Leading Children and Youth Choirs

Leading Children and Youth Choirs
Carl Hopper

An excellent children’s choir is capable of powerful ministry. Its music can lift our hearts in worship with simple, clear tones that are almost angelic in quality. People will come to hear their children sing when they would never darken a church door for any other reason.

Along with this unique ministry come a few major challenges: How does someone select appropriate music for children? How can discipline be handled positively? And what are realistic expectations for children?


Music selection provides the diet on which the health of the overall program ought to flourish. With the plethora of possibilities vying for attention, it is easy to become sidetracked with cute artwork and fancy packaging. We need to get into the music itself to determine its appropriateness. Three specific guidelines will help:

* Does the song have significance? Songs that are of little value textually have limited places for expression in the worship and Christian nurturing of our children. If we become preoccupied with cute songs, we run the risk of creating a perception of a cutesy purpose, obscuring the real significance of children’s music ministry.

* Does the text use too much abstract imagery to convey its meaning? Young children think literally, not abstractly or symbolically. While songs that employ imagery may be biblical, they should be delayed until late childhood or early teen years to maximize their effectiveness.

* What is the vocal range of the songs? Much of the children’s music that is being published today is written in the low-chest register. It is impossible to train children to sing in their head voice if the register is too low. The middle treble staff (from E to B) is a comfortable range for children.


Because children have short attention spans, you’ll want to structure a rehearsal with a variety of activities, thereby promoting good discipline. These activities need to appeal to a variety of learning styles. Visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners all need teaching techniques that draw on their particular strengths in learning. Maximize every minute with activities that move quickly in short segments that complement and reinforce each other. This will work better than mere repetition. Repetition past a certain point is counterproductive because it anesthetizes the brain.

Try to integrate musicianship training and repertoire learning as much as possible. This creates a multitude of possibilities for diverse learning activities. Rhythm games that teach children to read, write, and create various rhythm patterns will develop young musicians’ abilities to recognize the rhythms in their music. Staff-reading activities that teach note-reading skills, along with ear training, will help children follow the melodic contour of the phrases they sing. Also consider drawing or dramatizing a song to help the children convey the meanings they feel.


The more one expects of a children’s choir, the more one is likely to achieve. Goals must be high, because children have the right to be excellent. The ability to produce a beautiful unison, sing in two-part harmony, and interpret meaningfully the texts they sing would be minimum expectations. Every child’s musical birthright ought to include a grasp of basic music-literacy skills and a broad exposure to many styles and types of music.

Martin Luther said, “Music is the only art of heaven given to earth and the only art of earth we take to heaven.” How incredibly important that we offer music to our children with excellence and purpose! In so doing, we help them experience a little bit of heaven on earth and prepare them for the music of the ages.
– Connie Fortunato

Leading Youth Choirs

Some of the best opportunities for evangelism, Christian education, training, and discipleship come in the context of a youth choir program. Whether working with a high school/ college choir, a small chorus for junior high girls, a boy’s bell choir, or other specialty groups, I’ve found that participating kids typically make solid spiritual commitments that result in their own personal growth and meaningful ministry to others.

The Incentive

Why would kids want to be in a youth choir? At first, for many of the kids in my group, it was because they wanted to see the country. Kids love to travel, so we planned a two-week tour each June for the senior choir. All during the school year, the trip was the carrot on a stick. If kids wanted to go on the tour, they had to meet the requirements. Happily, as the year progressed, and in the years to follow, those choir kids found other, deeper motivations related to the choir’s fellowship, nurture, and continuing opportunities for service.

The Requirements

Requirements will vary with different situations. But here are the standards I’ve set for our high school/college choir across the years:

* Age limit: Be within the range of tenth grade through college senior. Having collegians in the group provides stronger leadership and greater vocal strength, and it builds in chaperones for tours.

* Attendance: Attend rehearsals and performances, as well as worship services, Sunday school, and weekly youth meetings, at a rate of at least 75 percent attendance. We do kids a great disservice if we let their only tie to the church be singing in a choir.

* Reading: Read an assigned Christian book each month from October to May.

* Habits: Abstain from the use of tobacco, alcohol, and illegal drugs.

* Personal conduct: Act in a manner consistent with the Christian witness of the choir.

Across the years, some have questioned the attendance and reading requirements as too strict. I argue that young people are no strangers to discipline. What high school football player could get away with missing 25 percent of his practices? What coach would abide a team member who said he or she was too busy to learn the plays? Kids need to hear 1 Timothy 4:7-8, reminding them that while physical discipline is of value, spiritual discipline is profitable for all areas of their lives.

The Outreach

A choir tour can be much more than a prize for a year’s participation. It should be a classroom in which equal emphasis is placed on the physical, mental, social, and spiritual development of the kids. More than just riding a bus and performing, the tour experience should include hard work, carefree play, group Bible study, solo quiet times, feasting, fasting, sleeping in homes, sleeping on church floors, journal keeping, and so on.

Back home, too, kids should have a regular schedule of participation in the community�ministering in convalescent homes, service clubs, malls, banquets, and even other churches on occasion. These outings build the choir’s confidence, unity, and musical ability, while providing a loving gift to others.

The Message

Since a big part of a choir’s message about God’s love is communicated nonverbally, each member must learn to sing with total involvement. Videotape your choir singing, including close-ups of each member, and let members evaluate themselves and each other for expression, movement, posture. That’s how your message is going to get across�at least from the platform. But still, the most important message is the one that is lived out by our youth choir members in their daily living.
– Sonny Salsbury
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”

This article “Leading Children and Youth Choir” by Carl Hopper, was excerpted from the book Leadership Handbooks of Practical Theology, vol. 1. It may be used for study & research purposes only.