Planning a Music Program

Planning a Music Program
By Gordon L Borror

Why are we here? What is our unique calling? What does God want us to accomplish? Church leaders planning a music program must first hammer out a clear, concise statement of objectives in answer to such questions, with biblical priorities and congregational expectations clearly in mind. The Bible teaches that glorifying God is the ultimate purpose of life: church life, family life, personal life. Therefore, we must come to see that music in the church exists to bring glory to God, both through direct praise and service, and through ministry to people (reaching the lost and nourishing believers). Maintaining these vertical and horizontal dimensions will help shape and clarify the musical purposes d goals of a church, regardless of its size or resources.

Once such philosophical guidelines are brought to the surface and understood, we can then grapple with the details of how to go about the work of music programming in the local church. Let�s begin by considering congregational needs and expectancies.

At a basic level, humans apparently need to express their love for God in song. Throughout biblical history, God�s people have been singers. The most important music in the church, then, is to be made by means of congregational voices and hearts joined in praise. The music offered to meet this need should be accessible and singable, represent the best of our Christian heritage of the past and the best of the new musical expressions.

Congregations have expectations as well as needs. People in our churches should expect the music to be spiritual�that it represents biblical truth delivered with spiritual and musical integrity. Those who �perform� should be prepared, both musically and spiritually to handle the musical selections responsibly and to believe in (and seek to live by) the texts they sing. My observation is that congregation will increase the level of their valid expectations for quality music programming as they are led by a music ministry that has appropriate variety and that is sensitive to that particular community�s educational, socioeconomic, and cultural experiences. All of this is done with an eye toward constantly elevating and enriching a congregation�s image of God. Again, the glory of God is the issue, not the musical taste of pastor, people, or musicians. Music ministry seeks to magnify the Lord!

Assuming you are philosophically and theologically on target with your sense of purpose and mission, you are ready to tackle the �practical� side of music ministry. Here are eight key issues that typically confront pastors and people in churches of all sizes, along with some suggestions about how to approach the decisions they require.

Issue #1: Space

I once got quite a surprise when I entered a church to speak on music ministry. I walked into a spacious auditorium that would seat 700 people but had a platform area so tiny there was barely room for a pulpit and a chair. One of the members explained to me that the founding pastor wanted to be sure there would never be space for a choir because �when Lucifer fell, he fell into the choir loft, and if you want to find where trouble starts in the church, look to the choir.� Ridiculous!

Effective music ministry demands sufficient space for a choir. The key is to make the space flexible. Avoid built-in risers for a choir, or rails bolted to the floor. Since our society has become progressively more visually oriented, build in ways to change the area�s appearance Occasionally. Consider using movable risers with stackable seating For your choir members. The surface of the risers should be hard, to reflect sound, with ten-inch steps between rows.

Try to avoid a fenced area for the choir, since such architectural barriers tend to separate those members from the rest of the congregation, inhibiting a strong sense of community. Ideally, all are participants in worship, so work to do away with the appearance that some members are the performers and others are merely the audience. For pageants, musicals, dramatic productions, and so on, the flexibility of removable risers permits many more arrangement options. Platforms should also be minimal and movable. The permanent instruments, probably the piano and organs, should be placed side-by-side to facilitate the musicians� ability to hear one another and to move easily from one instrument to the other. This also eases the director�s access to the accompanists by looking in one direction. If other instruments are a usual part of services, they, too, should be in close proximity to one another.

Music ministry also requires additional space in the form of rehearsal facilities, such as choir rooms and practice rooms. Dedicating space for this assures people of the ministry�s significance in the church and provides an environment conducive to quality preparation. Ideally, rehearsal space should be at least as large as platform spaces so rehearsals will not be totally dependent on the availability of the worship center.

Don�t forget storage space. Costumes, props, lights, and other equipment easily become lost or ruined when there is no place to store them for future presentations. Also, the music library will eventually represent a large investment; proper storage space, which is accessible and organized, will go a long way toward preserving it.

Issue #2: Instruments

A music director will be concerned about the purchase and upkeep of church instruments. The most historic church music instrument is, of course, the organ. The next most obvious instrument is the piano, which is best placed on a hard surface for reflection of its sound. And today electronic keyboards of all types and price ranges have become viable options for music ministry. Historically, these keyboards grew up in pop music with studio applications, so it�s wise to use sensitivity in adapting them for church services.

In addition to the typical, traditional instruments, do not overlook the orchestral instruments and those in your church who play them. Many publishers offer music for ensembles of all sizes and composition. Providing sanctuary space for orchestral players (along with church owned stands and books for playing along with hymns and choruses) will help encourage their participation.

