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June 11, 2014

186

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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186 Comments Post a comment
  1. Morgan
    Nov 19 2014

    I can’t remember the last time I went to a concert (Christian or secular) and didn’t sing out loud, raise my arms up high, tap my feet, and be joyful with those around me. Knowing that, I have a hard time believing congregations aren’t singing because worship leaders have made it into a spectator event. Music by it’s very nature is far from a passive, spectator experience in any context.

    The same applies to “singing in too high a key.” I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, but that doesn’t stop me from belting out every note in the above-mentioned concert atmosphere or in my car or in worship on Sunday.

    If congregations aren’t singing along it’s because individuals have become passive in their pursuit of faith or have never been taught how to worship. Church leaders, not just the worship team, should be teaching and leading by example for how to openly express your love for Christ. Church leaders should also take a moment and look around at who is just showing up on Sunday and who is living Christ out loud beyond the worship experience. Only then will we as a people be able to compile a true list for why people aren’t singing in worship and create an actionable list to inspire our services.

    Reply
  2. Nov 18 2014

    I try to never comment or re-post to articles like this, I know we are suppose to re-act, think and process before we do respond to such challenges. But… The first reason that comes to me for people not singing in a worship service is very simple – THEY DON”T SING! Even in traditional service – THEY DID NOT WANT TO SING! They didn’t even open a hymnal. Now they come to a band driven service and surprise they still don’t want to sing.
    Yes to all comments concerning performing music, but I do remember my traditional services we had offertories and special music, by the choir or a soloist.
    One of the goals we set for our service was to sing songs that every one can sing, watch keys (not to high or to low), songs that the words fit the message of the day, songs that people might hear on the radio (yes – if they listen to Christian radio).
    As worship leaders – we should react to the congregation, if they are not feeling the music, we must change, adapt, over come, be mindful of volumes, lighting, keeping an eye on everything… Worship leading is an organic position that we must allow the Holy Spirit to move us to worship together, flowing in to the congregation, causing unity in His presence.

    Reply
  3. Curt Z
    Nov 18 2014

    I would like to know why worship leaders say verses right before we sing them. I can’t stand it, it distracts me. Who is this for? I just wish we would sing hymns mainly, I sing louder and more with God in mind honestly when I am comfortable with a song. And when somebody is NOT blurting out upcoming words out of rhythm.

    Reply
  4. Nov 16 2014

    Worship of God is a priviledge that we enjoy and use what we feel is
    pleasing to Him. The music would surely be a part of selecting the church where we are choosing to worship!

    Reply
  5. Don Ekstrand
    Nov 15 2014

    Excellent post. Thank you. I’ve read several blogs expressing concern over the current direction of worship music, and you are the first blogger to point out that many songs are pitched too high for the average singer in American churches. I completely agree.
    You also mentioned volume as an issue, and as someone with mild hearing loss and as a music teacher who depends on his hearing, I am very bothered when churches turn up the volume to a level that when sustained is proven to cause hearing loss.
    I would also add to your list some things worship leaders would do well to consider:
    1. Tempo — most worship songs now are sung in an extremely limited range of tempos, about 72 – 80 beats/minute. It gets monotonous when almost every song week after week is the same tempo. When we want to celebrate our life in Christ, can’t we sing something that moves about 120 or 144?
    2. Phrasing — a common idea seems to be that to add emotion and the possibility for reflection during singing the tempo needs to be slowed down even more. What happens is that the average singer can’t sing all the way through the phrase. They find themselves running out of breath and singing becomes tiring. Worship leaders need to be taught what is comfortable phrasing for the people out there and not push them beyond that.
    3. Very limited styles — most modern worship music seems to be stuck in a pseudo-pop-soft-rock style. Can’t we branch out beyond that?
    4. Aesthetics — do worship leaders give thought to how the aesthetics connect with the text? For example, when the guitarist turns his distortion up and the drummer starts hammering away on the back-beat does that match a lyric that speaks of our peace in Christ? If the lyrics speak of great joy why would we sing that at 66 bpm with a mellow, flowing background instead of 116 with a more exuberant accompaniment? When we listen to pop, rap, blues, and classical music there’s a reason a lyric is given a particular musical (aesthetic) treatment. Let’s find aesthetics and styles that match what we’re trying to say in our lyrics.
    5. Quality — let’s face it. There are lots of songs out there that are of very poor musical quality. The text might be meaningful, but the music is poorly written. We owe it to our Lord to craft well-written music. Great composers and song-writers in any genre take considerable time working out a creative melody and the harmony to go with it. Just because a worship song writer was thinking about his child or God’s grace or about an apology he needed to make doesn’t mean he wrote a great song. An emotional experience doesn’t equal great music; it’s just an emotional experience.
    Some might think I’m being a musical snob with what I’ve just written. However I believe we owe it to God to use our musical talents well, not casually or sloppily.

