Six Reasons Congregational Singing Is Waning

Please be nice.

This blog has several million viewers every year, and many of them are not believers. They are watching your interaction with one another.

I know I am touching on several sensitive subjects in one post: the loudness of music; lighting in the worship center; music preferences; and performance versus participatory singing.

But here is the clear reality in many congregations: congregational singing is waning in many churches. In some churches it seems to have disappeared altogether.

I will try to discuss this reality from a dispassionate perspective, at least for the most part. And I don’t consider myself the expert in this area, so I asked the guru of church worship, Mike Harland, to help me understand some of the technical decisions we make.

Ultimately, though, this blog is my own, and I take full responsibility for its content. What then are the primary reasons fewer people are singing in church? Why has that act of worship before God become nominal in so many contexts? Here are six reasons:

  1. Some church members do not prepare themselves for worship. We come to judge, to check off an obligation, or to go through the motions of a habit. We have not prayed for God to do a work in us through the worship. If we do not have a song in our heart, we will not have a song in our mouths.
  2. We don’t know the songs. We sing the songs we know. That is obvious. But if we are introduced to a steady influx of new songs without sufficient time to learn them, we don’t participate. The best congregational singing includes both the familiar and the new, but the worship leaders teach the new songs until we know them and love them.
  3. The songs are not sung in a range where we can participate. Many trained musicians have a wider range in which they can sing. Most of the rest of us don’t. If we are expected to sing in a range that is beyond our ability, we won’t try. Worship leaders make the decision, intentionally or not, if they want to lead the congregation or perform for the audience.
  4. The lighting communicates performance rather than participation. We participate in singing when we can hear each other and see each other. If the lighting for the congregation is low, but it is bright for the platform, we are communicating that a performance is taking place. We thus fail to communicate that the worship by singing should include everyone present.
  5. The music is too loud to hear others in the congregation. There have been quite a few comments at this blog about the right decibel levels for music in a worship service. The greater issue, however, is whether we can hear others. If we hear the voices of others, we are encouraged to join in. If the music is so loud that we only can hear ourselves, most of us will freak out. And we will then be silent.
  6. The worship leaders are not listening to the congregation. If worship leaders truly desire to lead the congregation in singing, they must be able to hear the congregation. Some can only hear the instrumentation and platform voices from the monitors. And some have ear monitors where they are truly blocking the voices of the congregation. Congregational singing becomes powerful when it is well led. And it can only be well led if the worship leaders can hear those they are leading.

Your own perspective about this issue may be one where you really don’t care if the congregation can be heard singing. But if the desire is truly to lift all the voices before God, some things will need to change.

Now it’s your turn to comment. Be kind. Be gentle. Be Christlike.

Posted on October 24, 2016

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • TheGhostofBelleStarr says on

    It’s all become about ” experience ” and performance,
    my friend always gushes about what a great worship team her church has, its slick autotuned performance…and really that feeds the flesh of both the “performer” and the audience. Her church worship leader wears leather pants on stage, how rock n roll dude. Oh and he’s from Nashville..dude. To quote someone else, ” here we are now, entertain us”…
    I will not go to a church whose worship team singing is autotuned. That is all.

  • Much of this is settled by the theology of the church service in that particular church.

    If a church is focused on the “audience of One” (which I strongly disagree with) they will focus on music and preaching that is more adoration, more emotional.

    If it is focused on what someone referred to as a spiritual make out session (again, I strongly disagree with this) the music will be seductive, me centered, basically torch songs in dim lights, with fog and the whole “sexy” shebang.

    If it is focused on preaching the truth of the gospel, preaching about God, and preaching a clearly evangelistic message (which I strongly support) it will be simple musically, easily singable, with lyrics that are for lack of a better word, expository.

    And yes, we often sing “Immortal Invisible God only wise”. Love it. You should hear our rafters shake.

  • I’m a pastor. This week I have for my personal growth been studying worship. I was kind of shocked when God led me to 1 Cor 13 as a devotion for worship. It was there I was reminded no matter how well I preach or even if my faith moves mountains with out love I’m not much. Lights vs no lights, hymns vs screens, choirs vs bands. It really doesn’t matter if we have lost why we do it in the first place. Our love for him and our love for those who do not know him. When Jesus met the lady of Samaria she was focused on what we are ” the how of worship” worship on this mountain. Jesus never addressed the how of worship but the object of worship. Worship the Father. Most every post is like the ladies the how of worship. We need to get back to what Jesus said the object of worship– the Father!

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