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Recruiting Volunteers for Music Ministry

One of the more difficult challenges for music directors is recruiting volunteers for music ministry. While it has always been a challenge for many communities, it was exacerbated by the COVID pandemic that shut down ensembles and choirs everywhere for months and left many people feeling anxious about singing in groups. The steady decline of weekly attendees over the past number of years has also diminished the size of many communities, which means fewer musicians available to recruit. In addition, the ever-increasing demand on families’ time makes the commitment to music ministry hard for children and parents alike.

Today, the cards seem heavily stacked against music directors looking to bolster their ensemble and choir memberships. While recruiting new members might be more difficult than in past years, a well-designed and layered recruitment strategy can still bring in new members that can help our ensembles flourish.

Recruiting through good music and strong community

Nothing helps with recruiting new volunteers for music ministry more than a great-sounding ensemble or choir. Generally speaking, people will join a group that sounds good before joining one whose sound is lacking. Everyone wants to be a part of something positive and good. Give them a pleasing sound and they’ll be more inclined to join when asked. This is just one of many reasons why the music we create should be of a high musical quality.

Good modeling also includes projecting a strong sense of welcome and community within the ministry. People desire to spend their time doing what’s enjoyable. If they experience a group that seems like they are enjoying themselves and feel welcome around other members, they’ll be more inclined to join.

Layering recruiting methods for maximum impact

Several methods exist for recruiting new members for music ministry. The more common methods include bulletin announcements or announcements before/during liturgy. These kinds of group announcements may spike interest in a few folks, but overall, they don’t provide many leads. The reason is simple – they lack personal appeal. Group announcements are most effective when the person hearing or reading it has already seriously considered joining the ministry. Even if the announcement successfully grabs someone’s attention, the person must then take another step of reaching out to the director, which is a step many just won’t make. Group announcements are still worth doing, but they should not be the only recruiting effort made if the goal is to bring new faces to the ensemble.

The best recruiting method I’ve experienced is the personal invitation. Here, the music director personally invites a person to sing or play their instrument. The personal invitation allows a sincere, passion-filled message to be shared that makes the person feel like they’re truly needed and welcome. It also allows for an immediate response to any questions and true dialogue to occur. Invitees can be far more easily drawn into the experience when speaking face-to-face.

Enlisting help from others in recruiting efforts

I’ve found many ensemble members through the ears of other members of the ministry or the broader community. We have parishioners sitting in the pews week after week who are always on the lookout for good singers. When one is discovered, those on the lookout will point them out to me or even inquire themselves about the person’s interest in joining the ensemble. I also encourage active ministry members to listen for strong singers in the community when they are in the pew during liturgy. Engaging these “spies” in discovering good singers can be a very effective recruiting strategy.

In addition, existing ensemble or choir members can invite their own friends who may not be a part of the community but who would like to be a part of a ministry. Imagine if each active member could bring in just one new member, the ensemble would double in size! Challenge your active members to help grow the ministry through their own efforts.

Another option for recruiting volunteers for music ministry occurs when the community holds a ministry awareness campaign and invites parishioners to learn more about ministries offered. Holding a festival of ministries can offer the chance that people would step forward and volunteer, especially if they meet other engaged and welcoming members of the ministry at the event.

Developing music ministers through youth program

Having vibrant children’s choirs and youth music ministries is an extremely important and welcome sign of life and hope in any community. Youth are not the “church of tomorrow” – they have a stake and ownership in the existing community as much as adults. If they don’t feel like the church is their church, the community cannot stand the test of time and will ultimately die.

One great way to build children’s and youth ensembles is through a strong connection with the religious formation and youth ministry of the community. Over a two-year period, I witnessed a children’s choir grow from zero to 30 members. And these kids were on fire in their work of ministry! This happened when the faith formation director routinely invited the kids in the program to join a fun and meaningful group to sing at liturgy. So far, it has worked amazingly well.

Of course, as kids experience the joy and fulfillment that music ministry brings, they move into adult ministries as they grow older. Sometimes this occurs after they attend college, sometimes right after high school. There are several young members within our large ensemble that joined after their time in youth music ministry.

Creating an intentional approach to recruiting

If we truly want our ministry to grow, we must create a broad and intentional strategy for recruiting volunteers for music ministry. A passive approach to recruitment will likely produce no change in the declining number of music ministers.

We know how rewarding music ministry can be as we share our God-given talents, and we have the opportunity to pass on this amazing music ministry experience to others. Intentional recruitment is the only way to ensure that we involve all of those musically inclined within the Body of Christ to share their gifts!

Written by Steve Petrunak, a founding board member of CLEF and director of music at St. Blase Catholic Church in Sterling Heights, Michigan. He has worked in music ministry for more than 40 years and is the co-author of “Managing Music Ministry: Beyond Notes and Chords.”

Copyright © 2024 Catholic Liturgical Ensemble Formation

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