    Reply
    • beverly nicholson
      Nov 19 2014

      You have 5 good points. I would add that when a song has just a few lyrics that are repeated two or three times in the song, and then the song is sung 3 or 4 times it is way too much of one phrase. I would rather sing an additional song in that time span. I can worship the Lord, but I am thinking of visitors and people that are not used to repeating the songs over and over and over.

      Reply
    • Jake Leyenaar
      Nov 24 2014

      Glad to read your good observations, Don. Thanks for weighing in.

      Reply
  6. Austin Hoffman
    Nov 14 2014

    I really like this article but it’s solely based on worship as a singing act…
    There are so many different ways people worship God during a music set… Arms up high, eyes closed, constant prayer, reflection, surrender, standing still, waiting for the sermon, playing fantasy football, etc haha.
    Finding an outlet and helping to provide an environment in which those who care to participate can do so freely I believe is more important than trying to manage a singalong

    Reply
  7. Nov 14 2014

    Interesting thoughts and for the most part, accurate. As one who is old enough to love the hymns (51), and young enough to love the new praise chorus (51), I believe Ephesians 5:19 provides a Biblical solution: “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your hear to the Lord” (NIV). It’s not either or, but a balance of both, with application of the comments on not singing too many new songs at once, and keeping them in a key that the average worshipper can sing. Many of the contemporary worship songs are hymns (just not 100 years old), and many of the praise choruses are straight from the Psalms. We need to be careful in implying they are somehow ‘unclean’ because they were not written by the Wesley brothers…
    I do remember the positive impact the praise choruses had on worship when they were introduced and would hate to see them omitted from worship services.
    Enjoyed the article and responses.

    Reply
  8. Nov 11 2014

    at various times I’ve personally polled members of our congregation, always a variety of ages, asking them what their favorite worship song is – which song means the most to them. I would say 85% of the time, the person I ask names a hymn or a worship chorus written prior to 1980. I’ve come to realize that the majority of our congregation never listens to worship music. The music in their home is secular radio music, that’s it. They have no idea what’s happening now in worship music, and very little interest in finding out. What few songs they learn, they learn in church.

    Reply
    • Nov 16 2014

      I dont disagree that a lot of people listen to secular music…..but for me a 66yr old who loves all kinds of music I have to resort to CD’s and Spotify where I can select my preferred music to listen to for the most. There is a station here who ONLY plays the current type of music which is not hymns but repetitive phrases that get louder and louder. I love a lot of those songs because they come right out of scripture…but after Ive heard the same phrase over and over and over and the music and clapping it becomes as the Word says clanging symbols. For some this is TRUE worship and Im so good with that but Im just taking the other side of preference and the state some believers find themselves. 1. their preference of music is hard to find 2. they dont have the ability to find it on a computor either because they choose not to do this type techno or they are blind or they simply do not know how or they dont have the means for technology! 3. No cable….they cant get just the stations of gospel or any Christian music. 4. If the church they attend only introduces new music every wk that they have never heard or only has it on a screen where it might be hard for them to see it 5.Simply… Some Older people dont do loud well.
      You may be right in your church about most everyone listening to secular but I wanted to give some valid reasons and be an advocate for the elderly here. My experience has been hearing this from the mouths of church-goers ” if they( the elderly) dont like it they can leave” or “we dont want that kind of music here” All ages get in a twit! The older will stay because they love their church and where they have worshiped and where they have given in worship with their tithes and offerings and life long friends have been made. Where I attend there is a blend…..both the young and elderly work well together! I still do choir and ensembles and choral specials etc etc….the kids and youth do wonderful stuff! I love the hymnals….I love the choruses and all. But Im blessed to search and find my weekly preferences. Some are not. Im always moved by the worship in music as much as my Pastor teaching us the Word. ANd if I miss him , I can always use the internet to listen to him.

      Reply
  9. Steve Basselman
    Nov 11 2014

    We are creating a musically illiterate generation by totally removing hymnals from our worshipper’s hands. We offer a convergent style of worship, some may call it blended. No one style of music can respond to all that God is. However, if we loose that connection to the music that helped form the faith life of generations, then we are really loosing the ability to connect with that by not keeping some form of printed music in front of the worshippers. We don’t do screens, we have found it to detract rather than aid worship.

    Reply
    • Jim
      Nov 16 2014

      So you don’t do screens because it is distracting, but you advocate printed hymn books? How is that less distracting?

      Reply
      • Steve Basselman
        Nov 21 2014

        Screens don’t provide what the congregation needs to successfully sing…no music to help guide them. I have found that printed music in a hymnal or bulletin is the best to give the congregation the proper tools.