Many churches have almost totally abandoned traditional church instruments in an effort to make proceedings feel less churchy. For instance, they use a worship band, with a few miked singers to set the tone of Contemporary celebration. Synthesizers, guitars, and drums are amplified, and the sound reflects the pop culture. There is little doubt that God can and does use a great variety of sounds and styles to communicate his message.

Issue #3: Sound

In recent years, the sound system has risen to nearly disproportional levels of importance. Historically, church buildings were built to reverberate sound, which added to the sense of mystery in worship.

The spoken voice and music gains a heightened sense of the Spirit when there are a few sounds of ambient reverberation bouncing around the room.

Many churches now, however, are built with acoustics that more closely resemble a recording studio, which means the natural ambience is dampened by carpet, drapes, and furnishings. Though you may try to replace that naturalness electronically, the general rule is that you cannot make up for a dead building with a good sound system, If the main musical event is congregational singing, then we must design facilities to heighten the singers� acoustic environment, since we certainly can�t put a microphone at every pew!

Basic to good sound is an environment that compliments natural sound. There must be at least some reflective surfaces so the church body gathered can get an aural sense of community. If the room is so acoustically dead that music loses natural presence, the people will not sing freely or sense they are in the congregation of praise. If the musical accompaniment blares at the people, they will not hear themselves and will again lose the sense of corporate worship they should expect.

As with major instrumental purchases, seek help from those who understand should reinforcement and who know the nature of your particular ministry. The most important considerations are speaker placement, microphone type and placement, and control-center requirements and placement. Will you need chancel microphones? How many microphones � and in what arrangement � will you need for the variety of situations arise?

Good sound does not call attention to itself. Like so many aspects of ministry, if the vehicle becomes more obvious than the message being delivered, the stepping stone has become a stumbling block.

Issue #4: Lighting

Though music ministry is primarily about sound, we must be careful not to overlook its silent partner�lighting. Obviously, all participants must have sufficient light to see their hymnals, Bibles, music, and orders of service. Be certain there is sufficient candlepower where it is needed in the room. Highlighting the platform area can be a great asset to communication. Floodlighting the choir, orchestra, ensemble�or tastefully spotlighting a soloist or speaker�focuses attention where, and when, it is desired.

Lighting as an art form grew up in the theater and can become incredibly complex and costly. Much has been written on just how to achieve the desired effects. This is not a suggestion to make church services into theatrical experiences, but it is a plea not to overlook another valuable asset for effective musical presentation. The lighting of any environment influences the overall mood, which, in turn, does affect the response of those involved.

Issue #5: Hymnals

Does a modern music ministry need hymnals? Yes! Through the hymnal we join hands with saints of other ages who have been through the crucible of human experience and have discovered that God is able. It has been well said that through the Bible, God speaks to us; through the hymnal, we speak to God. The two books have bee companions for generations, and whether or not it is recognized We still need that companionship. If our hymn singing is dead, it is be cause we lack the leadership to bring it to life.

Many fine new hymnals are available that incorporate new as well as older songs and offer a great variety of service helps and ideas. You can get instrumental versions concordances, companion volumes devotional guides, and cross-indexes to help you vitalize your hymnic experiences. A local church should replace its hymnal every 10 to 15 years to stay up-to-date.

A book of hymns links the life in Christ with the truth of God. When Christians are encouraged to use their hymnal as devotional re sources, they quickly recognize the spiritual wealth they have at their fingertips. If the hymnal is considered optional and left in the racks, the message is that we don�t need it anymore.

Though projecting words on a screen has it advantages, those words can be difficult to read for visually impaired people who can see a book in their hands. Plus, if congregation singers do read music�or ever hope to learn, they must be able to see the musical notation.

I am not speaking for the exclusive use of the hymnal. I believe creative options are good and often beneficial. I am simply speaking against a growing tendency to ignore the wonderful resource for worship, evangelism and edification found in the hymnal.

Issue #6: Leadership

Who will lead our music program, and how will we get people involved? This is one of the most challenging questions facing so many pastors and leadership boards. Recent awareness of the musical demands of our churches has elevated the role of worship leader/musician to new heights. Ideally, church music leaders should be called as surely as pastors, missionaries, and youth leaders. They should have the sense that they must serve God and that music minis try is his choice for them. Occasionally the pastor will find a person in the congregation who has the necessary musical skills; that person must then be discipled to employ those gifts in the local church.

The pastor and musician(s) should see themselves as players on the same team, never as competitors. Too often, communications break down, and these two leaders somehow begin competing for recognition in public services. My experience has taught me that I have much to learn from my pastor and other associates, and that I can teach them, too. When leadership is seen as partnership, God s glory shines through.

