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June 11, 2014

311

Nine Reasons People Aren’t Singing in Worship

by Kenny Lamm
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en español

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.

Are you experiencing STYLE conflicts in worship? more

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

 

 

 

 

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311 Comments Post a comment
  1. Evan
    Jan 28 2015

    The sentiment “The Reformation gave worship back to the people” assumes several things, not least of which is the extremely popular but shallow modern notion that worship only happens when people sing songs.

    Further, music is an art form. All art forms are culturally informed. Each generation or group brings its own cultural lenses to the table. This spells communication breakdown. No way around that. Church music will always be too loud or too quiet or too high or too low or too lame or too progressive or too old or too hipster for somebody. Such is art.

    That said, the job of the worship leader/pastor is to lead/pastor the gathered church as best as he/she can by the power of the Spirit. This means relationships. I resontate with the #9 in the OP for sure. The rest feels like the venting of a recently frustrated reformed purist. We’ve all been there! (except for maybe the reformed part)

    Reply
  2. Ryan
    Jan 22 2015

    I would add a tenth reason. We are a culture that values expertise and delegates tasks to trained professionals. This has led to a population of self-conscious people who think if they can’t do something on a professional level then they shouldn’t do it in public. This also contributes to church members who think they can’t share the Gospel because they aren’t Bible scholars, so they leave evangelism to the paid professionals.

    Reply
  3. Steve hartog
    Jan 19 2015

    I agree 100 percent with those nine reasons. My key in planning a worship set is called something for everyone. I love the blended approach using CCLI’s top 100 songs and hymns. I feel if you are going to teach new songs to the congregation they must here the song at least twice prior to the week they learn it. Maybe it is a choir special or an opener then you teach it. Think about it.. The praise team has to go over it several times before they can effectively sing it with excellence and it is not fair if you pull it out of a hat and have them sing it first show. I believe it the becomes a distraction during the worship time and can come off as a concert. Remember, variety and style is a sign of a great blended service. I have been a worship leader for over 20 years now and have led all types of services. Traditional, contemporary, country, southern gospel, ext… Yes, blended is my favorite however repetition is the key in all those types of genres. Don’t think you burned out a song because you practiced it 50 times when they only sang it 5 times. Know your congregation!!! Keep record s, attempt to keep things thematic with the sermon, make sure your words and keys match correctly or make a tasteful transition between songs but Do Not preach a sermon! Mostly, listen to the Holy Spirit and ask God to speak to you on what song He would like you to worship Him with before you even start to plan. Use your gifts to the best off your ability so that you can give God your very best because He deserves nothing less! Last thing.. Make sure that all your band and singers smile, look at the congregation and train them the songs well enough so they can enjoy the presence of the Lord. Others will seen them worshipping and let’s face it. It is contagious! Be Blessed!

    Reply
  4. Michael
    Jan 17 2015

    It’s really (sorry) larger then the professional worship arts, it’s the whole professional church leader, the professional leadership. The generic professional pastor for all departments. You somewhat qualify some as sheep, this is sad. Sheep should only be that for a time, but to be encouraged, and taught to serve, not to be served by a professional class. The professionalism in the church (“Church” which is a organism) has become a huge rut. Christian articles, and mag. have been overflowing with this same topic you now write. You have hit the nail on the head about the music I must say, it’s become to difficult for all.
    Lord bless you.

    Reply
  5. Becky Buhman
    Jan 15 2015

    “Worship” leader is a misnomer, and you argued it correctly, however, it is definitely NOT worship the way “worship leaders” are doing it. We need to add worship back in with our wonderful hymns. We don’t know everything in this present time, though we think we may be smarter than the church leaders of old. They in fact were obviously smarter, because they got results. We’re too busy entertaining.

    Reply
    • Keith Haines
      Jan 21 2015

      I agree with the 9 reasons as to why people fail to sing and I feel it goes a lot deeper than that. Singing is a part of worship only, not the whole of worship. Worship is a lifestyle of the Christian who loves the Lord; who loves to commune with Him and be with His people. Worship ‘leaders’ are, in many cases, song leaders and music directors. They play/teach/lead the music part of worship today instead of leading the people into true worship in Spirit and Truth. The heart filled with the love of the Lord comes to worship with reverence for the Lord and none for men. S/he comes with an excess of joy or, even, travail, outpouring at times, for God while discerning those around them. They can’t really be lead like sheep. However, when that sort of leading is provided, unfortunately, I feel, the less mature or new children in Christ are taught to become reliant on that style of ‘worship’ and rarely participate… until they realise that worship is Life in Christ and not just music, no matter how important music may be in it’s right place.