        Reply
  10. Tom Bostic
    Nov 11 2014

    I do not disagree with one single thing you said above. I teach worship seminars quite often and have been leading worship in churches, camps, conventions, revivals and more since I was 12. Just a quick thought I would add–we are not a society that sings anymore. Name me one place that average people sing corporately. Singing has become 1) very personalized; we used to turn on a turntable or a boombox and blare away our favorite songs and sing at the top of our lungs; now we shove buds in our ears and sing in our heads–not the one commercial on TV where a guy is singing out loud–he gets embarrassed and apologizes to everyone. Also, 2) there is no place in our society where it is expected or even truly acceptable to sing corporately. People used to sing in bars–now its individualized karaoke. People used to sing the National Anthem aloud in chorus–but now, ever since Whitney Houston revived its singing with a hugely patriotic version years ago after tragedic national events everyone performs it, they don’t lead it. Listen at the next big sporting event: “And now, here is ___________ to sing for us (or even ‘performing’) our National Anthem.” I get strange stares when I sing it aloud. (But that doesn’t stop me, haha.)

    part of the reason congregations don’t sing is because America doesn’t sing. We listen, other people lead us.

    A controversial thought–just because the congregation sings, does that make it NOT worship? Can there be something participatory about listening to someone worship? Only if people are taught how to do it. Like so much of worship (which involves TONS more than singing, though few people get that) its all “individually together”, a movie theatre kinda church service. I come in, sit down, prefer there is a space between me and these other people–and I want the show to be good–thrill me, move me, motivate me–but I really don’t care what is going on with the people around me–I don’t know them anyway. Worship is simply knowing and expressing how great God is; BUT corporate worship is different: it is a Body of believers encouraging each other to a deep knowledge of God through a unified expression. That, I think, is why “I” don’t sing; its because we have forgotten that corporate worship is about “us” singing.

    God bless.

    Reply
    • Jake T
      Nov 18 2014

      Nailed it. Nobody sings together any more. Name to me the last time you went to a party and the THING you did was singing together…what’s that? You say it was in college? Uh huh.

      This isn’t a church problem–it’s just a cultural shift. Blaming it on style or worship leaders or screens or drums or electric guitars or pianos or organs or handbells is myopic and offensive.

      Reply
  11. Oct 2 2014

    Kenny, I believe you could’ve started and ended with #5, although all of them do apply. But #1 really is the fact that 80% of church attenders, as reported by George Barna, are there simply to fulfill their spiritual obligation for the week. They’re entrusting the staff to spoon feed whatever it is that they need to know or do. We as church leaders enable this line of thinking with all the whistles and bells.

    Reply
  12. Oct 2 2014

    Kenny, You nailed it. My concern. Very few care that the pews are silent. They don’t understand the power of a song.

    Reply
  13. Laurie
    Aug 27 2014

    Psalm 149:3 speaks of praising God with dance, there are also times when just instruments are quoted as being used. God looks upon the heart of the believer and would be the ultimate authority on whether or not someone worshiping Him with dance or poetry or what not is acceptable.

    Reply
  14. Ruth Rousseau
    Aug 26 2014

    Thank you for this comment! I agree wholeheartedly — corporate worship is not just about the music.

    Reply
  15. Ruth Rousseau
    Aug 26 2014

    I also appreciate the good old hymns, and I am not alone in my generation. For example, Casting Crowns has revived a lot of the old stuff, such as “Glorious Day.” I am working on creating at my church a Hymn Sing here in Connecticut, styled after the old school hymn sings of decades ago, and styled after a bi-monthly event at my parents church in North Carolina. Those who show up can choose what is sung, from hymns to current songs. Between the singing there are times of rest where the leader of the event might read a devotional describing the background of the lyrics. There are some wonderful testimonies behind many great hymns of faith. We end the time by praying together.

    Reply
  16. Ruth Rousseau
    Aug 26 2014

    Interesting food for thought. A couple of years ago, I read “Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns” by Dr. T. David Gordon of Grove City College (PA). This is always a relevant topic, due to my soft heart for singing and music. I love when I can sing with joy and confidence the words that I’m praising my Lord with. But this will not always be the case, for me personally. I do not think music is so limited that I will ALWAYS be able to sing it well, or always understand the truth of the words. I am a mere mortal, after all. Not every hymn in the hymnal is musically interesting or biblically sound, ONLY by merit of being selected (by humans!) for the hymnal (a point strongly made in the brief book listed above). Songs and worship leaders need to be selected with prayerful consideration. The congregation needs to be praying for the worship to be a blessing to all of those participating. The music is part of the gospel presentation and has a lot of power in human souls. the music may be the only part of the worship service that gets through to the hearts and souls out there, and the enemy of our souls would love to destroy the worship leaders as well as the gift that is music, as well as the unity of our body of Christ. We need to be on guard constantly in order to worship our Lord and Maker of all things beautiful.

