For our 2012 Special Gathering Christmas music, we are using the score from a children musical,  Stranger in the Manger, by Johnathan Crumpton and Sue Smith, published by Brentwood-Benson Music Productions. Brentwood Choral holds the copyrights.

Even though it is a children’s musical, it will adapt easily to the needs of the adults in your program.  You will need to buy the Demo CD and the Split-track practice CD.  There is also a great orchestration CD and books available.  This music is certainly worth the expense.

Crumpton and Smith’s music and words are wonderful.  The words to the songs are not childish. They tell the message of the miracle of God’s son’s birth in a touching and anointed way.  In fact, everyone has their favorite song. Most of our choir members tear up during one of the song. I’ve had to almost harden my heart to the song, “This is Such a Strange Way to Save The World,” because the words are so powerful that the first 500 times I heard it, I cried.  Even now, writing about and remember the powerful words of the song, I am fighting back tears.

The musical score can easily be adapted to adults who may have a difficult time learning choral parts.  While many of the words may be difficult to say for people who have speech impediments, I’ve found that our members are learning the words because they love the music.  The big band, upbeat sound of the orchestration and musical score make this musical easy for our members to learn because they want to work hard to learn the words and be a part of this choral expression.

Introducing new music to your program is always a challenge.  And it doesn’t matter if your members are musically advanced or developmentally delayed.  At the Special Gathering of Indian River, which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community, we do classic ministry–discipleship and evangelism. 

We call your worship times–chapel because we desire to be subordinate to the local church.  The definition of a chapel is a time of  worship that is somewhat less than a worship service.  However, we do many of the same things that you would do in a worship service.  Praise and worship are an important part of what we do.  

While all of our members enjoy some form of music, many of them have not been taught or encouraged to sing for most of their lives.  Therefore, teaching new music can be an especially difficult concern.  After several decades of trial and error, this is the method that I find works best for me.

From the beginning, I teach new music to the choir.  These are my best singers and they are the people who are most enthusiastic about singing during worship time.  I try to encourage my choir members to understand that they are part of the worship leadership and they will lead others into worship by their example. 

Occasionally, I find a member who comes into choir because he or she feels it will be great to be able to go to other churches and sing.  The choir sings special selections during our worship time.  Being up front appeals to them.  They learn quickly, however, that choir is hard work and I expect them to put forth the effort that getting up front requires.  In this way, they either become enthused or they leave the choir.

Second, about a year ago, I began using the new music as a before-worship funtime.  I will often sing along with the members in a silly kind of way.  Or I’ll let people come up front and show off.  In general, it’s a relaxed, happy time of learning.  I’ve found that this helps me to connect with our members.  It gives me about 15 minutes of playful time with them before worship begins. 

In this way, I also find out what songs the members like.  I can also figure out which songs may be too difficult.  “Big House” is a great, fun song that our members love.  However, it is too hard for them to sing.  I still throw it into the mix about every six months because they love it.  Yet–and this is an interesting observation–as much as they enjoy “Big House” during the “fun-time,” many of them show frustration on their faces during the praise and worship time.  Perhaps the reason is because they understand the seriousness of praising God and they want to be able to participate during the worship time.

What about you?  What are the ways you have found that make learning new music fun and exciting for your members?