      Reply
  6. Jan 14 2015

    I am blessed to have the opportunity to serve the church God called my husband to plant in many ways, among them as a member of our worship team. While I respect the author’s opinion, I agree wIth Scott Ivey’s comments. I grow weary of stylistic “worship wars”. When we build our churches upon the bedrock of prayer and create opportunity for the Holy Spirit to move in our midst, changing lives one by one, then we may actually become so overwhelmed by His weighty presence that we cannot utter a sound at all. ;-) Until then, as we worship, as “lead worshippers”, we encourage our congregation to do likewise. We are BLESSED at our church with a passionate, Jesus-chasing worship leader who by God’s gifting actually embodies the ideal of the author’s article. Thank you, Scott, for reading between the lines as you did to paint the bigger picture. It was freeing!

    Reply
  7. Neal Glanville
    Jan 14 2015

    This is an interesting read but some of the comments below are even more interesting – Particularly Scott Ivey’s comment.

    I am a pastor in London, England and particularly have oversight of our worship team.

    I think this article raises some interesting points and they are things we as worship leaders should definitely be aware of and navigate but I think I would agree much more with the views of Scott Ivey.

    Take the discussion around what key we are using our songs in. Hay I have been in times of worship where the leader is singing in a range way outside of my own, whether it is a Chris Tomlin singing in the heavens or A female lead and Im singing ultra low…. never the less I worship – what definitely does not aid me in worship is watching a worship leader try and sing a song outside of there range – Again whether you can hear there voice breaking as they tear there vocal chords or there singing a song in such a low key its boring and lifeless.
    Worship leaders, sing in a key where you are comfortable and can actually lead from! If you are not comfortable then you won’t be able to lead affectively.

    My only other comment is on introducing new songs… Again I think Scott Ivey’s comments are helpful. Agree with your leadership what a healthy balance of new/old songs looks like – This can change in seasons btw. The strength of your musicians for instance can affect this. In our current season, we introduce a new song every month in general. But Scott is right, teach them properly – Some songs require more walking through than others. Also be sensible in what other songs you cushion around the new ones. When I teach a new song I put incredibly simple well known songs either side it… But be wise with the songs you choose… Choose songs that are manageable for your team and your congregation.

    As I say this article is helpful to raise questions and be aware of some things but be careful – One size doesn’t fit all. This article may be true for the church of the writer but my experience has lead me to believe more along the lines of Scott Ivey.

    There are so so many factors at play when we think of a time of congregational worship… If only our church congregation could turn up every week, utterly on fire to sing and dance and exalt our God but they don’t… People come from busy, crazy, hectic and often messy lives and they need to be engaged with and lead and often reminded of the truth of the bible – Who God is, whats he’s done, who we are now through his sacrifice. Engage your congregations, lead them, take them on a journey every time you lead worship of discovering more of God’s love, grace and majesty.

    Reply
  8. Jan 13 2015

    So, I’ve seen different variations of this blog post over the past several months, and I guess I’m ready to stop ignoring it. I’m a full-time worship pastor, so a lot of FB friends or concerned members will forward me the article in a confused “I read this, so it must be true… but… what?” kind of way. They’re confused because it is in direct contrast to the experience we have every week at church. I don’t have any doubt that there are churches who are having a lot of trouble with passionate worship, and lack of participating congregants. I do, however; think that the “9 reasons” are a naive and extremely broad diagnosis for the modern Church’s passivity in general. I can say this confidently, as our church sings… and we sing loud.
    So, I thought I would take a little time to share my opinions… That is all they are. I’ll say, before I start, that I do agree with some of the actual bullet points to a… point. Some of the beef I have with the article is the apparent… almost (dare I say) arrogance that some seem to have found in using a personal and touchy, trending topic to steer people who don’t know any better than to listen to only one point of view…. Ok… Here we go…

    1. They don’t know the songs?

    If this is true then you may be leading too many songs… Not too many “new” songs. A consistent flow of new songs is a great way to bring fresh acclimation and adoration to God. What I mean is too many in a single service. If you only have enough time allotted for your music to sing 4 or 5 songs “as recorded”, then cut one or 2 of them, and take some actual time to teach and learn the new ones. For us, 3 is a great number. A new song is not always included in our set, but when it is… We spend about twice as much time digging into it… By the middle of that song, it is almost always sung the most passionately. The following week, we sing it again as a part of the set… They know it fairly well, and we only extend it if it needs it. After 3 weeks, it is a part of our catalog, and we’re most likely already teaching another one. It’s exciting.

