“Solutions” for a Church That Won’t Sing

I’m starting to feel more and more like a cynic, I’m not sure if it’s because I’m getting older (I sure hope not) or that the new wave of blogs and people who think they’re experts on a variety of topics has grown. Probably some of both! Whatever it is, I stumbled across a blog today titled ‘13 Solutions for a Church That Just Won’t Sing‘ and initially got excited because this is an issue that is near and dear to my heart. What can I do as a music leader to help the people in the church I serve participate in our corporate times of singing? Then I read the article.

  1. The first point I whole heartedly agree with. We must begin with education. If someone doesn’t feel comfortable singing or know the songs very well they won’t be able to participate.
  2. This is where I started to sense I wouldn’t agree with this article. Most churches I’ve attended recently don’t even HAVE an organ in the building! And what makes an organ the most effective tool of worship songs? I would argue the opposite and the few churches I’ve attended that have an organ fewer people sing. Part of the reason the guitar is so easy to use to lead people in worship is because it’s an easy instrument to learn that allows others to easily join in and quickly help lead the congregation. Some of the most fun times I’ve had singing along with others are at “rock” shows where the primary instrument is a guitar.
  3. Once again, the answer to every question isn’t to go back to the way things used to be. Like it or not, contemporary-guitar led music looks like it’s going to be sticking around for a while, and I would argue that it’s good!
  4. I wholeheartedly disagree that the music team should “stand still.” Throughout Scripture we have accounts of people dancing whole heartedly before the Lord. Why should today be any different? We cannot and should not divorce the mind from the heart, and moving can and should be used as an expression of praise. That’s why we have the phrase “jump for joy!” We should be so excited that God has redeemed us through Christ, as I’ve told the congregation I serve “we above all other people in the world have a reason to celebrate.”
  5. Once again (if you couldn’t tell) I disagree that the “soloist” is the problem. I’ve seen a greater problem when there’s been a choir up front. People in the pews tend to sit back and try to enjoy the performance of the choir instead of actively participating in the singing. I would hope that the leader would be humble and use their platform to point the Christ, but to imply that the soloist is the reason people aren’t singing is a false assumption.
  6. Can we sing too much? I see so many more commands throughout the Bible to sing than to have an expository sermon. I don’t think we should do away with the sermon at all, in fact I enjoy preaching and listening to sermons on a regular basis, but how many sermons do you have memorized? How many songs do you have memorized? Songs allow us to (hopefully) easily remember Gospel truths.
  7. Finally! Another one I can agree with. This is the reason I’ve created a spotify playlist for people to learn and sing the songs we sing at church at home.
  8. This is one I half way agree with. Our spaces should be different because they are used as a sacred and set apart space. BUT God isn’t confined to a specific place or type of building. And many times we can’t change the buildings of the church we attend, but are simply stuck with a building that was there 30-40 or even 100 years ago. We are in the midst of picking out new carpet for our sanctuary, and I hope the space becomes more inviting and conducive to the worship of God. But that can be done in any, or no space.
  9. Once again, I agree. I hope Christians can do a better job of supporting arts and do music well and to the best of their ability.
  10. I think children singing begins at home, not the church. I have many fond memories of my family singing together, or listening to music with my sisters, or riding in my dad’s car singing our hearts out. This carried on o church. I thought singing was a normal thing for people to do!
  11. I think the words we sing matter much more than the music that accompanies them. The only person on my music team that has the printed music is the pianist because she’s the only instrument that plays the melody. When the “soloist” (I prefer the term leader) is capable and mixed well enough to be heard, people will learn the songs by singing. I think a majority of people today can’t read music anyway, so printing the music wouldn’t be worth the time.
  12. Once again, I agree with this. As I’ve said before, the words we sing matter much more than how we sing them. We should sing a wide variety of songs that deal with a wide variety of issues. Everyone comes to church with different experiences, backgrounds and expectations. I pray every week that the congregation is able to focus on Christ and be encouraged in their pursuit of him regardless of what issues they come to church with.
  13. I’m not sure how one goes about “placing strong voices strategically in the congregation.” In my experience people sit where they would like to sit and refuse to sit anywhere else. But I also try to sing songs repeatedly so people can learn and sing them! I don’t do them too much, but have a list of songs we sing regularly and will regularly add new ones and take older ones away.

I’ve talked a lot about my problems with this list, but what is my answer to the problem of congregations not singing? I’ve got a condensed list of 3 things:

  1. Educate. Why do we sing? Why do we sings specific songs? Why do we repeat phrases? Why do we stand when we sing? Letting the people know that singing is a command in Scripture is incredibly important. It doesn’t matter if one likes the music, the Bible doesn’t command us to. BUT we are commanded to sing to one another as a form of encouragement which is why we sing so much on a Sunday. It’s also helpful to explain why we sing specific songs, or help reveal confusing phrases or imagery in songs. There’s a reason for why we do what we do and it’s helpful to let everyone else in on those reasons. It may mean having a sermon series or Sunday school class working through books like Worship Matters by Bob Kauflin, or Doxology & Theology edited by Matt Boswell, or Rhythms of Grace by Mike Cosper.
  2. Model. If the leaders in the church aren’t modeling singing then the rest of the congregation will not be willing to sing either. This is also shown in physical expression. We are to worship God with our bodies, minds and souls. This is part of the reason we stand when we sing, to help engage our bodies in the worship of God.
  3. Persevere. It seems that the loudest voices are those who don’t enjoy the music at a church. Despite the complaints, continue to persevere with the help and support of the senior pastor. It’s exhausting hearing the various things you do wrong or the problems people perennially have with the music the church sings, but lean in to Christ and do not respond in kind. When I was in college I was told that there would always be people who would complain and I should either out-love them or out-last them.

On this side of heaven there will be no perfect congregation that always joins in the corporate singing, but that doesn’t mean we should give up trying! Continue to stand firm against those who would argue against music and trust that God can and will work in the lives of those who seem unchanged by the gospel message.

For a good laugh on the issue of contemporary music, see this article ‘Why Contemporary Worship Music is Dead and Decaying

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