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June 11, 2014

175

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 church’s disposal increased exponentially. [1]

At first, this advance in technology led to more powerful 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.

[1] see David Murrow’s excellent post, Why Men Have Stopped Singing in Church.

 

 

 

 

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175 Comments Post a comment
  1. Anna
    Nov 26 2014

    Drives me crazy when verses or choruses are repeated. Once now and then is nice. any more and I stop singing.

    Reply
  2. Herman
    Nov 25 2014

    Oh I don’t know…..how hard is it to sing along with the same songs you hear on the Christian radio Station………

    I prefer hymns remade….like In Tenderness……abound in us…..etc.

    although, Chris Tomlim does writes some pretty good corporate worship songs……..more than he does radio type worship songs…
    I prefer songs that speak to worshiping Jesus rather than making me! feel all good about myself ….
    many songs sung in Church are all about how good we feel about worshiping……easy to make it about us and not Jesus

    Reply
  3. Cindy
    Nov 25 2014

    I find that most songs for me (the typical second soprano) are limited in range, going across the voice break repeatedly, and are not melodic. Great melodies, regardless of how much they move around, are what the church sang for ages. If a note was too high, people dropped an octave. I also feel that the loss of a hymnal or video showing the actual notation has hurt us – people don’t sing parts any more. The songs don’t lend themselves to that anyway so they might be too high for men who are reduced to singing only the “melody”. Three or four part writing lends itself to beautiful harmony which is why most choirs use it. Regardless, people aren’t going to sing if all they hear is a drum.

    Reply
  4. CeeCee
    Nov 25 2014

    It makes me said that The name of Jesus isn’t site a single time in this article. Worship is a lifestyle, and songs are a vehicle to transport what’s in the heart to an outward expression. Perhaps if people are not “participating” in worship, there might be heart issues at the core, or perhaps some people simply aren’t expressive in that way. If I went to a church whose form of worship was only dance, I certainly would not be participating, and not because I don’t appreciate it, or love Jesus, but because that really isn’t my thing. I think song is one medium of worship. There are many others. Service, Encouragement, love, prayer, quietness, and most specifically loving like Christ. Blessings to you all!

    Reply
  5. Gina Ayliffe
    Nov 24 2014

    My husband and I just returned to this area after being gone for 16 months. We grew up in traditional churches but have really come to appreciate contemporary worship music and very much enjoyed the interactive worship/singing at our interim church. So we were kind of taken aback by the change in music at the first service we attended at our old church after our return. It was a concert, a performance, so loud that if the people around us had been singing we couldn’t have heard them. There were spotlight solos with applause, and that was the only interaction between the performers and the audience, and, yes, I know what I just said. I agree with the reasons in this article. There is really something missing in the service now. The congregation has been banished to the darkness of the auditorium and the roles of spectators. It’s sad. And not just for us.

    Reply
  6. Luke
    Nov 24 2014

    “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).”

    So if I’m understanding correctly, technology led to the worship leader shift that is now causing churches to miss out on congregational singing?

    Look, these are fine tips and congregational singing is quite biblical and should be a sought after trait of any church. But technology isn’t the culprit. It’s ego, it’s lack of training from churches or Sr Pastors but it’s not technology. Professionalism has been around long before modern technology and isn’t the only fly in the ointment pushing worship leaders toward performance and away from congregational singing. A huge choir up front with a grand piano and no technology can be performance driven and stifle congregational singing.

    I’m all for the 9 tips and likely a few others that might help bring back congregational singing, but let’s not blame the wrong culprit.

    Reply
    • Nov 24 2014

      Sorry this was not clear. In no way do I intend to suggest that technology is the problem. “A shift in worship leadership” began to make the change, not technology. I am a major proponent of utilizing technology in the church so we can speak in a language our culture understands.

      Reply
  7. Miles
    Nov 24 2014

    This is a solid list, I appreciate the focus on the purpose, whereas many articles like this can tend to focus on style or a bias towards certain types of songs. We could probably add ease of the song itself to this list. My church introduces a new song maybe once a month, but our worship leader usually does a great job of introducing it and making any notes we should know about it, but even more importantly, the new songs are usually very simple to learn. We typically sing hymns, so when our worship leader introduces a new one (and yes there are such things as new hymns), we may not know the words, but the tune is always simple enough that you can literally sing along for the first time because each verse uses the same tune. But whether it is a hymn or not, as long as the song is simple to learn (which doesn’t mean that the words need to be simple, just that the rhythm of the song can be quickly learned) the congregation will be more likely to sing.

    Reply
  8. Jeremy
    Nov 24 2014

    I suppose since this is a Baptist publication (Baptists just adore their carpeting), it’s understandable that this EXTREMELY important item was left off the list:

    #10 – Worship spaces are not being built with the right acoustical properties for mass congregational singing. Wall-to-wall carpet, other soft surfaces, and absorptive “panels” on the walls does not a favorable environment create.

    All of those things contribute quite directly to the congregant being self-conscious about singing. There’s a reason people like to sing in the shower — because it sounds better than it should!

