1 Corinthians 14:40 says, “Let all things be done decently and in order.” Structure is necessary in order to have an effective music ministry. A building without structure will collapse; a team without structure will fall apart; and a music ministry without structure will be characterized by last minute, thrown together music and service plans that frustrate volunteers and don’t often go well.
Much of the success of your music ministry will depend on what you do behind the scenes and in preparation for upcoming services and events. Here are some tools that will help support your music program.
The music schedule is the spring board for each service. It lists all your choir songs, special groups, song titles, instrumentalists, and any additional service elements for each week. The process of putting together this schedule takes time and is ongoing as adjustments are made.
I start this process in the early fall with twelve blank templates, one for each month of the year. I’ll take several hours over the course of a few days and schedule every choir song, ensemble, group, soloist, and instrumentalist for the coming year. Once this initial schedule is complete, I have a balanced road map for the coming 15 months that will keep me from overusing a song or group, and it will end up saving me much more time than it took me to put together (not to mention I sleep better at night knowing it’s done).
As I work on this schedule, I try to keep in mind the different seasons of ministry, special events, and my pastor’s preferences.
But the work on this schedule isn’t done. Once the skeleton schedule is done for the year, I have to work on adding the details. Two to three months in advance, I sort music, order music, and assign it to the groups I have scheduled. Then, the month before, I fine tune the schedule to make sure I haven’t missed anything, that every group or singer has a song, and that there aren’t any conflicts with the church calendar. For instance, I would not schedule a men’s ensemble the same weekend we have the Men and Boy’s Campout, or the College and Career ensemble the same weekend as the Single’s Retreat.
My goal is to email this schedule to everyone involved on the fifteenth of the month before they are scheduled so that everyone has plenty of time to communicate back if there is a conflict, and so they can start working on their music.
Keep in mind that no schedule is ever set in stone. As soon as you send out a fresh schedule, there will no doubt need to be adjustments and changes. Be sure to communicate well to everyone involved in the changes so that they are well informed of their responsibilities.
A repertoire list is a tool for keeping track of what group sings which song. I have a tab for every group that does music: adult choir, ensembles, quartets, trios, soloists, high school groups, children’s choir, brass ensemble, and instrumentalists.
Several items are included on this list for each group. There is as list of every song they’ve ever sung, when it was sung last, where the song can be found if it’s in a book, and what upcoming, new songs I have planned for them.
I will often reference this document as I’m working on the music schedule.
The database lists every song ever sung by each group. This document has several columns: song title, ISBN number, composer, arranger, publisher, who it was assigned to, whether it’s an octavo or in a book, and in which book it is.
I would recommend having your database separate from your repertoire list so that the repertoire is an at-a-glance reference for each group.
I also have a separate database with the same information for all the songs that I sorted, but don’t plan to use. You never know when your pastor will hear a song at a conference, or your church will be going through a certain season, and all of a sudden you remember a song that you listened to two years ago, but can’t remember who published it. That is when this second database comes in handy.
I have a separate document that keeps track of all the ensembles and smaller groups in our music ministry. This lists the name of the group, who is in the group, what part they sing, who leads the group, and who plays the piano for the group.
Every six months or so I make sure the ensemble list is updated. This list is also helpful in the early fall when I am working on the next year’s music schedule.
For each of the larger ensembles with nine to fourteen singers, I have a box assigned to them. This box has filed in it the music that group is currently working on, one or two upcoming songs that I would like them to learn for the future, and an attendance sheet. I will also occasionally put practice CDs in this box.
This box is a quick and easy way for the ensemble leader to be prepared for their practice without having to pull music each week and carry it to practice.
The music library (or orchestra library) can be used to keep music filed. As a side note, please be sure that you are only using original music for your choir and groups and not photocopied music.
In our music library, we have a section for all the choir music, filed alphabetically in accordion folders and a section for all the ensemble music, filed alphabetically in accordion folders. We also have a repertoire binder for each ensemble, group, and soloist with the hard copy of each song they’ve sung. This binder should match what is on the repertoire list.
The service binders are used for the two piano players, and the choir director. These are put together every week for each service. They contain the choir songs, congregationals, music for the specials, and the invitation song.
These binders keep the instrumentalists from having to switch their music on the fly. Instead of quickly finishing the choir song, grabbing the hymn book and thumbing to the right page, and then getting the trio’s song ready as the congregation is finishing up the last chorus, they can simply turn the page in their binder.
These are some of the tools that we have used through the years that have helped keep the music ministry organized and moving forward. As you structure and plan your music ministry, you’ll develop a winning team of volunteers who will love serving the Lord with you.