Why Aren't People Singing?

April 22nd, 2013
The Singing Machine SML-385W probably not in worship.

Worship leaders, week after week, pour their heart and soul into leading their congregation in a time of worship through music. They plan and they practice and they pray. A team of musicians shows up prepared and ready to lead people in singing praise to God. But, all to often, at the end of the day, it didn’t turn out as “good” as they hoped. In the evaluation time, it is noticeable once again, that the people just didn’t seem to be singing. It is disappointing. The worship leader wants so much for the people to sing out in passionate praise. “Why aren’t people singing?” they ask. And though some worship leaders are willing to admit that some songs just don’t work, the lion-share of the conversation finds the people at fault: they don’t really care about worship: they aren’t passionate about God. “Well, that’s on them,” says the worship leader. “I’m doing all I can.” No doubt, he or she is doing their best. But, there is something they might not know, and it would help if they did.

There was a time in American culture when people grew up with a foundational appreciation and understanding of music. In elementary school the class sang songs. In a later grade, everyone had a music class that explored all the instruments. In Junior High everyone was in the chorus one mandatory semester. Lots of teens chose to join the high school chorus. Most families did go to church and kids learned church songs; hymnals had the actual music score in it as generally speaking, people could read music! See, not all that long ago, people grew up singing out loud, in public; it was part of life. But when school budgets started getting cut, the Arts Department was the first to go. The music foundation went away. In addition, as Christian music expanded in influence, it took on a more “professional” edge and became more performance oriented. Bottom line: singing was now for the musically gifted. If I ask someone in today’s world, “Do you sing?” they almost instantly say, “only in the shower.” And if someone says they occasionally sing “karaoke” they almost always add, “you know….because I’m drinking and so is the audience!”

So now, here we are. Though we have a culture that loves music and has easy access to it, today’s music is mostly about listening to other people sing. So, the idea that when people come to church once a week and are expected to sing out loud in front of both family and strangers-well-they are looking for ways to get out of that! After all, they have never done that in their life! The good news is that many people think the worship music is good. In fact, for some people, it is the reason they come to church - they love the music. Listening to it ministers to them. But, that doesn’t mean they want to sing it with you.

So, what can the worship leader do?

Realize Not Everyone Loves Singing

First, realize that not everyone loves singing like you do. It would be better to “invite” rather than “expect.” Acknowledge that you know everyone is not a “singer” but that God asks us to worship Him “in spirit and in truth.” Explain that music is part of biblical worship and then educate the congregation to participate as they feel they can. You have probably already told them that it doesn’t matter if they are a “good singer.” But go further. Give them more ideas. They could sing just the chorus or just the parts they know. Encourage them to read the words and take them in, while the people around them sing them out. Invite them to clap when the song calls for it. Applause for God is an act of worship and doesn’t involve carrying a tune!

Choose Easier Songs

Second, choose songs that are easy to sing. Gifted musicians get bored with simple music and sometimes feel they are not giving their best to the Lord if they don’t do “great” music. But, when the purpose is to lead a congregation of mostly non-music people in singing praises together, simple is what works. This doesn't mean doing a child-like song. A simple song is a song that the melody is easily learned and the words easily match the rhythm. After a few times of hearing it, I can sing it because I know what is coming next. If you choose good songs and lead them well, people might even find themselves singing them in the shower at home! Isn’t that what we really want—a lifestyle of praise? And don’t forget, it is a listening culture and they do love the music. So, when it comes time for feature songs or special music, employ all your musical craft and give it all you’ve got from your heart, the way you like to do music. Your passion will translate and the people will love it!

Incorporate Other Elements of Worship

Third, incorporate other elements of worship within the music set. Lead people to read Scripture out loud together. Have a time of guided prayer on the attributes of God. Invite them to turn to the person next to them and say one thing they give thanks to God for today. The possibilities are endless! Look for ways to incorporate non-music elements inside the music set. This way, you can lead a multitude of different personalities, engaging more people in corporate worship to “Give to the Lord the glory his name deserves…" Psalm 29:3

What are your thoughts on why people aren't singing?

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