Starting a Youth Choir (and Going on Tour!)

June 5th, 2011

My very first church asked me to begin a youth choir. As youth director, I had the job of providing spiritual guidance to teenagers and give them experiences in sharing the gospel with others as well as in living that gospel in their own lives. I loved the idea of beginning a youth choir. I had been a part of a one as a teenager, and it had helped me in many ways. A youth choir was a great way to do my job.

Why have a youth choir? Two excellent reasons: the Bible and the youth. Many Scriptures mention music and instruments used in praise of God. Moses used a song to instruct the Israelites in Deuteronomy 32; the Book of Psalms is primarily songs. Paul and Silas used music to witness to fellow prisoners while they were imprisoned. Through youth choirs, teenagers can use their talents to worship God, to lead others in worship, and to reach out to others with the good news.

Starting a Youth Choir

Poll the youth. How many youth are interested in singing? If you have at least six kids interested, begin. Work with the ones you have and encourage them to invite others. Continue to put the invitation out in the church and in the community.

Pick a rehearsal time. Once again poll the youth. Pick a time convenient for their schedules. We rehearse at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday evenings. Then the youth can go straight from singing to the Sunday evening programming.

Select the music. Begin with unison or two-part music to give your choir a successful first rehearsal. The simpler music also makes it easier to work on choral blend and to teach basic choral skills. Increase the complexity as the group is ready.

Secure an accompanist. I prefer to have a live musician, but accompaniment tapes are another option. With a pianist, the director and choir can have greater flexibility and creativity.

Choosing Music

Good youth choir music is challenging; fun; well-written; varied; and most important, worshipful and sacred. The music that I have chosen over the years has run the gamut—Handel, Beethoven, Caesar Franck, Michael W. Smith, Sandi Patti, Michael Card—and has included arrangements by Ed Lojeski, Besig and Price, and Hal Hopson. The music should lead the congregation and the youth themselves to a better understanding of and a closer relationship with God.

One other consideration is what fits the vocal ranges of your singers. If you have a beginning group that sings well in unison and has never sung in four parts (SATB), be careful not to push them too far too fast. Make sure that your selections are challenging but not impossible. In the end, you will want to have given them a successful performance that they will remember with fondness and cherish for a lifetime.

Be careful not to pick music with a pitch that is too high or too low for your choir to sing. You are the guard of their vocal health. High school youth have more developed voices and a larger range than younger youth.

In short, you are in charge. Use your musical training to help keep their voices well, their minds challenged, and their hearts focused on God.

Going on Tour

Why should you take a bunch of great but occasionally rowdy, even unmannerly, youth on a choir tour? Because God can work miracles of witnessing and wonder to and through these kids. I have seen ones whom I thought would never be serious about anything give the most moving testimony.

One memorable moment followed a program where we re-enacted the Crucifixion scene of nailing Jesus’ hands. Afterward, a child came up to the youth who portrayed Jesus and asked to see his hands. We tried to convince him that no one had really been harmed, but he still wanted to be near the youth who had portrayed Jesus to make sure that he was all right. Our youth were touched by the child’s response.

Another moment I will never forget was having two of our youth baptized in the ocean. Many people on the beach stopped to watch. All of my youth and adults rededicated their lives to Christ; even some passersby rededicated their lives. What a wonderful witness this was to the world about God’s saving grace!

Developing the Theme

Our first tour was entitled "Light Your World." I picked songs related to the theme and wrote narration to tie them together. I also included a skit because some youth are not interested in singing but do enjoy acting. The same is true for youth who play hand bells. Adding drama or bells opens more ways for youth to participate and also enhances the message of the tour.

Another year I purchased an existing musical that included songs, narration, drama, costuming, and props. This too was a great success. So which way is better? The answer lies with you and your group. Do whatever suits the needs and talents of your choir. As you get to know the youth, you may discover that they can write music or narration and develop skits and costuming themselves.

Remember to pray. Do not take a bunch of youth on tour around the country or even around the neighborhood until you have asked for God’s guidance!

Dealing With Details

Again, start with prayer. Then decide how many days to be gone. I have found the best schedule for our group is a six-day tour that starts on Wednesday and ends with a homecoming performance on Monday night. We can sing at a Wednesday night service, at a Friday or Saturday night service, at a Sunday morning worship and an evening service, and wind up the tour on Monday night at home.

