How to Start a Brand New Choir, Part 1

by Matt Williams ~

Why start a choir? For many churches, choir is the foundation of music ministry. For others, choir is a foreign concept or an anomaly at best. However, God gave me a clear vision and desire to start a choir. How? Let me begin by sharing my journey with you from dreaming about starting a choir to engaging in one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

I grew up with a love for the church and the songs we sing. At 22 years old, I accepted my first full-time position as Worship Leader and Choir Director at a church whose choir had all but disappeared. I was determined to revive the program. I wanted to create something exciting so that everyone would want to participate. At this point, I was a southern gospel, Gaither Homecoming, hymns-or-bust kind of guy, and my choir was a reflection of my musical taste. The choir looked very much like the traditional choir you’re picturing in your head—robes and all. We had fun! The music was challenging for the choir and powerful for the congregation. We performed a special program for what seemed like every holiday, with Christmas and Easter as the focal points. When I left three years later, our choir had 40 members singing every Sunday.

My next church was different. The music ministry was already booming! The choir had 65 members weekly and grew to 80+ members in the fall for our Living Christmas Tree program. The choir wore robes and sang every Sunday, sometimes with our small live orchestra. I was blessed with a very talented group which allowed me to introduce new music from Travis Cottrell, Tommy Walker, Ross Parsley, Lakewood Church, and Christ Church Choir. Each were starting to change my ideas of what choir could be.

In 2006, I became a contemporary worship leader for a church with a full worship band and production. The style of worship for this church was different, but the message was the same. We had no regular choir when I arrived, so I decided to assemble one. I think some of the staff was hesitant at first, but I convinced them to give it a chance. This group of 40 was different than the rest of my choirs. Instead of robes, they wore coordinated colors each week. They sang from risers and were as much a member of the worship team as anyone. They rehearsed every week, memorized every song, and participated regularly in worship. They also performed for Christmas and Easter, as well as spring and Worship Night concerts throughout the year. While I was there, the choir became much more than a music group at church. We were an outreach group that just happened to sing! We provided music for a local prison ministry, created several outreach programs in our community, and remodeled a house for a church member in need.

In 2010, I stepped away from full-time ministry. I served as an active member in my church and worked in a variety of fields. Over the last 8 years, I’ve owned a custom t-shirt printing shop, I’ve sung in a country music duo in Nashville, and I’ve worked for Brentwood Benson, where I bought all of my choir music over the years. I really loved working for Brentwood Benson because I had the opportunity to help choir directors all over the country. I talked about my favorite music, heard great ideas, and shared stories. It made me really miss the choir!

In 2015, my family and I moved back home to Bixby, Oklahoma. I remember telling my wife in the truck on the road home, that I felt God calling me to start a community choir. I couldn’t wait to get started! But several weeks went by, and after adjusting to a new house, new schools, and new jobs, the excitement of starting a new choir turned to doubt. I was worried there would be no interest. I had no church budget to buy any materials. So, I didn’t do it. I allowed the fear of failure to keep me from pursuing what I loved and what I felt called to do.

Fast forward to 2018. My wife and I attended the funeral for a man from our second church. Before the funeral began, I was visiting with choir members and reminiscing about the fun we used to have. Then it hit me — like a lightning bolt from the sky screaming at me to pay attention! I remembered the excitement I felt back in 2015 about starting a community choir. I reminisced with old friends and could hear in their voices how much they missed participating in choir. I decided right there, in the middle of that funeral, that I was going to start a choir.

This happened in August. If you’re a choir director and you’re going to do a Christmas program, you probably already have your music picked out. I not only had no idea what program I was going to use, I had no choir members to sing it. So, what did I do? I went on Facebook Live to announce that I would be starting a new community choir with our first interest meeting in two weeks! I reached out to every choir member from my past and began recruiting. This group would be open to ages 16 and up, or 13 and up if accompanied by a participating adult. I posted something at least once a day to drum up interest and asked everyone who planned on attending to do the same.

After the announcement, I had to figure out what we were singing. I went online to check out the latest music from Brentwood Benson. Over the next few days, I listened to what felt like hundreds of musicals and collections. Every day the list was narrowed until finally I decided on “Christmas Is Real” by Travis Cottrell. If you haven’t listened to “How Glad the Heart” from this collection, I encourage you to do so very soon!

Once I decided on music, I had to focus on picking a rehearsal day, time, and location. Wednesday would take away from churches with choirs and Friday night in Oklahoma is devoted to high school football, so I chose Thursday. I spoke with a couple of my pastor friends who agreed to let us use their facilities for practice and the location was set. I prayed a lot and hoped they would come. God was faithful! We had 30 at our first rehearsal!

I can’t wait to share the rest of my journey with you. This is just the beginning! Pray with me that God will continue to do amazing things through this community choir. I’ll keep you posted!

About the Author: Matt Williams is married with two teenage sons and resides in Bixby, Oklahoma where he and his wife serve at Life.Church. Matt brought people together from surrounding communities to form the Voice of Joy Community Choir. Psalm 71:23 is the verse that inspired their name.

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