James Merritt spent years as senior pastor of an Atlanta-area megachurch that featured a mighty choir.
Then he changed his tune.
At 50, he left First Baptist Church Snellville to plant a new church — 200 people in a rented space at a high school 12 miles away — focused on reaching a young generation.
There was and is no choir. And that puts Merritt’s current congregation, Cross Pointe Church, right on trend.
The newly released National Congregations Study finds church choirs are on the downbeat in white Protestant churches across the theological spectrum.
Choirs stand strong in black Protestant congregations, where 90 percent of regular attendees say there’s a choir at the main service. The same is true for three in four (76 percent) Catholic worshippers.
But among white conservative evangelicals, only 40 percent of worshippers say they hear a choir at services, down from 63 percent 14 years ago.
For those who attend liberal or moderate Protestant congregations, there’s a similar slide to 50 percent in 2012, down from 78 percent in 1998.
Sales for the music for choral anthems, slipped so deeply four years ago that the United Methodist Church’s publishing arm, Abingdon Press, stopped buying new anthem music, said Mary Catherine Dean, associate publisher.
Merritt, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, is quick to say, “I’m not knocking choirs.”
A lot of thought went into eliminating the choir at Cross Pointe.
“Practically, if a choir is going to be top shelf, people have to come at least one night a week and rehearse at least two hours. Then, a top-shelf choir is going to want to sing every service and do Christmas cantatas and special events,” said Merritt.
“That takes staff, an orchestra, a big enough stage. That costs money. When we were starting up in 2003, we decided we would be better stewards not to invest in that.”
Philosophically, said Merritt, “We saw where the culture was headed. The younger generation doesn’t gravitate toward choirs.”
Today, Cross Pointe, with nearly 2,800 people in weekend worship, is “a very contemporary, very band-driven church,” serving a multiethnic, multigenerational congregation at two campuses.
Merritt’s reasoning mirrors that of experts who see choirs shrinking, if not falling silent.
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SOURCE: Religion News Service
Cathy Lynn Grossman