Singing ChurchCandler School of Theology delves into the far-reaching issue of music in worship at “The Singing Church: Current Practices and Emerging Trends in Congregational Song” March 19-21. The school has assembled a roster of well-known church music professionals to address this topic that has divided churches for more than a decade in the so-called “worship wars.”  

While some worship leaders may have already pledged allegiance to a particular kind of music – historic hymns, praise bands with contemporary music, or meditative chant-song – “The Singing Church” aims to break down preconceived notions of what church music can be and give pastors, music ministers and lay leaders the tools they need to deepen their churches’ worship experiences through congregational singing.  

“We’re excited to present this conference because music is an immensely vital part of a worship service, and therefore immensely vital to the life of the church,” says Bob Winstead, director of Candler’s Office of Lifelong Learning, which provides continuing education for clergy, church professionals and laity. “The integration of music into a service can make or break a worship experience, and the training offered at “The Singing Church” will help church leaders provide a richer and deeper spiritual life for their congregations.”

Conference participants will have the chance to worship and study with a diverse, ecumenical group of more than 15 renowned church music leaders who work in a variety of ministries. Sessions will cover topics like how to write songs that address the concerns of a modern congregation, such as illness or social injustice, and how to plan worship for multicultural communities. Other workshops will address the role of the hymnal, successful methods for teaching new songs to a congregation, and how to make the most out of traditional music.

“All of the conference leaders bring a wide range of experiences and orientations to what it means to sing the church’s song,” says Barbara Day Miller, associate dean of worship and music at Candler School of Theology and the lead designer of the conference. “Because of this diversity, we’ll be able to explore the many ways that we express who we are before God in song.”

“One of the most important things we want to say through the conference is that it doesn’t have to be an either/or situation when churches are looking for music to enhance worship,” says Day Miller. “When you approach the issue creatively, it can be a very successful both/and.”

The conference also will feature an evening performance by popular hymn writer and song leader John Bell, of Scotland’s Iona Community, a Christian ecumenical group dedicated to the rebuilding of community and the renewal of worship. Bell is noted for his commitment to congregational participation in worship. Registration for the conference includes the John Bell event; tickets for the general public are $20 and are available on the conference website.  

Both Winstead and Day Miller believe Candler School of Theology is the perfect setting for this conference because of its rich musical community. “Candler is interested in the broadest experience of the people’s song, and in how we can get the whole church singing. We have gifted professors and a diverse student body, and all are committed to teaching and learning one another’s song,” says Day Miller.

She has one piece of advice for those attending the conference: “Come ready to sing.”

“The Singing Church: Current Practices and Emerging Trends in Congregational Song” will be held March 19-21 in Cannon Chapel on the campus of Emory University. The cost is $250 per person; if a group of three or more attends, each person in the group will receive a $50 discount.

The conference is made possible by grant support from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, with additional funding from Candler’s endowment for the Avary Program in Church Leadership.

For more information and to register for the conference or purchase John Bell tickets, please visit