    Reply
  17. Ruth Rousseau
    Aug 26 2014

    I trust my worship leader and the leadersip team of my church, and that is what makes the difference for me, regardless of desire to be participating WITH all of them. Also, I would like to see a revival of lengthy times of singing together. When I was growing up, we sang a few songs Sunday morning, but we sang for at least a half hour straight on Sunday nights (and sometimes the full hour), and then another half hour on Wednesdays. This is how I learned so many songs and hymns before I was even a teenager! I don’t believe so much time is typically devoted in churches of our day to singing in general. Perhaps that is the difference between the worship leaders and the congregations today. People used to be taught how to sing in public school, too. Singing for hours together, regardless of the “age” or “style” of the songs, binds the hearts of many people together on a deep level and pleases God.

    Reply
  18. Aug 22 2014

    What interesting comments!
    May I add to the discussion that perhaps the minister or worship leader might consider asking the congregation what type of songs/hymns they prefer.
    One member of a church was heard to lament, “I can see the time coming when there won’t be room in my denomination for me” as he viewed the changing worship style of music.
    Worship leaders are not mandated to lead the people to where they do not want to go! (even if some would say that such, in a different context, is the role of the minister!)

    Reply
    • Greg jones
      Nov 12 2014

      I don’t necessarily think it is wise to lead our congregations only where they want to go. When Moses was leading the children of Israel, there were times when they wanted to return to Egypt.

      If your church is healthy and growing this advice may be more applicable but many (perhaps most?) churches are failing to reach the nones and have generation gaps BECAUSE they are more self focused than other focused… They assume seekers are like they are… For stagnant & shrinking churches to grow, it is insanity to do the same thing & expect different results. These churches may very well need leaders to do things that their congregations do not particularly love or prefer if they expect to turn things around. Good leadership requires having the wisdom & courage to go against the grain….

      Reply
  19. Mike
    Aug 21 2014

    Wow. This is true of every church service I have ever been to, especially ones where hymns were used exclusively!

    Reply
    • Jake T
      Nov 18 2014

      Hahaha! True dat.

      Reply
  20. George Mims
    Aug 17 2014

    All worship leaders would do well to meet on a regular basis and at least two times a month hearing from those who will teach and preach what the anticipated, even longed for, response of the Body of Christ gathered is hopefully to be. Let music and other expressions of worship FLOW out of this intentional gathering. If your pastor says “O I don’t know what the Lord will say to me this far in advance,” perhaps your pastor needs a little encouragement to not force God to speak at the last minute and leave the rest of the service to seem incongruous!!! Wholesome worship comes from intentional Christians intentionally gathering intentionally expecting God to speak and, as members of the Body of Christ, intentionally responding both in heart and mind! Tools of worship should incorporate texts and music KNOWN to those gathered or tools that are being repeated until the congregation knows they OWN such text and music. Other tools of worship can be utilized in a different frame or event. Worship language and melody needs to come from the heart and just art. Therefore familiarity is essential.

    Reply
  21. Leticia
    Aug 8 2014

    I was a music ministry leader for years, about 20 years ago I had a conversation with the other music leaders where one of them argued that the congregation would not come to church if they don’t sound good. I pointed out that music and the music ministry should not fall into a “performance” mentality. We were there to enhance the word read for the service and to allow for contemplation there of which enforced the message.

    Hymnals also created a void in allowing ministers to adequately choose songs that lent support to the Word being read. They provide ministers a list of related songs. There was a lack of instruction or teaching of the ministers in discernment of the message of the reading in total. If one read all readings and responses used one would find that of those suggested hymns or song there are some that are more appropriate for others.

    I grew to feel that churches, especially those with young congregations, recruited good musicians for leadership, but neglected to instruct the ministry portion of the leadership role. Never should a choir, music group or musician become the focal point of a service.

    As for the Reformation efforts, if one understand why, in the Catholic Church, the Priest faced away from the congregation, that it was to lead the congregation in worship; to have their attention to the worship just as the congregation was expected; one may then consider that it went too far. The priests/pastors, by being put in front of the congregation, instead of leading in worship from the front and supporting the worship in music from behind it created a theater rather than a altar.

    With all that said, in the end, Clergy and ministers need to know what the needs of the congregation are, how to fulfill as much as possible and remember to serve with a humble heart. When the music gets too artsy, too complicated it moves the congregation to spectators, rather than a community rejoicing as one body in worship.

    Reply
    • Greg jones
      Nov 12 2014

      Worship IS a performance… The question is WHO is the audience?

      Reply
  22. DGreusel
    Aug 8 2014

    Worship leaders are, not surprisingly, often very talented artists. With contemporary songs, there is a tendency for the artist to want to sing off the beat or off the melody (or both) for artistic reasons that make total sense in a concert, but make no sense at all for people (supposedly) leading worship. Worship leaders need to rein in their artistic sensibility and stick to the beat and stick to the melody for the benefit of the flock, not for the benefit of artistic interpretation.

