Youth Choir R&R ~ Recruitment and Retention

YC – This designates material suited for Youth Choirs. Perkins School of Theology has allowed me to teach CM8107: Youth Choir and the Church for 20 years. Maybe, some of the things I have learned and shared might be helpful in this context.

‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.’

Acts 2:17


Our youth will not likely prophesy unless we give them the stage to be heard.




Hot Dog Party.  Invite core members of your choir to your home for a hot dog party. (why hot dogs?  They are easy to prepare on the grill.  Why your home?  It will allow them to see you on a more personal level).  Offer a stack of blank paper, envelopes, and the names and addresses of youth that have not attended recently, if at all.  As your choir members eat hot dogs and enjoy fellowship, pass the blank sheets of paper around the table and encourage each of the invited guests to write a personal note of support to an absent choir member.  Encourage creativity and instruct them to express how the choir needs and wants their participation.  The culminating collage of thoughts can be very motivating to a youth who feels outside of the circle of your choir.  Take advantage of their labor and have them fold, stuff, address, stamp and mail their handiwork.   Watch their faces as one of their recipients enters the room.  An event such as this strengthens the core and elevates their sensitivity to those outside the core as well as recruit sheep who have wandered from the fold.


Shirt Off Your Back.  Perhaps you have parents who would be willing to financially support this concept.  It has the potential to be a very significant recruiting tool.  Begin by designing a choir t-shirt. (it must be cool.  Get help if you lack an eye for contemporary fashion).  Guessing sizes, order more than enough for your entire choir but do not give them out.  Wear one to every rehearsal and offer one to anyone who brings a friend to choir.  At the end of a rehearsal, have your singer introduce their friend, give the choir member a shirt to much fanfare and applause. In all likelihood, they will put it on immediately, flaunt their success and taunt others to join their evangelism club.  Simply because the shirts are difficult to obtain, they will become quite desirable. Rules:

1) One shirt per singer, regardless of future evangelism.

2) The friend must have been absent from choir for at least 3 months.

3) it must be pre-arranged with the pair walking into the choir room together. 4) Find a good reason to give out the remaining shirts at the end of the year.


Sunday Sundaes (This title is only feasible if your rehearsal is on Sunday!).  How can you motivate youth who do not know you to give your choir a try?  Consider appealing to their stomach.  Create a coupon, redeemable on by someone who is new to choir during a specific amount of time such as the month of September.  Do this at the beginning of the year and include your rookies.  Distribute the coupon to each new family to join your church, to youth Sunday School classes, and the entire youth program at your church.  At the conclusion of a pre-designated rehearsal, have the veteran choir members open their ice cream shoppe; Sunday Sundaes.  The veterans redeem the coupons by taking the orders for toppings, creating, and serving the new members.  By not allowing veterans to partake, you value the concept of servanthood.  Structure fellowship time while the ice cream is devoured – placing the new singers as the center of attention.  Show that you value new singers and they will return.


A Mafia Party. Invite your most dynamic and active choir members to the church, preferable on a day in which there is no school and the church office is closed such as Labor or Memorial Day. Invite your Mafia to create a “hit list” of prospective singers and their phone numbers.  Then ask them to divide the list and begin calling.  It is ideal to use a speaker phone system and allow the youth to call in pairs.  This takes the pressure off one person and creates a lighter atmosphere for the new recruit.  If your church office is closed and you can use as many as 3 lines, 3 pairs of youth can contact 45 recruits in 30 minutes. Cell phones make it easy for multiple calls in a matter of seconds. Provide a script outline for the shy kids and monitoring for the potentially inappropriate kids if necessary. (Consider substituting “Head Hunters” for “Mafia”) Sometimes, one call from a youth is worth five from you.



Senior Devotions Urge youth to examine their spiritual leadership abilities.  In the weeks prior to graduation, ask each senior to close a rehearsal with a devotion. Their creativity and insight may surprise you and will have a powerful influence on the other singers.  Allow them to choose their source such as a scripture verse, contemporary Christian song on which they elaborate, or random thoughts from the heart.  The younger members, in turn, will catch a glimpse of their spiritual leadership potential, and envision their time in this role.  Once the tradition is established, youth will begin planning in the 9th grade the things they will share.  Keeping seniors in youth choir demands competition for their time and attention.  If you find ways to help them feel special, you will encourage their continued support of your program.


