Friday, January 18, 2013

Why congregations don't sing heartily.

The more I think about congregational singing (and I've been thinking about it a lot lately) the more I'm concluding that the best measure of a music team's performance is in the answer to this question: Are the congregation singing the Word heartily?

There's two things we're looking at here.

1. Are the congregation singing the word?

2. Are the congregation singing heartily?

To assess Q1, you need to look at the term's song selection. Do the songs deeply reflect the concerns and passions of God's Word?

To assess Q2, you need to look at how well the congregation are singing. Are 30% of the people just standing there waiting for the song to be over? Are people engaged with the singing? Are they getting into it? What sound does the visitor to church notice? Is it the sound of the people out the front or the sound of the congregation? I want people to be blown away by the sound of the congregation.

But people often don't sing heartily (or at all). 

Why not?

Here are some reasons I've thought of and some solutions.

1. The congregation are embarrassed.

The music team have chosen songs that are embarrassingly dated or daggy or maybe the musicians are poorly rehearsed or just incompetent. Whatever the reason, the congregation feel embarrassed about the music and so they don't sing.

Solution - Don't choose embarrassing songs. Rehearse properly.

2. The congregation is nervous.

The girl leading the singing is visibly uncomfortable and her fears are transferred onto everyone else. The whole congregation feels her nerves and so doesn't sing well.

Solution - Rehearse more so the song leader won't be so nervous. Have her lead with someone more experienced.

3. The congregation is overwhelmed.

There is a tidal wave of sound hitting the congregation from the front. All their energies are spent processing that sound. Who has any energy left to sing? And what difference would it make if you did sing?

Solution - Turn the volume down!!!

4. The congregation is unconverted.

Why sing songs about Jesus when you don't care about him?

Solution - Preach the word.

5. The congregation is unfamiliar with the song.

It's new and strange and I don't know it. How can I sing it heartily?

Solution - Sing fewer songs more often and teach songs better.

6. The congregation feel exposed.

There are so few people / such poor acoustics / such poor leading that individuals don't want to sing because they think everyone will hear them

Solution - sit people closer together, rent-a-crowd, lead better.

Can you think of any more?


  1. 7. 80% of the way we naturally communicate (non-verbal) is actively or passively discouraged in our churches so it's hard to look, and probably be, hearty.

  2. Dear Simone,

    Technically it is a great list. However,I am concerned a music team would assess their work by my response (or in fact a congregation's response) to song.

    Your music team is superb and the talent, presentation and gifts are the backdrop to enable the congregation to response and sing in a heartily manner.


    Emotion can be hard to contend with if you are trying to sing. eg - When I am convicted or confronted by the sermon, I cannot sing. In fact, if I did, it could impede how I process the teaching.

    Singing is not something I can do in a dis-associative state - I have to be in the 'NOW' - ready, concentrating, right melody, right words, conformity with everyone else in order to sing etc.

    Also, I can't sing when I am crying, upset or stressed. As these are "states" that I cannot overcome quickly, I don't want to be assessed if I hum along, or sit this one out.

    If a music team presents the music well & with great sensitivity to the service as a whole, then it might help them not to look to the congregation's response in order to figure out how well they are doing as a team. Allowing the congregation to process teaching, fellowship, song words, hymns can mean that they might not sing heartily but they may be on the right track spiritually.

    I am not sure if that is helpful - but it might give you some ideas about why people don't sing with gusto.

    AK (xx)

  3. Good points, all of which invite interaction.
    Perhaps there's room for a point in which the music team admit that even though they like the song they've just chosen something that's not suitable for corporate worship, normal people's singing range or musical capabilities.
    Some of this falls in the Les Mis movie problem. People forget that the music and the words of a song are in themselves an emotional expression ideally suited to corporate voice. We don't need to have our hands up or down, eyes closed, eyes open, grimacing, smiling, the song is expressing that for us. All of us. At once. When the physical takes over the singing suffers.
    Choreographed choirs should be an oxymoron.

    1. "Perhaps there's room for a point in which the music team admit that even though they like the song they've just chosen something that's not suitable for corporate worship, normal people's singing range or musical capabilities."

      Yes! In choosing songs for our group, it's hard sometimes to have to pass over really great, powerful, lyrically solid songs because they just won't fit the nature of the group. For example, I think Matt Papa's 'It is finished' is a super song, but it would be hard for our team to 'pull it off',so to speak, same with Jared Anderson's 'Great I am', at least at the moment anyway. Whatever one thinks about Chris Tomlin, at least you have to admit that he writes stuff that groups can (in general) pick up sing pretty easily.

      Great points, Simone!

  4. Pitch. Sometimes a song is just too high for most of the congregation to sing comfortably

  5. Excellent list, and excellent points from others. I'll be thinking through them tomorrow morning.

  6. Musicians get bored with songs and want to do something new just when congregations are starting to get the hang of them.