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June 11, 2014

145

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 haphazard 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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145 Comments Post a comment
  1. Worship Leader
    Nov 23 2014

    If you stop singing because you don’t care for a certain song or style of music, please leave the church. You are doing more harm than good. You are obviously no longer lost because you have heard the gospel, you are rebellious. If you had any idea of how great our God is, it would be hard to keep from singing! “Even the very rocks would cry out!” The American church is far to consumed with pandering to seat fillers. The body would be so much stronger if we could “spew out” the lukewarm. “Christians” who refuse to sing because of worship styles are in insult to the Body, and blaspheme the sacrifice that Christ made.

    Reply
  2. Karen
    Nov 23 2014

    I agree with many of the comments above. I would ask the reason for the repetition of choruses. I love to sing – I too love the old worship hymns and don’t think we sing enough of them anymore. If I like the song, I join in. If I don’t like it so much, I join in. It’s not about me. Worship is praising and worshiping our Savior. I believe the music should be an extension of the message. It’s somewhat arrogant to think that only the old hymns are worshipful.
    But I don’t understand why choruses have to be repeated over and over. I counted once whatever song we sang the chorus was sung eight times – sometimes loud, soft, slowly – it became almost hypnotic.

    Reply
  3. Tee Bowers
    Nov 23 2014

    I think that churches need to include some of the hymns into their worship, find songs that match the upcoming message and when singing a praise song, STOP REPEATING the chorus over and over and over again! The hymns will attract those who grew up singing them while the younger Christians will enjoy the new praise music, possibly causing both to enjoy the time of worship together! My husband and I tend to quit singing when the chorus, whether praise song or hymn, is repeated more than twice! Also praise teams need to learn how to enunciate better. I cringe every time I hear: “How GRAY is our God!”

    Reply
  4. Ranath
    Nov 22 2014

    Worship leaders ? what is worship? is worship only singing and shouting? We worship also when we pray, give our offerings, read our bibles and listen and respond to the sermon. Do we name the person that lead us in these areas of worship, “worship leaders”, no.
    So why do we name person that lead us in singing, “worship leaders”
    I think a more appropriate name is lead singers.
    Can anyone tell me what is” praise and worship” considering that we should be worshiping for the entire worship service.

    Reply
  5. Nov 22 2014

    I am fortunate to attend a church with great praise & worship, so I’m not an unhappy worshiper by any means. That said I would make a couple of tweeks if given the opportunity.

    1) Turn down the house volume just a tad. I love hearing the congregation lifting their voices and that is frequently masked by the band. 2) When you introduce a new song immediately follow it up with a tried and true standard that everyone knows to get them back into worship mode. New songs have to be sung a few times before they move from just words to being a part of our worship.

    Last year I had the opportunity to visit Brooklyn Tabernacle. Not sure what to attribute this too – maybe the unique acoustics of that building. They have a lively band, and a great choir, but during praise and worship the congregations voices filled up the place. It was glorious.

    Reply
  6. Aaron
    Nov 21 2014

    I have mixed feelings about this article for a few reasons:

    First, I can understand the author’s perspective and I agree with the 9 points. But maybe there should be ten points or more, because something is missing. In our church we sing from the hymnal 100% of the time, and still about 1/3 or more do not sing. I think something else must be going on.

    Secondly, I do feel like we are missing something when we do not even try to sing any contemporary worship songs that are suited for corporate worship. There was a day when every song in the hymnal was “New” and a congregation had to decide to try it.

    Older folks and younger folks need common ground. I hope we can find it.

    Reply
  7. Matt
    Nov 21 2014

    This is a great article and I completely agree with the author. There’s a lot of wisdom in those 9 points.

    Reply
  8. Tedd
    Nov 21 2014

    The most serious problem I have with the singing is how the worship leader keeps inserting comments into the songs. “Come on, sing it out.” “Sing this next verse with Amy.” And, even though the words are on the screen, he repeatedly tells us what the next phrase is.

    There’s a lot of phrases that he adds to indicate agreement with the words just sung. Song “We love You, Lord” Worship leader “Yes we do!”

    I’ve gotten to the point where I count the number of times he inserts himself into the singing. It’s usually around 25 times during the singing. (One song had 27 interruptions.)

    It is almost impossible for me to focus on the singing anymore. It feels manipulative and I’m getting whiplash from just beginning to hear/sing/get into the song and be jerked back to the stage to hear the worship leader’s new idea or comment.

    It doesn’t make any difference if it is traditional or contemporary. When we do a traditional hymn, there are two additional distractions. They are usually sung at about 6/10ths speed and most of the time somebody has added some sort of new chorus or lines.

    Reply
    • Matt
      Nov 21 2014

      great comment: completely agree

      Reply
  9. Bill Worley
    Nov 20 2014

    if churches aren’t including the great traditional hymns in their worship, they are forsaking some rich and beautiful worship music. Moreover, unless your entire congregation is brand new young people, you are ignoring parts of your body by ignoring music that truly speaks yo them. There should be room for both.

    I think some places have strayed perilously far from being worship bands, to just being bands. Our corporate worship time should be about uniting as brothers and sisters to glorify and praise our God and our Savior. It’s not about your cool licks and fancy vocal runs. It should be about experiencing life around the throne of our Heavenly Father.

    Reply
    • michael morkert
      Nov 21 2014

      Bill…you are missing the point…whether it’s the traditional hymns or a new song it’s the heart of the worshiper and NOT the style. I feel the same way as this article…I hear these words too many times…”put your hands together” and “let me hear you”…while these are mean to encourage participation they do little or nothing to create the heart of worship.

      Reply
  10. Kelli Arrowsmith
    Nov 20 2014

    I was very sad when my teenage daughters who attended church with myself and my parents helped teach Sunday school and started a youth group in our church and were even on the church council had never heard “Amazing Grace” until they attend a funeral. I got an old hymnal and played “Rock of Ages” “the Old Rugged Cross” “onward Christian Soilders”. They hadn’t heard any of these.

    In our efforts to include “new” music, my daughters had been deprived of the classics.

    Reply

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