Healthy Leaders



Why They Don’t Sing on Sunday Anymore

Healthy Leaders

Why They Don’t Sing on Sunday Anymore

Thom SchultzThom Schultz
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Looking around the church last Sunday I noticed that the majority weren’t singing. And most of those who were singing barely moved their lips. The only voices I actually heard were those on stage with microphones.

That’s been the case for years now – in churches large and small. What used to be congregational singing has become congregational staring.

Even when the chipper “worship leader” in contemporary churches bounds on stage and predictably beckons everyone to “stand and worship,” the people compliantly obey the stand command, but then they turn into mute mannequins.

What’s behind this phenomenon? What happened to the bygone sounds of sanctuaries overflowing with fervent, harmonizing voices from the pews, singing out with a passion that could be heard down the street? I suspect it’s a number of unfortunate factors.

Spectator set-up. Increasingly, the church has constructed the worship service as a spectator event. Everyone expects the people on stage to perform while the pew-sitters fulfill the expectation of any good audience – file in, be still, be quiet, don’t question, don’t contribute (except to the offering plate), and watch the spotlighted musicians deliver their well-rehearsed concerts.

Professionalism. It seems it’s paramount for church music to be more professional than participatory. The people in the pews know they pale in comparison to the loud voices at the microphones. Quality is worshipped. So the worshippers balk at defiling the quality with their crude crooning. It’s better to just fake it with a little lip-syncing.

Blare. The musicians’ volume is cranked up so high that congregants can’t hear their own voices, or the voices of those around them, even if they would sing. So they don’t sing. What would it add? The overwhelming, amplified sound blares from big speakers, obliterating any chance for the sound of robust congregational singing.

Music choice. Sometimes people refrain from singing because the songs are unfamiliar, hard to sing, or just cheesy. Sometimes worship leaders choose a song that may thematically tie into the day’s sermon topic, but it’s unsingable. Sometimes worship leaders choose lame songs written by their favorite songwriters – themselves.

I admit. I’ve joined the majority. I’ve stopped singing. I’m not happy about it. I know I should overcome these barriers and just praise the Lord with my very unprofessional vocalizations. But I long for an environment that evokes my real heartfelt vocal participation.

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  • john cooks

    you made need to go to an African American church!

  • Keith P

    As a worship musician and songwriter these comments are worrying. There has been an unfortunate move by a lot of writers and performers to lose sight of the purpose of their ministry. To focus on how good the sing and play and to forget the message of the Psalms: We are to make a joyful NOISE to the Lord. God measures the love we offer not the accuracy of our note pitching and sense of rhythm. We need to go back to basics.
    All musicians are there to serve God and the congregation by enabling them to worship and praise our Lord. If we play complex songs (complex rhythmically and structurally) which have little or no theological content then it is hardly surprising that the congregation struggle to join in. It may sound like a pop song but if there is no content we are as clanging cymbals.
    We need to provide simple easily singable words music which connects and expresses a wide experience of Faith and above all our love for our Lord. Good theology helps us to remember why we are doing this and keeps scripture in our minds so we are God focused. The Psalmists and more recent hymn writers have always done this. We need to learn from them