    Reply
    • beverly nicholson
      Nov 19 2014

      Agree. When the girls are singing harmony, and then the leader singing melody takes off and starts doing riffs and off beat syncopation, I, a prior choir director and organist can not find where I am to sing…. no one is singing the melody. Then that evening just one singer with a guitar signing the melody with gusto, one bass and a drummer. It was so worshipful and the congregation was all singing along with gusto too. There was no ‘production’, no one ‘ loving doing their thing’ ( I am sure he was worshiping the Lord, but he is also suppose to be ‘leading’ others to worship)….and there was a clear melody. It was great

      Reply
  23. Melissa
    Aug 8 2014

    While I agree that worship should not be a production or a show, you could just retitle this “9 excuses people give for not worshipping God”. Nothing should stop people. Nothing.

    Reply
    • DD
      Aug 8 2014

      Caution is warranted in suggesting that singing is synonymous with worship, that not-singing is therefore synonymous with not-worshipping.

      Some of us *are* worshipping God while our lips are not moving. I might not know the songs, might not be able to figure out where the worship team is trying to lead, and/or might not be able to hit the notes demanded by the music, but when all else fails, I can at least try to decipher the words the team is singing and respond to God in some way as I listen. (Except for the la-la-la bits, which I’ve thus far been unable to redeem.)

      It may be appropriate also to caution against allowing resentment to build. I’ve had several friends who struggled with this while leading worship, not realizing until later that they were allowing others’ behaviors to stop their own worship. Please be careful to guard your heart — the devil specializes in distorting very good desires (e.g., genuine worship) for his own evil purposes.

      Reply
      • Melissa
        Aug 8 2014

        I’m glad that you still worship regardless of the songs. I do too. I think if the song is glorifying to God and biblically accurate that should be more than enough. People think it should be all about them and what they like/prefer instead of about God. If we don’t, then the rocks will cry out and we don’t want that!! :)

        Reply
      • Lori
        Nov 15 2014

        “Caution is warranted in suggesting that singing is synonymous with worship, that not-singing is therefore synonymous with not-worshipping.” — Thank you. I’ve learned over the years that what we observe as externals don’t necessarily translate to what’s happening internally. Some of the most godly people I’ve ever gotten to know keep their mouth shut and their hands down during worship. Some of the most ghastly pharisees I’ve ever encountered sing the loudest with hands raised high. I guess I’m saying don’t rate the quality of your worship by how many people are singing and how loud. God doesn’t rate things like we, even our spiritual selves, do. :)

        Reply
  24. susan
    Aug 7 2014

    We call it “7/11″ music…..sing the same chant 7 times in 11 different keys. When I visit a church as a visitor, I expect to be able to participate in worship! But if all they are singing is “follow the bouncing ball” on a screen, I have no chance. If they want to do that, AT LEAST put a three-ring binder in the hymnal rack (with the unused hymnal) so I can read the music and sing. Otherwise, why are you spending copious amounts of money on choirs for the kids to learn to read music? DON’T GET ME WRONG! I WANT the kids to learn how to read, but for what? A bouncing ball??

    Reply
  25. Michelle
    Aug 7 2014

    I never liked the chorus chant for 15 minute songs either; professional musician here :) until a friend told me that she actually likes those best because the phrase you chant can build and get stronger inside of your heart; become more true. I then saw the good in that style of singing…just thought it worth a mention.

    Reply
  26. Sharon
    Aug 7 2014

    I am very disappointed I have not found a church since I moved to Fla. where they sing the old hymns. I have always been lifted spiritually by Christian hymns. And I love to sing my praises to God our Father. But all of the churches I have attended are now only playing Praise Music, out of which I get nothing. They don’t lift me; they don’t inspire me; they don’t help me worship my Lord. I’m sure I’m not the only person of my generation (I’m 68) who feels like this. I’m going to keep looking and hopefully I will eventually find a more SPIRIT-FILLED CHURCH!

    Reply
    • Aug 8 2014

      Find a church of Christ congregation. Only congregational singing, a cappella and you will hear a lesson straight from God’s word without any theatrics or pomp & circumstance. I promise you will be welcomed and made to feel at ease. God bless you.

      Reply
    • Nov 1 2014

      What part of Florida? I could probably help.

      Reply
  27. Flossiepal
    Aug 6 2014

    We no longer have worship songs, what we have are chorus chants. 15 minutes of singing the same 20 words over and over and over and over and over. Where is the worship in that? To me this is walking a fine line very similar to new age stuff.

    What is worshipful about music that is so loud you can’t hear the words anyway?

    I now don’t even show up to church until the music is over and done and I can sit and listen to the Word being taught. There are 3 people in my church who have had brain tumors or injuries and loud noises cause severe headaches and pain. This does not seem to matter to the worship leader/team. Let’s just keep banging them drums.