    The other problem that could be happening is that you don’t have the talent on stage to help create an atmosphere of worship. That may sound harsh or fake and plastic, but it’s very true. If ANY of you went to, say, a leadership conference and the worship was lead by a tone-deaf screacher, then a distraction-factor has been established. This can (and will) cause every new song (and old one) to transform into something to tolerate for 5 minutes instead of something to help them engage in communication with their Savior.

    2. We are singing songs not suitable for congregational singing?

    I agree with this one. If you are singing a top 40 radio hit, then they will bob their head, and may even recognize them, but some of those songs are just difficult to follow. We rarely choose songs that aren’t “all-skate”, and when we do… it’s purposeful.

    3. We are singing in keys too high for the average singer?

    This one actually makes me laugh.

    There’s usually a good reason that songs a recorded in the chosen keys… Because the singer is able to achieve “excellence” in that key.

    I heard a joke once that went something like “3/4 of a worship leader’s time during the week is spent on changing keys in Chris Tomlin songs.” That’s funny because, of course, Chris Tomlin has a high range, and worship leaders believe that this is why people don’t sing when they lead his songs(it’s not, by the way) Chris not only has a girly, high tenor voice, he is also one of the most effective worship leaders of the modern era. He doesn’t change his songs to more manageable keys when he leads, and we all sing loud.
    Phil Whickham not only has a girly, high tenor voice, he is also one of the most effective worship leaders of the modern era. He doesn’t change his songs to more manageable keys when he leads, and we all sing loud.
    Lincoln Brewster not only has a girly, high tenor voice, he is also one of the most effective worship leaders of the modern era. He doesn’t change his songs to more manageable keys when he leads, and we all sing loud.
    There are so many more… I think there is a pattern here…
    In my opinion, the only time you should change the key of a song to be more manageable is when the leader of the song has a hard time singing it. If someone from the stage can’t reach a note, then that whole “distraction factor” has come back into play. In the same way… If a leader has a natural high range, and changing to a lower key steals his “umph”, then the potential moment has been robbed of excellence… (distraction).
    I will often tell people to sing, and sing loud… I have even called out friends in the congregation from time to time to say… “See, Eric is singing, and he can’t carry a tune in a bucket. Church… it’s not about you harmonizing with your neighbor, or hitting every note perfectly. It’s about you pouring your heart out to your Savior, and He tells us that it is a sweet, sweet sound in His ear. This may be the only place you ever hear that said about your singing, so take advantage… Eric knows what I’m saying. Now, let’s sing together, and lift up our God!” Their inability to sing well has become a teaching point, and a new comfort level has been established and even encouraged.

    4. The congregation can’t hear people around them singing.

    Good! I’m not singing to them. By the way, most people don’t want the person next to them to hear them… That actually keeps them from singing. I’ve had more than a big handful of people tell me that they love that they can come together with the Church and sing with abandon to God because they didn’t feel like they could at their last church… The music is powerful, and only God can hear them. I remember growing up in a very traditional church, and there was always that one guy who sang 10 times as loud as everyone else (usually in some operetic-esque manner). I would giggle, my mom would shush me, and then giggle a little herself. (distractions) There is no perfect volume, and I’ve come to understand that “too loud” means different things to different people. Sometimes volume can be distracting when it’s low, and sometimes when it’s high. We’ve managed to dial in the right levels that seem to set the right environment for our congregation… 88 to 93db for us.

    5. We have created worship services which are spectator events, building a performance environment?

    Musicians are performers. They use their talents as worship. Guitar solos are worship. Fiddles and drums and harmonicas and mimes are too. (yes… mimes). A sound man who makes it sound incredible is worshiping. The guy who takes pride in creating a visual environment with lights and smoke does it for God, and he is worshiping. The person communicating the message is worshiping too, and he took lots of time to make his (or her) points relate in a way that is relevant… There is a true art to that as well, and he is not only worshiping he is also performing. When we complain about it being a performance environment, we’ve missed the point entirely… It’s not about making it all about performances and the experience. It’s about making every experience and performance about God. If we’re afraid to do our best and shine where God has blessed us, then I would say we’re not truly worshiping to begin with.

    6. The congregation feels they are not expected to sing?

    I agree. You are the lead worshiper, so lead by example, and invite, invite, invite… lead, lead, lead.