Once you establish your musical leadership, participation in tin-� program must be sold to the people at large. Choirs, ensembles, and instrumentalists can be mobilized and encouraged by God-honoring, church-edifying quality in music. People love to be on board when they are convinced that what is being done is edifying, satisfying, fulfilling, and truly carry out their beloved church�s ministry priorities.

Issue #7: Planning

Many churches employ a music-program planning committee to insure that the church body has appropriate representation. This committee requires visionary leadership that is well-apprised of the overarching philosophy of music ministry. Musical styles, the number of participants, instruments employed, service-music demands, special occasions, and other concerns all bear on the planning process. Here are some areas to cover:

� The availability of talent. Do we have the people and talent to do what is being called for in our ministry?

� Scheduling. When taking a look at the calendar, ask: How many regular services require musical input? How varied will the ministry be? How many special/seasonal events will produce added demand for music ministry? Who will meet these needs?

� Scope. Do plans contain visionary goals that can be reached as God provides additional resources or do they reflect only a maintenance mentality?

� Breadth. How are we attempting to meet the music ministry needs of the various generations. Graded choir programs have been shown to be outstanding training and involvement activities for children and youth Service music as well as musicals should be planned for all choirs and ensembles. Interest in a church depends on the involvement of the greatest numbers of our people What they believe in, they prepare for; what they prepare for, they attend; what they attend enthusiastically, they invite others to share.

� Worship planning. This, too, must be a team effort. If your church follows a liturgical plan, much of the direction is set by the seasons of the year. All could learn including free church devotees, by looking at the church year and the reminders it provides.

Pastors and musicians do each other a large favor when they know what the other is doing. As a music leader, I appreciate it when my pastor, well in advance, gives me his sermon titles, primary Scripture references, and a broad outline of his sermon objectives. I can then them in mind as I make music choices to ensure that the service is coherent from beginning to end. The objective is to have a well-focused congregation not confused sheep when the service concludes Any attendee should be able to articulate the main idea of the service as he or she exits

Issue #8 Finances

The glory of God is the issue, not how much we can spend. What will it take to do the job well? One general rule of thumb is that 10 percent of the church�s operating budget (not including salaries of music personnel) should be designated for music ministries. A ministry as public and important as music must have funding to function. The cost of instrument maintenance, special-event productions, retreats, and participant-enrichment seminars should be built into the budget from the beginning. Too many churches see the music ministry as the �entertainment division� of the church, and think that when they can�t afford to be entertained, they will do without.

On occasion I have heard of churches that receive music offerings at special musical events. What comes in at this time can then be spent on the music program. This places too much of the responsibility for funding on the people already involved and committed to music ministries. Instead, all programs of the local church should be shared by the entire body. Where our treasure is, there our heart follows. When the whole church invests in music ministry, their collective heart is far more likely to respond to it.

To say that every church requires the same music program would be absurd. Your program may look like no one else�s and yet be just right for you. In every case, however, music ministry is right when people are more interested in pleasing God than in pleasing them selves or impressing others. It is right when both spiritual and musical integrity are held in high esteem, since music and ministry were made for each other.

�Gordon L. Borror


Allen R and G Borror 1987 Worship Rediscovering the missing jewel portland

Ore.: Multnomah.
Hustad, D. 1981. Jubilate! Wheaton, Ill.: Hope.
Leisch, B. 1988. People in the presence of God. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Lovelace, A., and W. Rice. 1976. Music and worship in the church. Nashville: Abingdon
Mitchell, R. 1978. Ministry and music. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox.

Obeying Copyright Law
You are planning a worship service, but the pew hymnals don�t include a song you want. Someone checks a second hymnal and discovers the perfect hymn. �Let�s print it in the bulletin,� someone suggests. �Or, how about using an overhead?�

�Do we need permission?� wonders another.

That�s a good question, because knowledge of copyright regulations is as much a part of music ministry as choosing music. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. New songs and hymns are offered to churches by composers and publishers who have made an investment to make these songs available to the public. The church should honor that investment, and determining what is and isn�t legal to use is a beginning.

Basic Definitions

Simply put, we may not make copies of a copyrighted song if by doing so we are avoiding purchase of the song in its published form.

Copyright is a means where by a song or other creation can be protected for a given time. Both international and national copyright laws protect the use of these creations. Copyrights are indicated by the copyright symbol or the phrase, �used by permission of� After a given number of years, a work ceases to be protected by law and enters the public domain. Generally speaking if something predates this century, it is in the public domain.


Here are some thoughts for properly handling copyright matters:

* Texts as well as music are creations under the protection of copyright law. In fact, the text, the tune, and the harmonization of the tune may all be copyrighted. It is possible for three different publishers to share copyrights to a single hymn. It is also possible that just one element of a song be copyrighted while the other parts exist in public domain.