    Reply
    • Aug 6 2014

      I agree. I do not like singing the same phrases over and over and over and over AND OVER again! I know they are trying to pull you into a higher level or worship but I find myself being bored with the chanting and thinking, “Seriously, we’re singing this AGAIN”? Where’s the depth and intelligence in that?

      Reply
    • Melissa
      Aug 8 2014

      Please read Rev 4:8 and see if God likes it.

      Reply
  28. eve
    Aug 6 2014

    I appreciate the article although I struggle with worship for a few more reasons. I tire of the same verse being mindlessly sung over and over. Many of the new songs do not have the depth of the old gospels songs, although it seems a few of the old gospels are being brought back into worship.

    I agree…too many new songs so you don’t know them and music too loud where you can’t hear anyone but the worship team.

    Reply
  29. Aug 5 2014

    Interesting article from a limited view however hard it as may be How and when will leaders, believers admit, confess that we fail and tend to place ourselves and what we bring to the table above what God has for each of us. Yes we can discuss, try to enable or encourage however the Bible is clear on what worship is defined as and singing is part of that but overall worship is based on our relationship to Christ and I will let him be the judge before stepping as some of us can dance better than others but again other servants have shown me worship by the simple act of service and sacrifice.

    Reply
  30. Brian
    Aug 5 2014

    The author of this article, Kenny Lamm, brings up some decent points. But he invalidates his message by using the word “schizophrenic” as a negative metaphor. His usage of the word is inaccurate, derogatory, and discriminatory. It’s a good reminder to be careful with the words we use.

    Reply
    • Aug 5 2014

      I apologize for offending anyone with the use of this word. I have removed it from the post. I was using another common definition of the word, “approach characterized by inconsistent or contradictory elements,” which fits the meaning well, without thinking about how this may be offensive to readers. There was no derogatory or discriminatory intent.

      Reply
  31. Lyn Jackson
    Aug 5 2014

    All good points, agree vigorously! We also need to remember that singing is only one component of worship. It helps SOME people worship God, but not everyone. The worship segment in a service should contain a range of ways to help people feel God’s presence and be involved in the process – responsive readings, Bible passages, reflections, prayer (in various forms), maybe even liturgy, drama, poetry or dance, depending on your congregation. Trouble is, worship leaders tend to be musical, and forget that this mode of expression doesn’t suit everyone. When a number of different components work together around a theme, everyone has a chance to listen, participate and express in ways that best suit them.

    Reply
    • Aug 5 2014

      Thank you, Lyn. Well said. Worship is certainly much more than congregational singing.

      Reply
    • Melissa
      Aug 8 2014

      Sorry those are not Biblical forms of worship. They might be nice and help people feel good but that is not what God finds to be acceptable worship.

      Reply
      • Caleb
        Sep 29 2014

        Sorry Melissa, but the Hebrew word for “worship” comes from the same word as “work”. It makes no sense to limit worship to singing. So I can honor God only when I am singing and no other time? Can’t I dance for His glory and push paper for His glory and own my own business for His glory? The Bible also explictly says not to wear clothes with mixed fabrics…. I am pretty sure God cares more about our heart attitude than a checklist of how we can and cannot give Him glory……

        Reply
  32. Aug 4 2014

    If I can’t even hear myself singing, it’s very hard to sing. It’s like giving a dead mike to a singer who sings off key.

    Reply
    • Greg jones
      Nov 12 2014

      I don’t understand this perspective.

      Check out this link of Hillsong:

      http://youtu.be/uEV1KDmVWK4

      Do your u think all those young people who are clearly singing can hear themselves in that loud arena with the full band & pa?

      Reply
  33. Aug 4 2014

    I’ve struggled with this as well…but from the position that most worship songs are sung by men (tenor voices) which are in a key not at all suited for women to sing.

    I then started to wonder if our voices were designed to be in different ranges so only when we have a servant attitude towards helping women worship, we in turn help everyone to worship…seems to be that songs that are great for women to sing are decent for men to sing, but songs that are great for men to sing are hard for women to sing

    I explored the topic here:

    http://www.justarobot.com/2013/05/servants-or-savages.html

    Reply
  34. Savage
    Aug 4 2014

    I’m always amazed by the congregational response when we use Matt Redman’s “10,000 Reasons”, and I’ve seen it used in a variety of settings.

    Modern songwriters should revisit that song and learn why it gets congregations signing in a way that very few songs do.