    The worship space is no different. The sales force of these acoustic “treatment” companies is quite the racket. In 2014, there is no acoustic in which an EXPERT-designed and installed PA system cannot project the spoken word to offset the reverberation that is ideal for music and mass singing. Preachers in the largest of cathedrals can be heard just fine. Your 500 seat sanctuary is not the exception to the rule.

    Reply
    • Alan Munshower
      Nov 25 2014

      Yeah, but….those great acoustical spaces, like the old European cathedrals are not made for amplified instruments or drums. You can’t have it both ways. Either you make a space that the modern worship band(re:guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, et.al.) can play at a reasonable volume in OR you make a space that’s great for “singing in the shower”. Its very tough to do both. Cue the acoustical treatment company….

      Reply
  9. Ian
    Nov 23 2014

    I don’t sing in church, because I don’t sing period. It’s not an apathy or disrespect thing, I just don’t sing.

    Reply
    • Luke
      Nov 24 2014

      Even when it’s requested of us in Scripture? Psalm 95:1-2 That’s kinda like saying, “I don’t love people in church, because I don’t love period.”

      Reply
      • CeeCee
        Nov 25 2014

        The word “sing” in that passage is the Hebrew word Fut, which means, “to emit a tremulous and stridulous sound”, which is basically a shrill scream. It’s not singing as we would think. I’m not sure many church’s scream these days:) It’s all about a heart positiion:)

        Reply
  10. 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
    • Andrea
      Nov 23 2014

      Wow. This is harsh at best. The piece above makes some really great points about the “average” worshipper’s abilities. For some, singing out loud, even in worship, is a very learned action. If I had read this as a new believer, I would have been afraid to walk into any church and sing. May I suggest that you check your own heart before you speak so strongly (and errantly) about others and their motives. It is the Lord who judges what is in a person’s heart, not us. Maybe the 13th time the chorus is repeated or the note played over, and over, and over, and over again like we’re at someone’s performance instead of music as a catalyst for worship has something to do with those unmoving lips. Tone it down, Maverick. He knows your heart for Him, but His heart for others is not nearly this hard.

      Reply
      • Julie
        Nov 24 2014

        I agree with you, Andrea. She was very harsh in regards to what she said about people who went into the church. I would not feel comfortable sitting next to her and would have to ask God to forgive her and her bitterness.

        Reply
    • Carol
      Nov 24 2014

      OH my goodness! Where is the love of Jesus in this comment?! My husband is not a singer either but that doesn’t make him a lukewarm Christian. Please take step back. Look at scripture and see that we are supposed to meet and love people where they are at even if they are a seat filler. At least they are there!

      Reply
    • Karl Marx
      Nov 24 2014

      Wow! you can see that this person have no love in his heart. This person reminds me of our leader in the pulpit that keeps on reminding it’s congregation that “If you don’t like the church etc. etc. etc. then you are free to go to and find another church” or another favorite quote of his is “God is top priority, his family is the next and the church and its members are the last”. I pray that all Christians here especially the one’s in the pulpit will experience God’s grace.

      Reply
      • Aaron
        Nov 24 2014

        Karl,

        I do not know your pastors heart, or the way in which he says the things you quoted him saying, but the sentiments are correct. The church in general is pandering to the “Christian consumer.” The Gospel is offensive, therefore we are called to be as loving and graceful as possible. But we cannot neglect the full truth of the gospel. God is love, but he is also holy, holy, holy. We cannot come to Him without repentance and choosing to follow Him. And instead of trying to keep people, we should love people, which means teaching the gospel, not just acquiescing to their preferences. But all of this in love.

        Secondly, your pastors priorities are dead on. The best way to love and lead my church is to love and lead my family well. That means being available to them and having boundaries. There is a never ending supply of needs and emergencies from people in the church. My family has needs too. And the best way to love and lead my kids is to love my wife well. When they see me loving her, they feel safe, because things are in the right place and their parents love each other and will stay together, protecting the family. And the best way to love and lead my wife is to love God more than anything else. But all in love, not anger or defiance.

        Reply
    • Austin A. Preston
      Nov 25 2014

      Maybe you need to read and absorb the meaning behind #9. Obviously, if you truly feel this way, you are not, and maybe never were connected to the congregation. A worship leader needs to be more than a “my way or the highway” driver. I would also suggest a serious prayer meeting before stepping back into the role of a worship leader. Thank you!

      Reply
  11. 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
    • Keith
      Nov 24 2014

      I grew up in the church, my father and two brothers are pastors. I could have commented on just about everyone’s views. Karen I could not agree with you more. It almost seems as if there is this specific amount of time for singing and preaching. Regardless of how much content is developed that x number of minutes needs to be filled. Candidly I got so sick of it I don’t even attend church anymore. That said, 3 people, without instruments singing Amazing Grace or a similar hymn brings tears to my eyes.

