History and Context

The Church Music Institute


In December, 2006, a group of Presbyterian clergy, laypersons, and musicians gathered at Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church, Dallas, Texas, to create the Church Music Institute (CMI), an educational and resource entity.  Many unknowns lay ahead that were acknowledged by all, but we committed ourselves to crafting a worthy future for church music that glorifies God. With funding from three Presbyterian donors, one in Connecticut and two in Dallas, CMI was founded to promote the health of church music. Though located in the greater Dallas/Ft. Worth community, CMI is dedicated to serve all Christian churches nationally.


Some facts

Congregations and the arts...are clearly entwined. The arts are used in the practice of religion, and religion provides social and organizational contexts for artistic activity.

In the worship services of American congregations:

96% include singing by the congregation.

91% use an organ.

72% have a choir.

20-40 minutes out of a 70-minute service include music.

More live music is experienced in churches than all other venues in our culture. [See the thorough study by Mark Chaves, Congregations in America (Boston: Harvard University Press, 2004) esp. 171].  A Chorus America study also supports this conclusion,  with findings that 200,000 of 250,000 extant choral groups are church choirs (www.chorusamerica.org).  Clearly, church music is important in our culture.

Some concerns

Our society includes several generations that have not been educated in the arts. Their musical repertoire exists largely as a passive experience of music in popular culture rather than that of an educational curriculum where music skills and appreciation of historical literature are taught.

The quality of our worship is threatened by the general lack of understanding the nature of the arts and their relation to theology and religious practice. Conversely, when music in the church is not informed by musical skill and understanding, the quality of the musical arts in our society is threatened.

Our market-driven culture exercises considerable influence on many decisions in worship, including music. The result is the loss of the accumulated riches of centuries of theology and music, the “song of the church,” for younger generations. The music of lament, missing from much contemporary music, is particularly neglected.

Press and denominational publications cite frequent instances of conflict in churches regarding music. Musicians who are not trained theologically and clergy who are not trained musically do not have a common language with which to communicate.

Basic issues in church music are rarely addressed by seminaries, academic institutions, denominational conferences, or organizations. Church music is interdisciplinary (music, theology, practice), though denominations tend to focus on implementation (“how to”) activities. Seminary curricula spend little time on worship and music while academe is organized by disciplines.

Seminarians take few courses in worship, and music is a small or nonexistent part of those courses. Unless seminarians have music training in their background, it is likely they will arrive in a pastorate without the musical skills and preparation needed to work with musicians in planning worship.

Church musicians, most of whom are part-time, may come to this vocation with music skills but are often unprepared to lead church music. A basic, professional music education will not usually include significant training in church music. Theological preparation is even less likely.

Some needs:

  • to educate pastors, musicians, and congregations in liturgy and music
  • to create opportunities for dialogue between musicians and clergy with laypersons, for whom the liturgy must be a  vehicle for their praise and prayer
  • to find ways to use music effectively in diverse congregations
  • to cultivate an ability to sort and evaluate the myriad resources now available
  • to develop musical leadership for all churches, especially for mid-sized and smaller churches
  • to create an entity that promotes the health of church music in a holistic fashion

[The concerns and needs are drawn from studies conducted from 1999-2003 as a part of research projects funded by the Lilly Endowment and the Louisville Institute and from research published in The Sounds of Our Offerings, Alban Institute, 2011.]

CMI Vision

By dedicating an entity to promote holistically the health of church music, the Church Music Institute seeks to acknowledge relevant facts, address  concerns, and meet needs. To our knowledge, no other entity anywhere in the U.S. is serving this specific function. CMI provides a venue in which (1) the interdisciplinary nature of church music intersects academic disciplines, (2) an opportunity exists for perspectives on music apart from those of commercial publishers, and (3) pastors and musicians meet to consider their work together.

CMI creates a home for the best music of the church from many sources and provides a place in which proven practices that govern good music-making can operate. At the same time, this work proceeds in a theological context where music serves the liturgy and is a vehicle for congregations to worship. The challenge of interdisciplinary scholarship applied to the congregational setting is the task of all who lead worship.

The Institute serves these purposes with:

  • a resource library that includes both hard copy browsing and online services where church musicians and pastors can find music and aids for planning worship
  • identification of music with theological and musical quality that is accessible to congregations
  • training skilled musicians specifically for music ministry in the church
  • educating pastors in music and musicians in theology
  • offering courses in the theology and philosophy of church music, hymnody, history of church music
  • choral training for leaders of children, youth and adult choirs
  • keyboard training for organists and pianists to give voice to musical prayers of congregations
  • training in teaching congregations to sing
  • planning sessions for pastors and musicians according to the liturgical year
  • repertoire reading sessions that span a broad spectrum of choral literature
  • gatherings of pastors/priests and musicians to discuss issues in church music
  • research in best practices in church music

Healthy music in a church not only supports quality of worship but also invigorates the well-being of the community.  The Church Music Institute seeks to be an agent for improving musical life in both church and culture.

Charlotte Kroeker, Ph.D., Executive Director, Church Music Institute