What's Better: Traditional Church Choir or Worship Team?

Graphic for Traditional Church Choir Music vs. Contemporary Worship Team

QUESTION: Do you think a traditional choir is better than a worship team or praise band?

REGI: First of all, we all need to recognize that everything that seems traditional was—when it began—contemporary and probably a little controversial.

When Israel celebrated the defeat of Pharaoh’s army, Miriam and her ladies accompanied God’s people with their tambourines (timbrels). By the time David and his men led worship in the Temple in Jerusalem, they were using harps, lyres, trumpets, strings, pipes, and cymbals—not to mention dancing, shouting, and clapping.

I imagine that with each new innovation, someone in the back of the sanctuary scowled and said, “But we’ve never done it that way before.” Perhaps that’s why God continually instructed his people to sing a “new song.” He doesn’t want our praise to become rote and predictable.

We know that there were choirs and musicians in the Temple in Jerusalem. As the early Church outgrew meeting in homes and synagogues, Christians began erecting larger and larger buildings for God’s glory. Accordingly, they took the Old Testament concept of choirs and musicians and gave them a new spin with hymns and sacred works celebrating the death and resurrection of Christ.

Each of these hymns was—in it’s own time—new. Each was composed in the vernacular and musical style of its age. It was fresh and contemporary. Only the great songs stood the test of time. You can find them in our hymnals today. That is, if your church uses hymns or hymnals.

Here’s where we hit an impasse. Traditionalists want to look back at what’s proven and familiar. Modernists want to look forward to what’s fresh and contemporary. Both may be missing the point.

Choirs weren’t meant to be the worship, they were meant to lead the worship.

There’s lot of current criticism that many contemporary churches have congregations who stand in non-participation while the worship band or praise team “rocks out.”  On the other hand, I grew up in a church where the choir sang while the congregation sat (although a scattered few would stand during a few spirited songs). Both options fall short.

The most important thing is not whether your music is traditional or contemporary or whether you have a choir or worship team. These are simply means to an end.

Rather, the worship leader’s calling is to create a setting—both musical and otherwise--where the people on the platform and in the congregation share in the authentic and biblical worship of their Creator and Redeemer.

The musical style and accompaniment is merely the context for that connectivity. If your worship service planning doesn’t facilitate this connection, you’re doing the wrong things. Or, you may be doing the right things the wrong way.

There are those who would argue that all the songs in a worship set must fit “inside the box,” or we risk confusing our congregation. I disagree.

What’s wrong with a 4-part choral arrangement that speaks to the greatness of God followed by the latest contemporary song that everyone is in a frenzy to sing? Why can’t we raise the roof with a funky gospel tune and then sing the most worshipful song we know in unison?

Once and for all, let’s turn the page on the traditional versus contemporary question and move on to asking the answering, “What, for these people in this moment, moves them toward deep, genuine worship?”

The less entrenched we become in terms of a specific style, songwriter or configuration of people on the platform, the more responsive we’ll become to God’s leading.

Figure out what God is calling you to and do it. I’m pretty certain it won’t look identical to what goes on down the street or around the world. It may be traditional church choir music, modern worship music, some blend of these--or something altogther original.

Pray. Let him guide you. And then sing with all your heart.

Feel free to share your thoughts on this!

- Regi

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For more than 15 years, Regi Stone has served as Discover Worship's creative heart. With more than 230 published songs and a dozen CD's to his credit, he has performed in hundreds of churches and led worship thousands of times. His Worship Weekend events equip and inspire local worship teams around the country. For more about Regi's music and ministry, go to registone.com.

--For more helpful articles about church music and worship service planning, check out www.discoverworship.com and these articles:

Posted in: Ask Regi Stone, Blended Worship, Choral, Service Planning

Regi Stone

Regi Stone

In addition to his involvement at Discover Worship, and writing songs, Regi spends a portion of each year encouraging worship ministries throughout the country. You can find out more about these events by visiting his website (registone.com). He and his family live in Florida.

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