Unfortunately, many people have this view that the person who stands up in front of the congregation and waves his arms around serves no real purpose at all. Maybe they have just never sung under the baton of an inspired conductor. Maybe they just never look up at the conductor to take in what they are doing. Maybe they just refuse to sing in any case and check out altogether.
The Church Music Conductor does have a real function. That job is to UNITE the group in singing praises to God. The conductor shares a yoke with the accompanist -- the conductor keeps track of the tempo, dynamics, flow, breathing and interpretation so that the organist can focus on her playing. Ideally, the conductor sets the organist at ease and keeps the congregation working harmoniously together.
How is that done? What are all of those UPSTROKES and DOWNSTROKES about anyway?
The DOWNSTROKES are indication of when the beat happens. Just like tapping your toes or bouncing a ball in time to the music, the downward motion speeds into the ICTUS or the exact instant of the BEAT. Musicians call these downstrokes DOWNBEATS.
But a DOWNBEAT cannot happen unless it comes from a higher position. Rather than letting a ball simply drop, bouncing a ball or swinging a bat or getting ready to jump takes a preparation movement in the opposite direction. The force of the jump or swing or bounce comes from the power in that PREPARATION. That is the same with the UPSTROKES in conducting. Musicians call these UPBEATS or REBOUNDS or CUES or PREPARATORY Beats.
Much information is conveyed in how the UPBEAT is articulated -- the TEMPO, the FEEL, the BREATH, the DYNAMIC. For example, a long UPBEAT (accompanied by powerful hands and a big breath by the conductor) usually cues the congregation to come in singing LOUDLY. A gentle small hand motion (and light breath) on the UPBEAT usually cues the congregation that they are to sing SOFTLY.
For the novice CONDUCTOR, try experimenting with planning your CUES. You will be amazed at what you can do by just varying your UPSTROKES and DOWNSTROKES.