reduce rehearsal time.
Do you have other ideas that you’ve tried that work? Please share them in the comments section below.