    I’m guessing:
    - good vocal range
    - good message
    - strong poetry
    - good variation (high chorus, low verses)
    - predictable melody pattern
    - interesting but memorable melodies

    One way I often critique new songs is to question whether you can remember the melody after one listen. I still remember the first time I heard Matt Redman’s “Blessed Be Your Name” – one listen and the song was in my head already…

    Reply
    • Aug 4 2014

      Great points! Yes, 10,000 Reasons has been embraced by young and old alike. Memorable melodies, as you note, are also important. I attended a church Sunday where I had never heard the four songs being used in worship (and apparently most of the congregation had never heard them). What I really noted was that I could not remember the melody of any of the songs after we had finished singing. Thanks for your comments!

      Reply
    • A
      Aug 19 2014

      As a worship leader of 10yrs, I see 10,000 Reasons a little differently. In my opinion, it has a very wide vocal range, seeing as the verses start down in the basement, and the choruses (Oh MY soul) are in the stratosphere. I sing higher than most men, and that is a very difficult song for me to find a good key for.

      I think people like this song because it really is very much like a hymn. And that’s fine with me, I’m a fan of just about anything from Matt Redman, not so much because of the musical content but because of the heart behind it. His songs are always sincere, Biblically sound, and often cover topics most worship songs won’t.

      Personally, I think we’re really discussing a generational issue moreso than a worship/music issue. I led worship for a high school group for several years, and here’s how it usually went: Ask kids to sing along, sing 3-5 songs that flow into each other, minimal speaking before/during/after songs. The result was always a room full of worshipful, very engaged kids.

      I proceeded to do the exact same thing at my church’s Sunday morning services, and instead I find myself looking out upon a room full of unengaged, bored, & often times even angry people.

      Kids these days (anyone under 30 I think) expect something different out of a “worship” service. They expect to engage God on their own while the music plays. It seems to me that previous generations have a different expectation entirely: they expect to be walked through worship with talking from the front, definite beginnings/endings of songs, etc.

      Neither is right or wrong, just different. The problem arises when either side begins equated their personal worship preference with Biblical worship. To say that God doesn’t like repetition and that it’s not worshipful is not only untrue, it’s unBiblical (Holy Holy Holy anyone?).

      Reply
  35. Reed
    Aug 4 2014

    Something else that must be inserted here: Yes, worship must be God-directed, both in execution and in focus; but in the midst of listening to that direction from God, the Worship Leader should also remember that he stands in a position that requires him to LEAD people to the throne of God. Basically, each time I step onto the platform, I view my task as taking the congregation on a journey from wherever they are at that point in life to encountering God personally and corporately. But if no one is following, can I really call myself a leader? Part of being a good leader is knowing what the “followers” need in order to participate in the task.
    Now, I have never been under the false assumption that “unless they are all singing, I am not leading.” For one thing, we do not know the individual circumstances surrounding each person that is sitting in our congregations each week. There was a time in my life about 11 years ago when, due to a heavy, personal loss, it was all I could do to walk into the church and sit down in the pew.
    It is a good idea, however, to scan the congregation and glean a rough percentage of people who are actively participating. My goal, regardless of the song, is to average 75% participation. Most often we hit or exceed that, but some times we don’t. And that is when I, as the Worship Leader, need to take a serious look at reasons why. So, getting, sorting, and understanding the feedback from the congregation is an essential part of Worship Leadership.

    Reply
    • Aug 4 2014

      Great words. Thank you, Reed. This is the kind of sensitivity we as worship leaders need–in tune with God’s Spirit and with the congregation we are leading.

      Reply
  36. TJ Shirley
    Aug 3 2014

    I think another huge element is the decline of music in our society in general. Music is not a culturally transmitted skill anymore. Music education from churches and schools is not stepping up to fill in that gap. Thus, people are not able to pick up on music quickly and efficiently. Contemporary worship music, as it is closer to the music the general public listens to from day to day, should be picked up rather quickly. However, our society is no longer a society of musical performance and participation. This has bled over into the church, both in contemporary and traditional services. Amateur musicians are becoming increasingly rare. The issues named above are just as much about worship techniques as they are about the church’s failure to cultivate musical worshippers.

    Reply
  37. Aug 3 2014

    Hi Bart, I am puzzled where your assumptions came from. In no way am I coming down on Tomlin or Hillsong. I use their music frequently and find it of tremendous value to the worshipping community. I strongly teach that worship is not about us–not about our preferences of styles, not about us calling attention to ourselves, etc. The problem has become that too many worship leaders/teams have begun to lose sight of their mission to help the congregation worship, and have (perhaps unintentionally) begun to breed an environment of spectators with very little difference from a concert venue. This can happen regardless of the “style” of the music being utilized in worship.

    Reply
    • Aug 4 2014

      Great words. Thank you, Reed. This is the kind of sensitivity we as worship leaders need–in tune with God’s Spirit and with the congregation we are leading.

