Why doesn’t my congregation sing? [Part 1 – 5 Reasons]
For many leaders of music in worship, and I’m sure the eager singers in the pews as well, one of the most frustrating things is when the majority of the congregation sit there, without a muscle moving on their face, not a sound coming out of their mouth, while the choir/band/cantor/organist sing/play their little hearts out.
“Why won’t they sing?!” I’ve thought so often. Well here are 5 reasons I’ve observed. Next week I’ll post a “Part 2” on what I think you can do about it.
So, here are my
Five reasons people don’t sing
1. They don’t know the song
Well this is a pretty obvious one. But on second glance, I think there’s more to it.
A few years ago, I led music at a church where I was convinced the congregation had left their voice-boxes at home all together. Despite the brilliant acoustics of the place, the deafening silence from the pews was consistently disheartening.
Then, one day, we did a contemporary rehash of a ‘golden oldie’. I don’t remember what song it was, but the difference was unbelievable! All of a sudden this voiceless congregation practically erupted – ok, maybe not quite erupted, so lets just say ‘filled out the space’ – with the most beautiful sound a worship leader can hope for: voices of a bunch of people singing, from the pitch perfect to the self-professed ‘tone deaf’.
So that got me thinking, maybe they just didn’t know the other songs well enough…?
2. The music is too good
“Oh, that was just so lovely, I didn’t want to spoil it!” Ever heard something like that?
Certainly, we should give our best for God. As the psalm says, “sing praises with all your skill.” But maybe music can sometimes become so performative that we get something like this:
“Wherever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment.”
Maybe that seems a bit harsh, but perhaps something similar could discourage people from joining their own humble voices to the song?
3. The music is too bad
If you skimmed the headings first this could just look like, “oh, you just can’t win, can you! Too good, too bad, too loud, too soft, what next!?” Maybe the congregation are all members of a secret club with the subversive agenda ‘frustrate the musos at all costs’, and they’ve got all their excuses planned.
But music can be so badly executed that it’s too hard to sing, or just not worth trying.
I know none of you would ever have been part of this problem, but I know I have. I’ve started a song so fast that I couldn’t pronounce the words. I’ve led a band where two instruments played different chords. And I’ve been part of such fantastic messes I just wanted to disappear into a hole before the end of the song.
I’m sure you can think of plenty other ways music can be “too bad” to sing, whether you were the culprit or just were lucky (cough) enough to witness it.
4. The music is too loud or not loud enough
If the music is too loud, it can be a distraction. It can make it too hard for the average person to know whether or not they’re singing the right thing. A poor balance of instruments can have a similarly grating effect.
Too soft and noone’s game to sing for fear someone will hear them (hear a note of sarcasm…). Maybe they can’t even hear what the tune is supposed to be. Particularly if it’s a song they’re not familiar with (see 1.).
5. They lack a leader
It doesn’t matter what you ask or expect of a group of people. If someone doesn’t lead the way, provide an example, show that it’s possible, or encourage by action, there’s a good chance the asked or expected action will go largely unfulfilled.
Ever seen a pastor stand or sit at the front of the church, lips sealed, as the song plays? Yeah, not helping. Really.
So, what to do about it?
Stick around for next week’s post, Why doesn’t my congregation sing? – Part 2: What to do about it. I’m really keen to hear your ideas too.
But for now…
Question: In your experience, what’s the biggest reason people don’t sing? What does it look like? You can leave a comment by clicking here.