Is quality music education lacking in your community? Historically, the church has been on the ground floor of music education. It’s time to reclaim this ground! Have you considered the possibility of a Conservatory or Fine Arts Academy for your church and community? Let’s discuss the ways to get started, promote it, find teachers, discover outreach possibilities, and in the process, identify some administrative keys for success.
First you need a purpose statement. Why are you doing this? Is it just about music education, or is there a higher purpose? Consider this example: “An environment where Christ is honored and students are challenged to develop their God given talents for the glory and service of God.”
The Conservatory is also a great opportunity to demonstrate stewardship and maximize the use of your church facility. Many facilities sit idle during the week. Why not appropriate them for quality music instruction in a Christian environment?
Next, you need to hire your faculty. My suggestion is to hire individuals who are qualified both musically and spiritually. Don’t compromise in this area! God will honor your efforts, if you set the standard high, and offer quality instruction, from a Christian perspective.
It is extremely important that you structure your Conservatory in a model of accountability to the church. Before you even hire the first teacher or enroll the first student, make sure you have your church’s unreserved support for the program, and that it is considered as one of the ministries of the church. Work within the structure of the church administration and policies, and realize that you are subservient to most other ministries of the church, never becoming the “tail that wags the dog.”
What about the curriculum for the Christian Conservatory? Let me suggest that a Christian based Conservatory does not necessarily mean that all music sung, played, or performed will have a religious theme. However, it does mean that you strive to have Christian teachers, whose lifestyle will show them to be servants of our Lord, and that they will teach from a Christian perspective.
Here are some more policy issues that need to be considered as you establish your Conservatory or Fine Art Academy:
- Music Instruction: offer 30 minute, 45 minute, or one hour time blocks.
- Schedule: Operate within the constraints of the church facility (an example would be Monday-Friday, 9:00 AM-9:00 PM). Each teacher sets their available schedule and the administrator matches that with the student’s schedule.
- Registration: consider setting up an online registration system, rather than a written application and enrollment form.
- Withdrawal policy: Proper notice must be given, as a courtesy to the teachers, who are dependent on the income (example – 30-day written notice).
- Tuition and Fees: Registration fee should be payable in advance. Consider charging by the semester, rather than by the month. Example: “Half of the semester fee is due prior to the first lesson, with the balance due in thirty days.” Make sure the hourly rate is comparable with the going rate for lessons in your area. Consider charging a late fee, to make sure everything is paid in a timely manner. Late fees should be assessed for every 30-day period until he balance is paid in full.
- Make-up Lessons: It should be the student’s responsibility to contact the teacher directly if a lesson is to be missed. If the teacher cannot be reached, the student should notify the Academy/Conservatory office. Any lesson missed or cancelled by the instructor is the responsibility of the instructor to make up. Make-up lessons are only granted for an excused absence in which the instructor is notified in advance (example: at least six hours prior to the lesson time). An excused absence should be spelled out specifically, i.e. student illness, extreme emergency, or death in the family. Suggest that there be a strict make-up limit, to assure student dedication and respect for the teacher’s time (example – only one make-up lesson per semester will be granted). Teachers are free to grant additional make-ups, at their discretion.
- Child Abuse Protection Issues: All teachers should submit to the same requirements as anyone working with children at the church.
- Compensation and Tax Considerations: I would suggest that all monies be funneled through the church finance office vs. establishing an independent bank account. This helps the Conservatory be further accountable to the church in its operations. Teachers can be paid as contract labor or as employees of the church. There are pros and cons to either option.
Now that you are seriously considering all these issues for starting a Conservatory or Fine Arts Academy, what’s holding you back? Do it, and do it well, for the glory of God and the furthering of His kingdom!
Brian Hedrick is a graduate of Florida State University (B.M.E., 1981), Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (M.M., 1985), and the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies (D.W.S., 2008). He has served in churches in Texas, Arizona, and Georgia, and has been the Minister of Instrumental Music at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia, since 1994. He is also the Director of the Johnson Ferry Conservatory for the Arts. He currently has three arrangements published for church orchestra, and his book, The Biblical Foundations of Instrumental Music in Worship: Four Pillars, was published in 2009. Brian is a member of the Metro Instrumental Directors Conference and the Conductors Guild. He and his wife, Mellonee, are both French horn players, and have four children and three grandchildren.