From Gateway Church in Dallas/Fort Worth, a powerful movement of worship is influencing the sound of music in churches around the country. Little do most people know, not only does Gateway Church have a thriving worship team, they also have a thriving choir ministry — 230 voices to be specific. Our Creative Director Luke Gambill sat down with Gateway’s Kelly Allsopp, Thomas Miller, and Sion Alford to talk about the growth of their choir, their new choral release: We Cry Out, and how their choir plays an integral role in their worship service.
When most people think of Gateway Church they are probably more quickly thinking of names like Thomas Miller, Kari Jobe, and Sion Alford, but what they may not be aware of is this amazing, thriving group of worshipers here called the Gateway Choir. Could you share how your choir started and what contributed to its growth?
Thomas Miller: We started with a small ensemble choir…with about ten people and grew it over the course of a few years. As our church became larger and larger, there were more people than there were places on the platform. At first our choir was more of a, “If you’re interested in Jesus and love to worship, join our choir.” There weren’t really any musical requirements to be involved. After a few years, I realized that probably wasn’t the best route, so that choir dissolved after a little bit.
Then Pastor Kelly joined our staff and our choir became amazing because she’s an amazing choir director. She started really developing excellence, not just in musicianship, but in character and unity… She developed a culture more than she developed a singing group.
Kelly Allsopp: [I was] approached about leading the choir and re-launching it. I was praying and God gave me a clear vision of how to fit in the culture here in Gateway Worship. One of the top words that the Lord spoke was family. I actually typed it on a little piece of paper. It was just such a clear vision that the Lord gave me.
We started that with about 20-25 people just a few years ago. It has been such a neat experience…We talk about our purpose, we talk about our values, we do life together. We do ministry together. It’s neat to see that we are not just family. We are worship leaders. We are part of what God is doing at Gateway.
Sion Alford: The thing that Kelly’s done such a great job at is that she hasn’t approached the choir as a stepping stone to a greater ministry. Our choir is a landing place. There are people in our congregation who are called to it. Other platform ministries are great — like singing with a microphone and leading worship…but the choir is not a place where you step into to get to there.
It’s a place where people arrive and realize there’s a great thriving ministry and the opportunity they have to influence our congregation. When they’re on the platform, they influence our congregation into a higher level of intimacy with the Lord. The interaction between our choir and congregation is amazing.
We Cry Out is the first choir release from Gateway Church. What was your favorite moment of the process of recording and rehearsing?
KA: I think what our choir enjoyed the most was the preparation for the project. Craft-wise, we’ve learned better techniques, so we’ve improved in that area. There’s also been this sense of purpose and prayer that has really risen up in our group. We’ve started doing prayer before rehearsals. Originally, we were thinking this would be for the project, not for us, but praying for those who would be listening and doing these songs in their churches. We’ve found even now, when the project is over, we’re going to keep that going because they’ve loved it so much.
How do the style and songs of We Cry Out work to speak to worshipers of all ages?
TM: Not every song is going to appeal to every age and demographic. If we tried to do that, it would sound like a song arranged by a committee and it wouldn’t really have an impact. What we try to do is really reflect that in the music and arrangements that we choose.
We try to choose songs that will speak to as many people as possible because I believe if the message of the music is biblical, it’s timeless, and it’s going to appeal to everyone. In that regard, that’s where we try and appeal to all age groups and all demographics. For musical styles, we’ll do one style for one song and one style for another. We know that it won’t appeal to everyone, but we want to offer as much as we can so it can be a project that people can find not only meaning in the lyric and message but also meaning in the music.
There have been churches across the country throughout the years that have done away with their choir programs. I think churches now are going to be challenged and encouraged to realize that Gateway has this ministry. Do you have any words of encouragement for the churches who have a choir or are looking to start one?
TM: One of my favorite passages in the scriptures is Psalm 133 which says, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” The end of the chapter says God commands his blessing and he commands his blessing where there is unity. When people are in unity together, I believe God can bless it.
I think the choir is an accurate representation of the body of Christ. Where brothers and sisters are fit and joined together in their place…there’s just such a great sense of unity, and I think it really translates to the congregation. As much as I want a relevant, fresh sound, I’m even more interested in making sure that our church is in unity.
SA: When we have our choir participating it’s amazing to see how our congregation goes to another level. I believe it’s not just because of what they’re hearing, it’s because of what they’re seeing on the platform. They’re seeing unity. They look up on the platform and see 100 people lifting their hands and praising the Lord, and it encourages that participation in our congregation.