* Churches sometimes print the texts to choral music in the bulletins to enhance congregational understanding, but if the song is under copyright, permission is necessary to do so. Even out-of-print choral pieces remain protected by copyright, and permission is needed for copying.

* Permission must be obtained for the use of transparencies or song charts. If the song appears in the pew hymnal the right to use it has been purchased. In such a case, publishers often grant permission at no extra charge.

* Organists may duplicate music in order to facilitate page turns. As long as a copy has been purchased, publishers generally do not require organ to purchase a second copy.

* Soloists shouldn�t copy music for accompanists. If two copies are needed for performance two copies should be purchased.

* You may be able to duplicate copyrighted hymns under certain circumstances. If a choir prefers not to mark up their hymnals, copies can be made of hymns�if a copy of the hymnal exists for each duplication and the choir isn�t avoiding purchases by making copies. Still, permission ought to be requested.

* Permission to copy must be printed on the copies. Churches should print an acknowledgement as stipulated by the copyright holder. Small type may be used, and the information may be placed at the bottom of the page or the end of the printed service.

Moral and Legal

Permission is available, and it is worth the time and investment to get it. The cost for using a song one time is a phone call and a small fee, seldom exceeding ten dollars. Some publishers and groups of publishers provide annual license agreements whereby churches may use all the songs under their copyright. It is wise to keep records of copyright permissions obtained, including records of correspondence and phone calls.

�Emily R. Brink

Selecting and Purchasing Music

A great deal of planning usually goes into the selection, purchase, and performance of music used in worship. Wise selection of music involves a careful consideration of the text, the tune, and the available funds.

The Words

Some ministers of music rely on denominationally published suggestions of hymns and choruses that follow the lectionary. However, if the preaching in your church typically is topical or expository through extended portions of biblical texts, you likely design services around a worship theme, focusing on truth presented in the message for a particular Sunday.

The text of the hymns must then draw worshipers to the same key truth or attribute of God that the sermon and the rest of the service lifts up. The topical index and scriptural-allusions index found in many hymnals and companion books be come invaluable resources as we plan for such services.

The hymn and choral texts must say something that can be under stood by the worshipers and must also be consistent with the theology of the church. Though well-known texts bring the security of the familiar, they may also cause the singer to pay little attention to what is being sung. Sometimes a new text challenges us with a fresh look at a truth about God.

Be aware of the cultural implications of texts. Inclusive language is important to many congregations. The use of biblical feminine imagery when referring to God will go unnoticed in some churches but raise concerns in others. If we sing Psalms that speak of the clapping or raising of hands, we shouldn�t be surprised if some of our congregants do just that.

The Tune

The musical score of hymns and anthems (as well as instrumental music) has tremendous power to evoke emotions and memories. For example, the instrument introduction to Bach�s Magnificat in D absolutely commands excitement and praise. The tunes of �Amazing Grace� and �O Store Gud�, �How Great Thou Art��will be instantly recognized by most American Christians and bring certain emotions to the surface when played on the instruments, even before a single word is sung. The first few chords of a familiar carol will move all our thoughts to Christmas. The tune of �Jesus Loves Me� draws us to the reality of God�s love for our children.

We need to be aware that these emotions will be in our congregation when we use a particular piece of music. The mood of the music can be joyful and exciting or pensive in nature, causing us to look inward, drawing us to prayer and confession. The design of the worship experience should tell us what mood we want at a particular location in the Service and the music should be selected accordingly

The Budget

After being selected most print music is purchased in Christian bookstores or by phone or mail. Many churches order from discount choral music services, which typically offer a discount of 15 to 30 per cent off retail. Some of these discount services have staff persons who can make suggestions about particular worship needs. Others offer a free service of drilling holes in scores to permit use in a three-ring binder.

Here are some major discount choral music companies:

� Creative Music, Austin, TX (800) 926-2424

� Kempke�s Music Service, Long wood, FL (800) 753-6753

� J & J Music Service, Chickasaw, AL (800) 456-4966

� Pine Lake Music, Decatur, GA (800) 241-3667

� Christian Supply, Spartanburg, SC (800) 845-6718

� Accelerando Music Service, Odessa, TX (800) 433-4267

� Southern Baptist Music Service, Nashville, TN (800) 368-7421

� Church Music Lending Library, Normal, IL (309) 452-6710. (They�ll loan music to your church for 60 days, with a small membership fee.)

�Larry Ellis

Excerpted from the Handbook of Practical Theology, Vol. 1 � Word and Worship
By Gordon L. Borror

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.