Singing God’s word at church camp

The first time I organised music for my church camp was at best, discouraging and at worst, a disaster. I felt pretty chuffed to have been asked, and didn’t want to let anyone down, so I pulled out all the stops, putting together a band of the most talented musicians from our congregation and picking out all the favourite songs. I looked forward to the weekend of singing with eager anticipation. But when I got there, everything seemed to go wrong. I hadn’t considered the fact that for all those musicians, I would need a large P.A. setup, nor where those many pieces of equipment would be. It took much longer to pack than I had expected and I arrived at the venue flustered and an hour late. Once the entire band had arrived, lugged their gear from the carpark and set everything up, we were too late to rehearse due to the noise curfew.. The rest of the weekend didn’t fare much better. We often felt under-rehearsed and hampered by tech problems in every session. By the end of our time away, we were exhausted and disappointed that our extra efforts had felt so fruitless.

Often people view music as a nuisance at our church weekends away for this very reason - it just feels like too much hassle! Or at the very least we schedule it arbitrarily because it's what we’ve always done in our corporate gatherings. But if organising a music team, choosing songs and pulling together logistics for singing can cause such a headache, why sing at all? 

Why sing at your church camp?

There are two reasons why singing is an excellent thing to do when your church gathers for a weekend away. 

Firstly, singing helps us be taught by and respond to God’s word. Colossians 3:16 reminds us to “let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” First and foremost, the action of corporate singing is a ministry of God’s word. When we go away together as a church congregation, we’re doing more than just having a group holiday. Whilst extended socialising with our church family is great, it would be a shame to miss the opportunity to hear from God in His word and grow together as His body. That’s why we would usually hear the bible read and explained through preaching on our church camps, as we would when we gather on a Sunday. If one of the aims of our extended weekend gathering is to be hearing and responding to God’s word together, then a great opportunity is missed when singing is left out.

Secondly, singing contributes to the unity of God’s people. God’s purpose for Christian singing is not only for our individual relationship with Him but our corporate one. The message of Christ dwells among us richly in our singing as we “teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.” When churches go away together, one of the goals is to grow in deeper fellowship with each other - singing is a great way to do this. Spending an entire weekend together provides chances to get to know each other better through longer periods of socialising and, on a deeper level, greater opportunity for meaningful conversations informed by God’s word. People are likely to be more open and vulnerable with one another. Singing, in its nature, demands vulnerability - especially if we don't feel good at it! So, a church weekend away gives space for a deeper and richer singing experience.  

How to lead singing well at your church camp?

So you’re convinced that it's worth the hassle to organise singing for your church camp. But how do we avoid it falling apart like mine did?

Keep it simple and proportionate.

There’s no getting around it - organising a full band for a whole weekend is a logistical nightmare. When we plan who our musicians will be, we need to consider how much gear that band will require (for example, do you need to bring a drum kit? A bass amp?), as well as how long you need to rehearse. The more musicians you add, the longer your rehearsal will take and the harder it is to organise. So pare it down: a singer, an acoustic guitar and/or a piano are more than enough to provide rhythmic and harmonic support for people to sing to, and a cajon can be a good portable substitute for the full drum kit.

The majority of church getaways have an attendance rate of less than one hundred people. A small acoustic group will lean into the more intimate feel, and give your congregation more room to sing. It can be an encouraging, uplifting experience to hear more clearly the voices of our brothers and sisters praising Christ around us.

Don’t lower your standards.

Whilst we want to keep your band simple, this doesn’t mean we let our standards suddenly drop. Though the more relaxed setting might feel like a good time to let your inexperienced musicians ‘have a go,’ small ensembles still require competent and experienced leadership - in fact this matters more without the ‘padding’ of a larger band. And we know that without confident leadership, congregations feel uncomfortable and unwilling to sing loudly. No one wants to be the one person who came in too enthusiastically at the wrong time or in the wrong key!  So, be strategic about who you choose to play. Consider pairing a new musician with those more experienced. Give them a chance to play, but also give them support and leadership, so that the singing is an encouraging experience for them and those they help to lead.

Consider the space.

One of the big logistical challenges of a weekend away is that you are using a foreign space. Whilst this limits what we can control, there are still small things you can do to make people more comfortable as they sing. Firstly, make sure you have the right number of chairs set out. If you have one hundred chairs set out for thirty people, your group will inevitably spread out as they sit down. If you put out close to the exact number of chairs, then people will be able to hear each other’s voices better and feel much more comfortable to sing out loudly. Secondly, make sure you have the right equipment for your context. A group of twenty people can get by fine without any amplification. However, forty or more will need some sort of P.A. system with microphones in order to provide an audible musical lead.

Choosing Songs

Just as important as getting the logistics right, when we sing at our church camps, we need to make sure we’re singing the right songs. Here are some tips for maximising your singing times:

Choose songs that sing the Gospel. 

Given our reading of Colossians 3:16, this should seem obvious. Yet so often the first songs that get chosen are crowd favourites. Or even songs that felt a bit theologically vague to sing in the regular Sunday service. Just because we are away on camp, doesn’t mean we let our standards lapse. Choose songs that are BOTH theologically rich and musically beautiful. There’s certainly a place for choosing songs that people like - people will want to sing more enthusiastically for songs they enjoy - but it must work hand-in-hand with God’s purposes for singing rather than at its expense.

Consider the weekend as a whole. 

Unlike a Sunday service, the format of a weekend away gives us an opportunity to think more creatively about when we sing and what it will be in response to. Plan your songs across an entire day rather than session-by-session. For example, in a session just after morning tea, rather than singing straight away, try starting with an interview or testimony and then sing in response to the grace God has shown in that person’s life. That way your singing will have purpose rather than becoming a warm-up activity for people to slowly return to after they finish making their cups of tea. Songs that feel intentionally chosen will increase engagement with singing God's word. 

Teach a new song. 

Having multiple sessions over a weekend gives you plenty of time to repeat a song enough for people to learn it quickly. If you teach a new song you want to introduce at church, you’ll also get a headstart on the learning cycle churches usually have to go through. You should also consider the teaching of the weekend. Is there a theme to what you’re studying? A well chosen song that speaks into the biblical truths of the theme will help the teaching points stick in people's minds and hearts all the more.

Getting the most from our church camps

Going away together can be an encouraging and refreshing time of growth in our relationship with God and our fellow brothers and sisters. So rather than feeling overwhelmed or uninterested in congregational singing, let’s use it to uphold and increase that growth.

Written by James McDonald

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published