ORLANDO, Fla. — Choral music in the churches is alive and well according to approximately 1,300 students attending SonPower, the annual Lifeway Worship conference for middle and high school students. But not all came to Florida just to sing soprano, alto, tenor and bass.
SonPower draws youth choirs from all over the country to Orlando to rehearse and record 12 choral arrangements. Though students participate in studio performance at the end of the week, their rehearsal time is split between missions and discipleship.
Much like Lifeway’s FUGE camps, students hear from a camp speaker and worship leader during morning and evening sessions. During the day, students join with the Greater Orlando Baptist Association to work in various Florida communities. Projects — in partnership with the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board — range from street evangelism to remodeling aging churches and keep students busy before they are due back for evening rehearsal and a late night worship service.
Early in the week, conference speaker and Christian recording artist Shaun Groves gave testimony to a transformational moment he had as a worship leader in Franklin, Tenn.
According to Groves, hundreds of students would come to worship services at his church because of — he suspected — his experience in the Christian music industry. One week he challenged students to attend an additional weekend worship service. Students were excited until Groves explained further that the “worship service” would meet in the parking lot of the church and would require all worshippers to bring work gloves, rakes and clothes to get dirty. Only four students showed up that weekend to worship.
Groves’ illustration of mission as worship set the tone for the entire week at SonPower. Dennis Allen, who with his wife, Nan Corbitt Allen, has led SonPower rehearsal sessions and arranged the SonPower songbooks for more than a decade, corroborated Groves’ passion for a broader perspective on worship.
“I am not sure God just wants us to stand on chairs and sing songs,” he said. “Missions is very much a part of what we are doing. In so many hymns, old and new, we sing ‘Let me be Yours.’ What could be more worshipful than what our students are doing in the greater Orlando community this week?”
Allen, a composer, arranger and studio musician, has a heart that beats in 4/4 time. But Allen passionately relays that a heart that beats for God must make Jesus Lord over all things. According to Allen, that means missions.
“We have 1,000 kids ready to serve. Could you use somebody?” he asked the Greater Orlando Baptist Association. “With that many kids, for one week, you can make a real difference,” he explained.
Even the worship leader, Micah Watson, echoed the same message from the platform citing his experience in Mumbai, India, with the IMB. Watson led students in worship songs written in the slums of India while interjecting video images of his trip ministering among the poor of Mumbai.
Though some might suggest choral music is on the decline in American churches, the attendance at SonPower suggests that choral music has a bright future.
LifeWay’s involvement with SonPower says “We still care about youth choir,” said Allen, who was brought on to lead SonPower two years after Lifeway acquired the project from Prism Music. And this year is the biggest event attended ever.”
“Youth choir takes work,” he said, adding that hard work has a priceless payoff: discipleship. “There is something unique about how our brains respond when memorizing music and lyrics. You’ll remember more song lyrics than Scripture verses. I would challenge anyone to prove me wrong about that.”
Students at SonPower learn to live a life of missional worship through the diversity of experiences offered at this year’s conference, a compelling attraction cited by many church leaders who brought groups to Orlando.
“Our culture and our school systems might give you a week to do something with our students,” said Dave Briley, associate pastor of worship arts at First Baptist Church of Decatur, Ala. Briley’s group planned additional time for missions and small group discipleship during the conference’s optional breakout sessions.
“We are trying to get choir tour, youth camp and student missions all in one week,” he said. “You can plan it how you want, but Lifeway puts the bookends on it.”
The next SonPower conference is June 18-22, 2012, at the DoubleTree Hotel in Orlando near the entrance to Universal Studios.
by Devin Maddox