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June 11, 2014

58

Nine Reasons People Aren’t Singing in Worship

by Kenny Lamm
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Worship leaders around the world are sadly changing their church’s worship (often unintentionally) into a spectator event, and people are not singing any more.

Before discussing our present situation, let’s look back into history. Prior to the Reformation, worship was largely done for the people. The music was performed by professional musicians and sung in an unfamiliar language (Latin). The Reformation gave worship back to the people, including congregational singing which employed simple, attainable tunes with solid, scriptural lyrics in the language of the people. Worship once again became participatory.

The evolution of the printed hymnal brought with it an explosion of congregational singing and the church’s love for singing increased.

With the advent of new video technologies, churches began to project the lyrics of their songs on a screen, and the number of songs at a churches disposal increased exponentially.

At first, this advance in technology led to more robust congregational singing, but soon, a shift in worship leadership began to move the congregation back to pre-Reformation pew potatoes (spectators).

What has occurred could be summed up as the re-professionalization of church music and the loss of a key goal of worship leading – enabling the people to sing their praises to God. Simply put, we are breeding a culture of spectators in our churches, changing what should be a participative worship environment to a concert event. Worship is moving to its pre-Reformation mess.

I see nine reasons congregations aren’t singing anymore:

  1. They don’t know the songs. With the release of new songs weekly and the increased birthing of locally-written songs, worship leaders are providing a steady diet of the latest, greatest worship songs. Indeed, we should be singing new songs, but too high a rate of new song inclusion in worship can kill our participation rate and turn the congregation into spectators. I see this all the time. I advocate doing no more than one new song in a worship service, and then repeating the song on and off for several weeks until it becomes known by the congregation. People worship best with songs they know, so we need to teach and reinforce the new expressions of worship. (more)
  2. We are singing songs not suitable for congregational singing. There are lots of great, new worship songs today, but in the vast pool of new songs, many are not suitable for congregational singing by virtue of their rhythms (too difficult for the average singer) or too wide of a range (consider the average singer—not the vocal superstar on stage).
  3. We are singing in keys too high for the average singer. The people we are leading in worship generally have a limited range and do not have a high range. When we pitch songs in keys that are too high, the congregation will stop singing, tire out, and eventually quit, becoming spectators. Remember that our responsibility is to enable the congregation to sing their praises, not to showcase our great platform voices by pitching songs in our power ranges. The basic range of the average singer is an octave and a fourth from A to D (more).
  4. The congregation can’t hear people around them singing.  If our music is too loud for people to hear each other singing, it is too loud. Conversely, if the music is too quiet, generally, the congregation will fail to sing out with power. Find the right balance—strong, but not over-bearing.
  5. We have created worship services which are spectator events, building a performance environment. I am a strong advocate of setting a great environment for worship including lighting, visuals, inclusion of the arts, and much more. However when our environments take things to a level that calls undue attention to those on stage or distracts from our worship of God, we have gone too far. Excellence – yes. Highly professional performance – no.
  6. The congregation feels they are not expected to sing. As worship leaders, we often get so involved in our professional production of worship that we fail to be authentic, invite the congregation into the journey of worship, and then do all we can to facilitate that experience in singing familiar songs, new songs introduced properly, and all sung in the proper congregational range.
  7. We fail to have a common body of hymnody. With the availability of so many new songs, we often become schizophrenic in our worship planning, pulling songs from so many sources without reinforcing the songs and helping the congregation to take them on as a regular expression of their worship. In the old days, the hymnal was that repository. Today, we need to create song lists to use in planning our times of worship. (more)
  8. Worship leaders ad lib too much. Keep the melody clear and strong. The congregation is made up of sheep with limited ranges and limited musical ability. When we stray from the melody to ad lib, the sheep try to follow us and end up frustrated and quit singing. Some ad lib is nice and can enhance worship, but don’t let it lead your sheep astray.
  9. Worship leaders are not connecting with the congregation. We often get caught up in our world of amazing music production and lose sight of our purpose of helping the congregation to voice their worship. Let them know you expect them to sing. Quote the Bible to promote their expressions of worship. Stay alert to how well the congregation is tracking with you and alter course as needed.

 

Once worship leaders regain the vision of enabling the congregation to be participants in the journey of corporate worship, I believe we can return worship to the people once again.

