Two weeks from now I am leaving a large church (large in Colorado, anyway) in which I lead worship weekly with a 40-man choir and a modest orchestra. This church is known in the area for its choir and orchestra. In two weeks, however, I move to a smaller church where they have a strong choir and a small praise band, but no orchestra. Some from the new church have spoken to me about building an orchestra, but I wonder...

...Don't get me wrong, I come from an orchestral background. I greatly value live instruments and strongly believe they add so much to a music set. Still, so many churches are scaling back their music programs that I wonder sometimes if by pursuing an orchestra I am fighting a battle that just doesn't need to be fought. The arts as a whole in our communities and in our schools has been scaled back incredibly, setting a trend I am not sure will ever be "corrected."

I have a passion for large musical ensembles (voice, strings, winds, guitars, drums...ALL of it!) but perhaps that is not the path any longer.


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Just to add a bit more, I look at have large ensemble through multiple perspectives. The first and primary reason I like having them is that it provides for even more places for church members to plug into. I've known many a person who hasn't picked up their trumpet in years but then decided to "give it a shot" because I invited them to an orchestra rehearsal.

Of course, there is also the perspective of self-satisfaction. I don't mean being proud of something I've done, but being satisfied that I am using the talents God has given me. I would not be happy with having only a small group to work with...He's given me the ability to do more (probably because I do not have the best voice out there, believe you me, but I do have a knack for connecting with groups I work with).

OK.  First I should say that there is not even the smallest chance of building an orchestra in a church the size of ours!  We make do with what we have.

But, I think the rule here is (as with most things) to look around, see what resources God has put around you, and where there is the possibility of growth or something good happening, and follow that.  If starting an orchestra appears (a) possible, and (b) something beautiful that would be a service to the local community as well as the church, and if (c) it will not drain resources that are desperately needed elsewhere and finally if (d) this is where your heart is.... then go for it. I don't think there are rules about style of music.

Likewise, it isn't a thing I've experienced in any of the churches I've been in. We get a few "orchestral" instruments - often violin, sometimes cello and I took my double bass down a few weeks ago - but that doesn't make an orchestra. Even if we were larger and had enough musicians, I think the type of songs we do, the number of different songs we do and the relatively short preparation time we have for any given service would be limiting factors.

However, if you can make it work, it draws on your gifts and (short of clear guidance from God either way) doesn't detract from other ministries, it sounds a fantastic creative expression for a church to host. A few questions, because I'd love to know more:

  • How many instruments do you need for what you have in mind as an orchestra? Wikipedia casually says, "... smaller-sized ensembles of about fifty musicians or fewer" (emphasis added).
  • Where do you get suitable arrangements and do they allow for musicians of varying skill levels?
  • How much time does it take to rehearse?
  • Would the orchestra cover all the music in the service or just special items?


Just like the church choir, orchestras are seen less and less these days. I have no issue against them... when done right that is. In most cases, personally, I'd vote for an orchestra (and probably even choir) to be used for seasonal / special events. My primary instrument is saxophone, so I definitely have an appreciation for wind instruments and such, but I've never utilized an orchestra on a regular basis. Most contemporary worship doesn't really call for it, although it would certainly be a nice addition to some songs. I'm probably not helping here as I find myself somewhere in the middle on this topic. At the end of the day, I think there is NOT a global answer on this one... but the answer falls on your particular church, area, and what you have to work with in the people at your church. If you can pull it off and you have the people to do so, then go for it. If you'd have to force it, or utilize people that have 10x more heart than actual ability, maybe shelf the idea for now at least. :)

It sounds like a good way of giving lots of people within a big church something to do that will help them feel part of what's going on, rather that just being sat in a pew & spoon-fed.  For many of us, this is something outside our experience.


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