      Reply
  38. Jennifer
    Aug 3 2014

    I left a church for the very reason stated the worship service is nothing more than a performance…every Sunday was new songs that no one new or had ever heard . It was very disheartening. Now I stay home and praise God alone, this way I know he hears me and not a performance

    Reply
    • Aug 4 2014

      Hi Jennifer. Thanks for your comments. I understand your feelings. I do encourage you to find a fellowship of believers where corporate worship is what it should be. You are missing an immense blessing by not worshipping with other believers. I pray you can find such a place.

      Reply
    • Greg jones
      Nov 12 2014

      If you are giving your best to God then you are still performing…. He is the audience though… And I think that’s supposed to be the point of church worship bands… The real problem isn’t performance, it is pride

      Reply
  39. Joseph Pauley
    Aug 2 2014

    One of the interestings the Reformation (for the most part) recovered was singing without the accompaniment of instruments. Congregational was just that…congregational SINGING. There’s something about simply singing that encourages greater participation. I would recommend that anyone interested in renewing worship reas the historical section of John Price’s Old Light on New Worship. He extensively quotes from theologians, preachers, and historians on music in the church.

    Reply
  40. Ann van Hemert
    Aug 2 2014

    As someone on the pew side, I know why I sing and don’t sing and aside from the aforementioned group rebuke, no one seems to be asking. I used to be a serious worship junkie for many years. I know all the admonitions and it is all about Jesus, but these are the reasons why I may not be singing.

    - I have thought about the lyrics and can’t in good conscience agree with them. (or they seem odd or confusing?)
    - I know the song so well (we’ve been singing it for 20+ years) that I am singing on autopilot and my mind wanders. I like a mixture of old and new songs.
    - I am distraught about something that is going on in my life and am afraid I am going to cry.
    - It seems that people might be judging my participation/nonparticipation. Example: For awhile I was feeling convicted to kneel, so many songs mention it, but then had someone tell me not to. Now I am self-conscious.

    One commenter noted the isolation of worship. Yes, it is supposed to be between us and God and hopefully we are doing lots of that throughout the week, but we only get one chance a week to worship corporately. We should take advantage of the opportunity to worship together.

    I am a teacher so it behooves me to evaluate how my instruction and activities are working for my learners. If my learners are not successful, then the first question we ask is, “Do I need to adjust what I am doing?”

    Reply
  41. Tony Roslan
    Aug 1 2014

    I thought that I was the only person that felt left of singing praises to my Lord. Wether we sound bad or good when we sing, Jesus sends my singing to his Father as sweet sounds. Jesus does the same thing with prayer. I’m not a flowery prayer person, I just talk with God as I would my earthly Father.
    No instruments aren’t needed. Our voices are like little children who sing to their Mom and Dads.
    I miss the ole time religion. The music drowns out the beautiful voices God blessed us with. If I can’t hear the singing, I don’t think God can either. Thank you for song leaders. I don’t want to be entertained in church. I want to sing with my brothers and sisters that will sing with me in heaven. Love you Jesus

    Reply
  42. Aug 1 2014

    This gentleman makes some excellent points, however, the real reason people are not singing is their lack of hearts of praise. Week after week, I have sat watching people bring in snacks and coffees from the outside coffee bar, and talk and text on their phones. The worship service is treated by many as a theatre, thus the spectator component. If a heart is really given to worship, the person lifts their hearts and hands to the Lord in thanksgiving and praise. Here is the question, would you really act or sing the way you are if Christ were standing right in front of you? He is, you know! Worship leaders need to teach people what it means to come before the Lord in song and worship.

    Reply
    • Aug 3 2014

      Kevin, you have brought up an excellent point. Our corporate worship flows out of our personal worship. Take a look at this post. Thanks for your input!

      Reply
  43. 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.

    Reply
    • Aug 3 2014

      Jerry, certainly acoustics can play a big role in congregational singing. Some church’s pay particular attention to this when designing a new worship center, making sure the congregational singing is a priority. As for the 7-11 songs vs. the hymns, that is a totally different matter. First of all, if the church is singing the 80s choruses rather than the more recent modern worship songs that are often packed full of depth and great theology, they are doing their congregations a great disservice. See this post for more information. Further, the true difference, I would guess, in this example is more connected with people KNOWING the hymn better than the other song. This, again, can be totally changed by a worship leader who understands how to choose, introduce, and reinforce new songs in worship. Thanks for your comments!

      Reply
  44. 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.

    Reply
  45. 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”.

    Reply
  46. 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.

    Reply
  47. 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.

    Reply
  48. 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.

    Reply
    • Aug 3 2014

      Hi Martin, Thank you for your comments. I am not, however, in any way shooting down modern worship songs. I firmly believe the church must sing new music. The problem is in how music is often selected, introduced, and reinforced. Often worship leaders are killing worship without realizing what they are doing. Much of the music written for worship in the last couple of decades is as theologically rich and memorable as many of our old hymns. It’s not either or, it can be both and!

      Reply
  49. 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.

    Reply
  50. 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.

    Reply

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