      Reply
  12. 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
    • Julie Pallas
      Nov 25 2014

      They’re probably just mimicing Chris Tomlin’s enunciation: “GRAY”, “CRAY” “REY” – they’re all in there. Maybe he got bored with the repetition, too, and had to change it up a bit to keep himself awake!
      JK, of course.

      Reply
  13. 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
    • Robert
      Nov 25 2014

      I am a worship leader/pastor. I take that role very literally. I plan every aspect of the service as an act of worship. You make a great point. When we go through the motions of the “worship” service, we fail to help lead our congregations in worship. Every aspect of the service is planned as an act of worship. Anything less of my efforts would does not honor God or help my congregants. I’m not just the person who leads singing. I’m not saying by that in many churches that this is not the case. I’m sure in many churches you have “song leaders” that make up a larger group of individuals that lead worship.

      At my church, we have prayer before the worship services with everyone involved with the worship service. From me to our praise team, pastor, ushers for the day, to our sound & lighting technicians and Visual technician, we all play a part in leading worship. There should be more of this line of thinking in every church.

      What you write about is something that I have worked hard to create in our church. I have found it easy to do this since we were a new start 10 years ago when I came onto the pastoral staff. It seems to be more difficult to create that kind of mentality in a church that is set in their ways, in a rut. Thank you for sharing and encourage you to voice your opinion in your church if this is not how things are being done. God bless you.

      Reply
  14. 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
    • Robert
      Nov 25 2014

      Scott, you’re 100% right about the Brooklyn Tabernacle. Amazing. I will say that as a worship pastor, it is difficult to know what’s too loud from the stage. I actually wear in ear monitors. So to your first point, I’m blessed to have an amazing sound engineer. That person makes all the difference. We work hard to find the right balance of the music with the praise team vocalist to the congregation. There are a lot of factors that make that dynamic change every week. I have to depend on my sound engineer to make those changes once the worship has started. The worst thing that can happen, as is the case in so many churches, is having some “running the soundboard” that is there to mute the right person at the right time.

      To your second point, you are again 100% right! I use new songs in a couple of different ways. If it is an upbeat song, I’ll introduce it during our fellowship time for the first time. Then I will use it again in the same place before I make it a sine we use for corporate worship. If it is a slower worship song, I’ll use it during the act of worship of giving tithes and offerings. Again, I’ll use it as an offertory before it becomes a part of our corporate worship. By then, the church has heard that song at least twice. If they go back and watch the worship service online, then they heard it again. This makes the worshipper more comfortable with that new song. You make great points!

      Reply
  15. 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
  16. 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
  17. 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
    • Tina
      Nov 23 2014

      THIS! This drives me crazy. It is not necessary for the worship leader to tell me the words to the next line when they are on the screen! Just sing, please!!

      Reply
      • Kathryn
        Nov 24 2014

        While I mostly agree with you that it can be irritating, I just want to point out that sometimes it may be habit. 15 years ago when we didn’t have a projector and my pastor would be leading the singing, he would often say the next phrase of the song so that people who didn’t know the song could sing along…now, he still does it, but it’s probably habitual. I also have blind friends who obviously can’t read the screen, so saying the phrase is helpful for them if they’ve never heard the song before.

        Reply
    • Mary
      Nov 24 2014

      This is an interesting comment. I am a music director at a church where I lead traditional as well as contemporary music. I grew up listening to tapes of Don Moen telling everyone what the next line of the song was. My brother and I made fun of that practice and giggled endlessly at the Integrity/Hosanna albums, although we actually enjoyed the songs themselves. I hate talking during songs, so I never chose to do it myself – I figured the words were up there on the screen, so read them! But I recently found that apparently there are people in the congregation who were not sure whether they were always supposed to sing or not and needed the encouragement of the words so they’d know, YES, WE WANT YOU TO SING WITH THE BAND (Despite the fact that we tell them to sing with us each week). It does seem to help bring them in at the right time and encourage them to sing.

      I personally STILL hate doing it (I feel ridiculous and condescending), but I will continue, as I believe one of my purposes is to encourage congregational singing, not congregational observation.

      Reply
    • Luke
      Nov 24 2014

      While some leaders can get into overkill with how often they insert themselves, it’s often those very insertions that are helping to encourage people to be a singing congregation. Speaking the verse just before it starts is a way of helping people know when to come back into the song. Points #6 and #9!

      Reply
  18. 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
      • Mary
        Nov 24 2014

        Michael – I get what you are saying, but I think the struggle of the worship leader is that we aren’t sure how else to get people to participate…so we issue these statements because we don’t want it to be just the band singing.

        It seems very necessary to encourage people to sing because there are many, many folks that tell me they like to come and “be entertained” at our contemporary service. I am horrified by these kind of statements and feel that I must do SOMETHING to remind them that we want them to participate. The effort behind it is meant to get them to not only sing, but that the act of singing these meaningful words will touch their hearts and prepare them to hear the message and Scripture of the day.

        Having a “heart of worship” is a personal choice by each individual. The band certainly can’t “make it happen”. But I do think that people appreciate having a leader encourage them. At least I hope so.

        Reply
  19. 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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