Do you think the Psalmist was trying to make a point when he said “sing praises to our God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises!”? Psalm 47:1
That’s just one of over 500 references in scripture to singing. Throughout the bible and throughout history, God’s people have been a singing people. God created us, even commanded us, to sing to him. We’ll sing to him forever in heaven. What a joy and humbling honor it is to sing to him here on earth, and even more so to lead people in magnifying his greatness through song.
Worship leaders, whether full or part-time, volunteer or paid, experienced or inexperienced, should place as one their top goals, the full and whole-hearted engagement of the whole congregation in singing. If people aren’t singing, there’s a problem. They’re missing out on one of the greatest joys of being a Christian, and I could do a better job of leading them.
Here are some ways you might cause your congregation to stop singing.
Sing melodies that are impossible to learn
People will just give up and wait for the next song to start, hoping that maybe they’ll know that one. While we don’t want to sing songs that are boring and predictable, we also don’t want to sing songs that are overly complicated, intentionally difficult, and just plain hard to sing.
Sing notes that are impossible to hit
I try to follow the “C to shining C” rule. I can dip down to an A from time to time, but not hang out that low. I can hit a D or an E, but not hang out up there either. If the song is too low and everyone is mumbling, move it up a few steps. If the song is too high, transpose it down.
Singing notes that are too high, and especially “hanging out” on those notes, can cause physical discomfort, be unreachable for most people, and make people just want to take a break and not sing.
Sing words that are impossible to understand
If people are confused by what they’re singing, they might be tempted to just drop out. If I’m in a service and the worship leader uses a song in which the meaning of the lyrics is unclear, I’ll have a hard time singing them. Watch out for lyrics that are wide open to interpretation, in other languages, are “churchy”, or no longer part of people’s vocabulary.
Sing the same thing over and over and over and over
Repeating a chorus eighteen times will not do any of the following things: (1) make people worship, (2) make God’s presence more tangible, (3) make people sing more intentionally, or (4) win you any fans. Over-repeating a line or a section of a song could do just the opposite: (1) wear people out, (2) move the focus onto the song, (3) cause people to sing mindlessly, and (4) annoy them.
Sing only your own songs
You might have a passion for writing congregational worship songs, and maybe even a gifting for it, but that doesn’t mean you should introduce every single one of them to your church, and only sing other people’s songs when you’ve run out of yours. This will alienate visitors and newcomers, ignore a vast body of good, vetted, and known songs, and keep people from singing along.
Sing too quietly
If they can’t hear you, if they don’t know what they’re supposed to sing, if all they can hear are the instruments, and if the band is so loud is that they can’t hear themselves, they’ll probably stop singing.
Sing too loudly
If they get the impression that they’re at a concert and you’re the performer, and that they’re there to listen to you and you’re there to put on a show, they’ll usually sit back and let you have the stage.
Sing melody and harmony and everything in between
If you’re the worship leader – sing the melody. The congregation is following you and looking to you to provide clear and easy-to-follow leadership. If you jump back-and-forth between melody, harmony, and your own embellishments, you’ll confuse the congregation and leave them just listening to you.
Sing bad theology
Singing songs with weak and/or bad theology will cause two things to happen at once: First, you will no longer be feeding people with the truth of God’s word, but misleading them with wrong doctrine that happens to rhyme. Those in the room who are not discerning enough to know this will keep singing and be subtly deceived. Secondly, those in the room who are discerning enough to know that what’s being sung is not truth will stop singing and might not come back the following week. I can’t blame them.
Sing too many songs
This is an oversimplification, but I’ll share it because I keep it in the back of my mind: It’s better to leave people wanting more than leave them wanting you to stop.
It’s good to leave people longing to keep singing, excited to sing the songs when they get home, and expectant for the time of singing next week. It’s not good to sing so many songs that people are ready to stop, ready to go to lunch, and dreading how long the time of singing will go the following week.
There are times to stretch people and have extended times of corporate worship. Pray that God would give you wisdom to discern when to keep going, and when to stop.
Psalm 147 begins “Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting.”
Let’s do all we can do, and remove whatever distractions we can, so that the whole congregation can sing praises to our worthy God.