In Search of the Right Label by David Mayer

Which one of the following newsletter advertisements fits your home church?

1. "Sunday’s Sacred Montage Program will feature the Senior Choir, the Junior Choir, the Bell Choir, Children’s Choir, the Pre-School Choir and the Praise Team. Come be blessed as our music program highlights ... etc."

2. "Sunday’s Sacred Montage Program will feature the Sanctuary Choir, the Balcony Blasters, the Narthex Ringers, the Pee-Wee Singers and the Praise Team. Come be blessed ...."

3. "Sunday’s Sacred Montage Program will feature the Festive Chorale, the Jubilant Singers, the Alleluia Ringers, the Joyful Singers and the Praise Team. Come be Blessed ...."

Perhaps some of these labels might be far-fetched, but you understand the themes and stereotypes–names according to age, tradition, style, scripture, or even place where the music is going to be performed. However, why does the term "Praise Team" seem to stand out in each instance above?

I have often wondered why there is a tendency to label only one group in a church according to the very action we all do. The element of "praise" being done by an effective "team" is something that should be evident in every source of music ministry, from the young cherub choir to the eldest "traditional" choir. Labeling one group as "Praise Team" borders on assuming that the other groups are involved in something other than praising the Lord. The stereotype has the appearance of assuming you have your elite performers separated from your sincere singers for whom anything goes as long as it is sung from the heart. Then there is the word "team" denoting the possibility that one group is more cooperative than the others. Though we will probably not avoid stepping into such natural stereotypes, I think the concern is validated by the rise of Christian musicians attempting to be open to both traditional and more contemporary styles. Some of us believe the answer lies in empowering all singers and instrumentalists for ministry, as opposed to simply maintaining choral tradition, or just allowing contemporary praise teams (there I go again!) to flourish.

The word "choir" can even carry an unintended stigma with it. To some, "choir" means lofty, old, or anachronistic. To others, "Praise Team" implies happy, clappy, and superficial–perhaps even irreverent. As music ministers it is our job to inspire and educate each other and our congregations to look beyond these stereotypes. Of course the action is more important than the label, but we are in the business of bringing in our flocks through healthy perceptions. While I would never propose that people change the title of their "Praise Teams," I challenge leaders who are considering establishing a new singing group to steer clear of the term, per se, unless it is the only ensemble in your church.

"So, Dave, just what do you call your Praise Team and Choir," you ask? I work in a church with a growing music program that will slowly be implementing praise choruses. Though I have been blessed with the gift of writing songs which could be considered "magnified prayer" in a traditional or contemporary service, we’ll still move slowly and carefully toward creating a contemporary ensemble that will lead choruses. We do not yet have a matching label, but we will not settle for "Praise Team." The closest I can come up with at this point is "Contemporary Ensemble" or "Worship Ensemble." But even the word "worship" unintentionally seems to downplay our "Sanctuary Choir" as a group that performs but does not worship. The word "contemporary" for a new worship form upstages the fact that lots of good choral music is contemporary. As a matter of fact, all choral music in the 20th Century is considered to be contemporary by sacred and secular choral scholars.

So, do you have any ideas out there? Words defining "newness" or "renewal" are close for me, but once again, can we not be "renewed" by all sacred music? I like the word "singer" because that is something all of us are. Labeling with a New Testament flavor such as "The Good News Singers" would work if only such an unoriginal title didn’t lack sufficient impact for both the churched and the unchurched. I trust God will send the right name by the time we are ready. If any readers have a suggestion, please send it to me via my e-mail address.

I doubt we’ll find the perfect label. But God does promise that through prayer and discernment, we’ll find a sufficient name for our praise team. No matter what that LABEL will be, the beginning of our newsletter article will read as follows: "Sunday’s Sacred Montage Program will be a celebration of all our diverse musical gifts at the Community Church of Douglas!"

David Mayer is Music and Worship Coordinator at the Community Church of Douglas, Michigan. He invites e-mail at: trubador@macatawa.org.