Why doesn’t my congregation sing? [Part 2 – What you can do about it]
“Every Sunday I leave church feeling so uplifted by the experience of being part of a body of worshippers so passionate in their sung prayer to God, I feel like I’ve been surrounded by the saints and angels in heaven!”
Is this your experience?
Yes? Fantastic! Please skim through and share your wisdom with a comment. No? Well, hopefully the next few minutes of reading will be of some use. Here’s some things I think you can do about it…
1. When they don’t know the song…
While it’s important to find the balance between familiarity and ‘over-it’-ness, the general rule that seems to work is:
When you’re sick of it, they’re getting used it.
To help speed up the process though (their getting-to-know-it, not your sick-of-it) you can do three things:
- Play the song instrumentally with a really clear melody a few weeks in a row before introducing it with words.
- Invite the congregation to stay back for a short ‘rehearsal’ to learn a couple new hymns.
- Show music as well as lyrics on the slides. Even the person who can’t read a dot of it can see the general direction of the melody.
2. When the music is too good…
Remember that person that came up to you that week and said,
“Oh, thank you so much, the music was lovely!”
And you replied, “Why thanks, did you sing along?”
“Oh no, I wouldn’t want to ruin it like that!”
This might sound counterintuitive, but here’s the reasoning…
When people “ooh & aah” about how “lovely” the music is and conclude that their contribution will detract from it, it’s not because the music is polished, or because the ensemble is tight, or because the lyrics are clearly articulated. More likely, they are intimidated by
- a flamboyant voice,
- an overpowering harmony, or
- an (eek!) extended intrumental (show-off-y) solo.
Intentional – and perhaps I should add, prayerful – practice can restrain the flamboyance, balance the harmony, and convince instrumentalists that their humility would better serve the worship than their face-melting-ly awesome musical skills.
3. When the music is too bad…
As I said last week, I’m sure this problem is unique only to myself, but I thought I’d include it just in case anyone else finds themselves in the same boat.
- Practice. Even if you’re sure you’re perfect already and don’t need any. You wouldn’t believe the number of times I’ve heard people say so – and then mess up. (Or just overwhelm the congregation with their face-melting-ly awesome musical skills.)
- Be confident in what tempo each song will start. And write it down. Which brings us to…
- Write on your music any reminder you could need – even if you’re sure you won’t need it. And if you’re extra, super sure, still do it. The mere humans around you may follow suit.
- Don’t use songs that haven’t been prepared. Yes, it’s tempting to just start using that new hymn you’re all excited about. But noone else will be excited about it if the first time they hear it, if it falls apart and ends with a barely hidden, nervous laugh…
4. When the music is too loud or too quiet…
It was a group of Franciscan Friars of the Renewal that first alerted me to this one. There is a tension between overpowering and unsupportive accompaniment.
Practice. Of course. But you might need some assistance.
Not all churches are built conveniently for musicians, which is fine, after all God is the focus, not us. There are plenty of technological bits and pieces that can help you find the right balance. But cheaper – and better – is a person.
Just get them to stand somewhere else in the church and tell you how it is. And get them to take note of what it’s like when the place is full of people. And listen to people who come and comment after. Both positive and negative critique can help you improve.
5. When leadership is lacking…
Who’s job is it anyway? Who is ultimately responsible for “leading worship”?
Leaders from many different Christian denominations will affirm that it is, in fact, the senior pastor, or the pastor leading any given particular service.
In the book that guides how the Catholic Mass is celebrated, it says of the priest that he “presides over their [the congregation’s] prayer”
So what happens when the senior pastor or priest suddenly resembles a marble statue whenever the singing starts?
Well, respect for leaders suggests you don’t tell him off. And I’d suggest that would be counterproductive anyway. But here’s what you can do…
Ask him to sing.
Yes, that simple. Depending on your relationship with him, it may not be easy. But it’s certainly worth trying to have an open, honest, humble conversation where you explain the difference you think his singing could make to the congregation. (We can leave the issue of whether or not he keeps his mic turned on for another time…)
The most difficult factor to change
There is one more reason I’d like to mention for why congregations don’t sing. It may be the most profound hurdle. And the most difficult to change. But change it, and you won’t be able to keep them from singing! That’s next week’s final post in this series.
Question: What have you found makes the biggest difference in encouraging your congregation to sing? You can comment by clicking here.