    7. We fail to have a common body of hymnody?

    I view this with having about as much sincerity as the “book of common prayer”. I realize that liturgical practice can have profound meaning, and deep emotional response at times (usually when used to emphasize a point, not to BE the point). It’s just that it steals away creativity and relational value, and adds religiosity and confined structure. Church isn’t about having fun, but it certainly isn’t about celebrating our boredom with contrived tools that we’ve developed to make sure things become more predictable.

    8. Worship leaders ad lib too much.

    These really aren’t 9 different points. This is kind of like a sub-point. It could’ve been included in a couple others… I digress.

    I agree… If they are ad libbing.
    But where in the world have you been going to churches who consistently do this enough for it to make your top 9? I may have heard one worship leader ever who thought he was on American Idol. I just don’t see this as being that relevant. I could be wrong though.

    9. Worship leaders are not connecting with the congregation?

    YES! This, in my opinion, should be the entirety of your post. Number nine. This is the biggest problem. A worship LEADER shouldn’t be leading if they don’t know how to lead. Engaging is a giant part of that. Points 1 though 8 could all fit inside this one issue. Get rid of your charts on stage… If you can’t play without them, don’t lead until you can (harsh?) Talk to the congregation. Teach the songs. Plan your transitions well. If you raise your game and realize that you are performing for HIM, and teaching others to do the same, then true worship will happen (even with a lot of new songs) I promise.

    Reply
    • Ginny
      Jan 14 2015

      THIS! This response is fantastic. Thank you so much for posting it. Above all, it is about heart and I think you captured that well with your response.

      Reply
    • Josh Berry
      Jan 26 2015

      I think you bring up some very interesting points here Scott. I do have a few questions, if you wouldn’t mind maybe taking a look (or if anyone else has some thoughts).
      With regards to new songs, what do you think is an effective way of teaching new songs? I’m not talking about the simple songs, that can be learnt by listening to the worship team play them once, but some more complicated songs. Things that spring to mind are anything with call and response, or one particular example (which I would love to introduce at our church but have no idea how to teach it) is You Are Holy, we the 2 different parts of the chorus sung simultaneously.
      Whilst it isn’t one of his 9 points, you say you’re a pastor, so I’m interested in hearing your opinion on this. Do you think there is a place for a “behind-the-scenes” worship leader? I greatly enjoy, and get a lot out of picking songs, working with whoever’s speaking, practising through at home, working out what could/couldn’t work, but I don’t yet feel like a great, or the most confident on stage leader, but too often it feels like whoever is doing that behind-the-scenes stuff also has to be the person doing the on stage stuff?

      Reply
  9. Stephanie
    Jan 12 2015

    Well here is my rant…I will understand if you delete it…in response to people/congregations not participating in worship…zero sympathy from me! I think they are being so disrespectful to the church they are in, to the worship leader, etc. Do you yell at hockey games? Do you sing the national anthem? Do you sing/cheer at sporting events? Do you sing in your car when traveling? Would it kill you to take your hands out of your pants and show some life? We sing to commercials, Disney songs, pop culture tunes, etc…YOU have no excuse as far as I can see!

    Reply
  10. John Radice
    Jan 12 2015

    “Worship is moving to its pre-Reformation mess”. What ridiculous and ignorant propaganda: an insult to 1500 years of sacred liturgy. That was the worship which created a Christian culture, which integrated personal, social and sacred life together. Have the ‘Reformers’ anything to equal that? They were stalking horses for the triumph of materialist and secular attitudes which we are reaping now so bitterly in the complete disintegration of personal, social and sacred life

    Reply
  11. Jon Jordan
    Jan 11 2015

    I think this has bigger implications that we would realize. If the local Body does not feel engaged in the worship and sees it as an event versus a group/family experience then they are more likely to disengage from serving their local body and community at large. When we create that non participatory atmosphere it spills over into all areas of how the Body functions.

    Reply
  12. Keith Roman
    Jan 11 2015

    A big factor you are missing is the fact that nowhere else in American society are people asked to sing out loud in front of others, except maybe the national anthem. People are socially ostracized in every other situation for singing out loud, because that has become something that professionals do.

    Also, Christian radio is purposefully targeted toward soccer moms, so they are the only ones familiar with the songs. When you bring those artless wonders into the church, no one, especially men, knows or likes them.

    Reply
  13. Jan 9 2015

    I think you missed a tenth reason. Multitudes of Americans that go to church are religious but not saved. They have never met or been transformed by Him. When this happened in Scripture, people fell to their knees, they thanked with tears of joy, and they sang.

    Reply
    • Don
      Jan 11 2015

      Amen. The redeemed will say so

      Reply

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