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A church worship band. Photo John Robert McPherson. WMC.

Worship leader shortage in Southern Baptist churches

The Southern Baptist Convention is facing a shortage of qualified music leaders.

“There just aren’t enough people out there to serve as worship leaders,” said Will Bishop, associate professor of church music and worship at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Bishop is the author of the first large-scale study of music in SBC churches in nearly 100 years. “A Snapshot of Southern Baptist Church Music: 2022,” as yet unpublished, surveyed 127 congregations across the country, asking them 111 questions about the music in their worship services.

Some of the details he has turned up are fun and quirky: Three percent of the churches reported they have at least one harp player in the congregation. Secular songs sometimes used in SBC services include “California Dreamin’” by the Mamas & the Papas; “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” by John Denver; “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson; and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” a South African song popularized in the 1950s and ’60s by the Weavers and the Tokens.

More seriously, the study paints a picture of a denomination adapting and changing while also holding on to musical tradition. Despite declining membership over the past several years, the SBC is the largest Protestant denomination in the United States with more than 46,000 congregations. Bishop’s survey shows that many of those are still singing Fanny Crosby’s hymns. She ranked second among the 127 churches in the study, surpassed only by Chris Tomlin.

About 20 percent of the churches in Bishop’s survey have 50 or fewer people in the pews every week and 30 percent have between 50 and 100. Some reported data wouldn’t show up in a search of copyright license reports. One in five SBC churches sing more hymns than modern songs. One-third sing an equal number.

As he got into the nitty gritty of the survey data, though, Bishop became most concerned about the music ministry pipeline. Few SBC congregations seem to be emphasizing the kind of programs that encourage young people to pursue worship music training or to participate in music ministry at all. Only 44 of the 127 congregations he surveyed had an active children’s choir. Less than 10 percent had a youth choir.

“Churches have not prioritized training young people to do worship ministry,” Bishop said. “We’re not thinking about the future. Music is a way to disciple. I see bad things on the horizon when I see bad numbers for youth and kid ensembles.”

–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice

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