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  1. Jerry Patterson
    Jul 31 2014

    I spent my life as a preacher. But my college training was in engineering. One of the subjects was wave analysis. This is useful for both the propagation of sound as well as electricity. The thing that I have noticed is that modern design of worship facilities do not consider such things as wave refraction and phase reversal and its effect on congregational singing. Much of the design is for sound suppression. Designers try to overcome it with sound amplification. Years ago, I talked to the head of our denomination’s church architecture department about this and he was unfamiliar with the principles. I also talked to the head of the church music department, he did not seem interested in designing for congregational singing. Then I talked to the chairman of the department of sound (that was not his title) at my local university about this. He said they just taught industrial sound suppression. What happens is that a person starts singing and cannot hear those around him because of the phase reversal or sound suppression and so he sings lower and lower. I have also observed churches where they sang the 7-11 songs and then switched to a hymn. You can really tell the difference.

  2. Sue Hackwood
    Jul 30 2014

    After many years of seeing the changes in church music it is always obvious that when a traditional, well known hymn is sung the congregation sings with great enthusiasm. After the singing people turn to me and say “Wasn’t that great?!” The fact that many of the traditional hymns were written by people going through severe persecution eg John Newton (slave trader to slave) who wrote Amazing Grace.gives a real depth to the message of the song.

  3. Jul 30 2014

    One of the things that hampers congregational singing is that, other than the national anthem at a ballgame, church is the only place in America that it happens anymore. People don’t sing at the pub or around a friend’s piano as they might have once. This makes for just one more thing about church that people find awkward. I’m not saying we should stop, though. I’m saying that while (or before) we teach the how of corporate worship we may need to teach the “why”.

  4. Bob Clark
    Jul 10 2014

    I have been in Music ministry for 25 years and have followed the trends from traditional to adding praise choruses. We did all of the Don Moen “God with, God For, God In Us worship experiences, the Brownsville Revival, Passion, Hillsong, and on into today. I’m 55 play acoustic guitar while leading worship, with choir still in place. There are a lot of singable learnable songs out there, we are blessed to have so many song writers, but pace your use of song, its ok to reuse, to see what takes hold and use it in different worship sets. Let the song become a part of your worship lexicon. Know your congregation. learn to change keys, use a capo. Most modern songs are written by high tenors, or they have that octave jump, that either women have to sing harmony or really low and men can’t sing. I try to find that range that fits – eliminate the octave jump and even though I’m up on the very latest songs, pick and choose message and melodies that are easy for all. Not a rock show, but a worship experience for all.

  5. Jul 6 2014

    Good list. I have to add the observation that I have been in plenty of no-sing traditional churches. Often, the pattern I see is that the organist is stuck behind the organ and isn’t engaging the congregation and on last verses will crank up some raucous over-80 dB registrations for the alternate arrangement and blow the congregation away. 65-75 dB is best in most venues for encouraging people to sing and not overpowering them.

  6. Jul 6 2014

    Thank you for the excellent article! I think you have demonstrated wisdom and discernment. Multitudes are in agreement with you.
    Blessed be the church that still uses hymnals and allows the Spirit to tune the hearts. Give me Fanny Crosby any day!
    So! How is it that the pastors and leadership don’t get it? If the common man in the pew can barely tolerate the irritation, surely the preachers feel it.

  7. Catholic
    Jul 1 2014

    I have been in many denominations with various styles of worship. Catholic worship is, from my experience, the MOST participatory. From beginning to end of the mass, there are responses from scripture, prayers said or sung aloud, true communion with our Lord and with His body, the Church, and singing. True, before Vatican II in the 1960′s this was in Latin which many could not understand, but since then it has been in the people’s own heart language. Of course, individuals can recite prayers “parrot fashion” without their heart being in it but is not the same true of singing modern worship songs?

    As for those who say that Jesus is re-sacrificed at every mass. The Catholic Church clearly teaches that Jesus’ sacrifice at Calvary was once and for all. In the Eucharist His one-time sacrifice is made present, “This is my body” and “This is my blood” (He did not say this is a symbol or representation of my body and blood) as Jesus commanded us to do in remembrance of Him, until He comes again.

  8. Texas Annie
    Jun 26 2014

    I have to add another no-no. Please, worship leaders, refrain from commenting on whether the congregation is “half asleep” or “wide awake today.” Why are you looking at us? Shouldn’t your attention be on the Lord? When I hear comments like that, I feel that the worship team itself is not entering into worship, and basically, I have to try to IGNORE them and enter in on my own.

    Also to the person who posted about the Sacrifice of the Mass. The Jewish priests had to offer sacrifices every day, morning and evening, and also at new moons, feasts, etc. The Sacrifice of the Mass offers the sacrifice of Jesus every time the Mass is said. However, Jesus suffered once for all and does not need to be sacrificed again. Please read and study the New Testament, especially Acts and the Pauline Epistles, to see what I mean. Sacrificing Jesus over and over again is an abomination. I believe that Catholics will someday understand the error and change this practice.

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