Mug Shots.  Many choirs post individual pictures of their choir members on a bulletin board.  Consider this twist.  Reward those students who show the promise of regular attendance and only take pictures of youth who have attended four rehearsals.  Then, find creative ways to use the pictures.  For example, select a student at random to spotlight or feature students with birthdays and place their pictures on your written rehearsal agenda.  Perhaps you can offer a contest for the most interesting artistic enhancement by choir members at the end of rehearsal.  The humorous but not hurtful caricatures make good presents for the featured student to take home as a memento.  (Limit participants to the intelligent few who actually grabbed a rehearsal pencil!) 

Youth tend to care a great deal about these pictures.  It builds their esteem as a member of the choir as well as gives you the opportunity to put names with faces outside of rehearsal.


Day Mission Trips.  Consider the benefits of a tour in a limited one-day setting.  Perhaps the first day of school vacation before Christmas.  This time of year offers a repertoire of carols, which require limited rehearsal time in a busy season.  Seek out nursing homes, youth detention centers, facilities for the disabled and hospitals.  Spend the preceding weeks collecting toiletry items, making cards or collecting food to build anticipation and create excitement among the students.  In one day, 9 AM to 3 PM, depending on the distance you need to travel, your choir may have the ability to sing in 3 very different venues with lunch in a unique setting, such as a church quite different from your own.  It is important to end the day with a time of reflection and spiritual growth.  It is entirely possible that you will change the meaning of Christmas for your young people this year.

You work hard, so share this dream with a parent and allow them to do the planning.  They are hungry for this kind of opportunity for their child.  Let parents organize and conserve your energy for the youth.  When you provide important experiences such as a mission-oriented day trip, youth will make choir an important priority in their lives.


Vocal Interviews.  Young singers depend on you, the director to know about their voices and explain their instruments to them.  They want to trust you and need to know that you understand their vocal situation.  Consider enhancing your voice training in choir to individual vocal interviews. Begin by creating a form in a notebook with categories such as range, pitch, timbre and blend.  Due to time, only vocalize and keep notes as you listen.  Over the years, your vocal diary will reflect their progress and the chances in their voices.  Take the opportunity to lovingly make suggestions and call them to increase their vocal contribution to the choir.  Also, encourage them, draw on their strengths and reinforce their importance to you and the ministry of music.

In two hours, one before and one after rehearsal, with 5 minute slots, you can realistically hear 20 youth.  They will be very nervous, however your ability to support them will greatly enhance your relationship. You have made the commitment to nurture them individually – they will respond with increased commitment to choir with stronger vocal abilities.


Personalized Hymnals. No parental badgering or choir director pleading can match the success of peer pressure.  In the spirit of healthy competition, create a competition among the choir for attendance by offering a personalized/engraved hymnal to the top 10% attendees over a predetermined period of time.  Distribute the hymnals in a public setting and allow them to be kept in a special location in the choir room.  The cost is minimal.  The reward is increased commitment, ownership, and loyalty to the choir.  You have also provided a keepsake for singers to cherish for the rest of their lives.


Pay them. I have saved the best, sure fire way to increase retention. If you kept reading this far you deserve to have the best I have to offer. Unfortunately, it’s almost “wrong.”

Our youth choir divides in the summer between Sr. and Jr. High Tours. The Sr. Tour is a 10 day event. Unfortunately these programs cost money and I wish it were free. If we have a fundraiser, the money combines with other donations and I don’t immediately disperse it. All money goes into the church scholarship fund and is distributed among the kids who support the church with their attendance. For example, a sr. high kid can get $10 every time they attend 30 predesignated rehearsals and performances and lower the cost of their tour by $300. Similarly, a jr. high youth can get $5 for attendance at 25 specified events and receive $50 to lower the cost of their tour experience.

Yes, this feels like paying the kids to come to church. I look at it like this. The church is going to help lower the cost of this vital spiritual experience and support the youth who have supported the church. The benefits are crazy.

Kids who get up on Sunday mornings and give their parents chaos often hear this: “if you don’t go, that $10 comes out of your pocket and not mine!” Parents are more committed to taxi responsibility. Attendance immediately improves when this financial program goes into effect.

The first year I did the math and sought huge donations to get this funded. Then, to my surprise I had a lot of money left over. Very few kids came to every event. Some kids only came half, or less. The leftover money funded the same program the following year.

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