Three years ago, the youth ministry team at The Salvation Army’s Mississauga Temple Community Church, Ont., was looking for ways to engage kids in our community and connect them to programs at our church. In looking at a combination of the needs in our community and our strengths as a church, we thought that starting a community music program would be an effective way to achieve these goals. We reimagined our existing youth programs (including the young people’s band, singing company and a few beginner classes) into the MTCC Music School.

When we first launched this program in January 2018, we reached out to kids and families with whom we had already made a previous connection. These were kids who had attended past events at our church, had gone to camp or had been part of our daycare. We began the program by offering group lessons for beginner trumpet and percussion, as well as starting a choir, and promoted it to families as affordable and high-quality music lessons. We asked members of the senior band to fill a roster of teachers and looked to our generous congregation to help raise funds for instruments and other program costs.

At our first registration night, we saw our numbers jump from about 30 children to more than 60. By our second registration night, it was more than 80. In the following weeks, every room in the building was full of families and children, many of whom had never previously attended our church. Throughout the first year of the program, we had our beginner classes and youth band participate on Sunday mornings, and we finished the year with a concert in which all the groups were able to perform.

Each year, we looked for ways to improve and expand the program. We added new ensembles, connected our students to divisional music events, and engaged parents of the students in Bible studies and parenting classes while music lessons were going on.

The biggest adjustment we have had to make has been due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Losing our ability to hold in-person lessons and gather in groups, we have reinvented the program to be completely online. Many of our students have continued throughout the pandemic, taking one-on-one lessons with our teachers over Zoom.

We have been able to keep our concerts going as well, with students recording their individual performances, which were put together into a virtual concert and livestreamed on Facebook. The online model has also given us opportunities to add new streams to our program, such as music theory, composition and a new youth worship team stream. A few students worked on arranging hymns for brass ensembles, which were then recorded by members of the senior band and included in our virtual concerts.

While we are anxiously awaiting the return of our in-person program, we have seen the value in having an online model and we plan to use some of this to our advantage even when we return to an in-person setting.

Throughout the music school’s existence, we have kept a couple of core values at the heart of everything we do. Keeping the program affordable, evolving and engaging to both kids and families has helped us to be effective over the last three years. Most importantly, we have held onto the idea that the primary purpose of the music school is not to produce the best musicians or send kids into the senior band, but rather to connect these kids and their families to God and the church community.

We have been intentional about making students aware of other church events for their age groups. We’ve seen many students take part in Bible studies, youth group events and service projects. We have also helped our teachers understand that they are not simply music teachers, but also small group leaders who can help students grow in their faith. These values have helped us not only grow our music programs, but also our church family. We can’t wait to see how God will use the music school next.

Jacob Slous is the youth ministry assistant for music and outreach at The Salvation Army’s Mississauga Temple Community Church, Ont.

Reprinted from MAGAzine.

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