During the week of choir tour, we also make time for fun, going to an amusement park or the beach, for example. We also break up the travel time to avoid over-tired youth and adults.

Use a travel agency to book the hotel rooms and amusement parks. This free service will help you get a cheaper deal on the room rates and save a lot of hassle. If your church does not own vans or a bus, you may have to rent transportation for the trip.

We usually include at least two nights in hotel rooms, and the other nights are spent in church members’ homes or at the church itself. People rest better in hotels, but the expense raises the cost of the tour. We usually pick a night in the middle of the tour for a hotel break and another at the end of the tour to refresh the group at needed points.

If your group sleeps in a church, be sure to check on showering facilities before the trip. If the church cannot accommodate a shower for every-one, then a nearby YMCA might be able to help you. If that is not an option, church families may be willing to allow youth to shower at their homes then return to church for the night. Whatever you do, be sure that it is all worked out ahead. The key to a successful trip is planning.

Most churches will provide a meal for the youth. If your group is staying at church members’ homes, the church members will usually serve the youth breakfast. Do not be afraid to ask for what you need from the host churches. Most are willing to go the extra mile.

Expanding the Involvement

Parents. Parents help ensure success. Wherever and whenever you can, use parents to create publicity; to make props, scenery, costuming; to help with drama, rehearsals, fundraisers; to accompany the youth on the tour; to sell tickets to events. Also have the parents be in prayer before and during the choir tour.

The Promotional Team. The promotional team is a group of about ten youth and adults who pick out poster and T-shirt designs, help with mailings, and arrange for the printing of all the promotional materials. One person from this team accompanies us on tour. In the churches where we are lodged with members, this person keeps track of where each youth is and how to get in touch with him or her if the need arises. The host family gets information as well. If a youth gets sick, the host family knows how to reach the youth director.

The Devotional Team. The devotional team is a group of six to eight youth and parents that prepares a devotion for each day of the trip. They have everything completely ready so that an adult or youth can lead the devotion on the tour.

Raising the Funds

First, set up a budget for transportation, insurance on vehicles, lodging, meals, promotion, postage, T-shirts, emergency money, and so on. Then set a goal for the amount you need to raise. Here are a few hints that I have found helpful when planning fundraisers:

Make the fundraisers an annual event on approximately the same date. Every year we have a Valentine’s Day Spaghetti Supper on the Sunday night before Valentine’s Day. We decorate our fellowship hall with an Italian theme: checkered table cloths, flowers, red candles, greenery, and music. The youth help to prepare the meal and dress up to serve our dinner guests. Every year the dinner brings in $1,900 to $3,000.

Don’t have fundraisers too often! Make the ones you have count. Have creative fundraisers that people will want to attend. The more creative you get, the more interest people will have.

Reach into the community. If all of your fundraisers are geared to your congregation, the well will soon be dry. Gear your fundraisers to the community as well. Advertise locally and hold fundraisers in places other than your church.

Publicize your fundraisers. This is a key to success. Publicize in your local newspaper and in all your church publications, place posters around town, announce it at church, give youth flyers to give to their friends, contact other local churches, hang a banner. Use local radio and TV stations for announcements. Have everyone who is on e-mail send the invitation to his or her contacts.

Promoting the Performances

Promotion is also important for increasing the attendance at your choir’s performances on the tour. Here are some suggestions:

Use the newspaper. I usually print a big article the week before we leave telling about our tour and the places we will sing. I also include a picture of the youth choir. It is great advertising for the church as well. Send the information to the host church also; they may be able to have a story printed locally.

Advertise on T-shirts. Use T-shirts to tell your tour’s theme, the name of your youth choir, and the name of your church.

Hang up posters. Have choir tour posters printed up. Place them around your community. Also send a generous supply to each church where you will be singing.

Send letters to churches in the area. By sending a letter, you are personally inviting them to attend the performance. Enclose a poster.

Announce it at church. Keep the congregation interested through creative newsletter articles and repeated announcements. Two or three months prior to departure, have the youth do a morning worship service and premiere some songs from the choir tour.

Have a prayer vigil. Have church members sign up to pray for the choir tour and the safety of the youth. This is the best promotion anyone can do. "Promote" the tour to God and let God take charge.

Youth choir tours are one of the best tools youth groups have to witness to the world about the love of Jesus Christ. In the words of St. Augustine: "He who sings, prays twice." So sing, sing, sing!

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