Worship Leader Make Over: So You Want The Congregation to Sing More? Try this…
One of the most common complaints a worship leader has when leading worship, is that the congregation doesn’t sing as much as they should. Of course, there are exceptions to this but by and large it is the most common critique of the congregation. Often times, we put the blame on the congregation, thinking that they are not as spiritually mature as they should be, or that they just don’t get it. But could we be pointing our fingers in the wrong direction?
Over the last two years as I have visited 30+ congregations, I have noticed a disturbing trend: The bands are better, but the people are singing less and less. What I often observed is a top quality musical performance on the platform, and a completely disinterested response in the pews. Why the disconnect? Is it because the people in the congregation don’t love Jesus or don’t think He is worthy to sing to? That may be the reason for the unsaved, but not for those who are faithfully following hard after their Master.
Consider this: According to national surveys, fear of public speaking is America’s greatest fear, surpassing fear of illness, fear of flying, fear of terrorism, and amazingly, the fear of death itself! Fear of singing in public for someone who only sings at church might play a significant role in their non-singing. (Our current poll appears to support this. When asked “What is your favorite element of corporate worship?” 15% of respondents chose singing. See and take the poll here.)
So You want the Congregation to Sing More? Try this….. present them with songs that are WORTH singing!
My experience has been that a lot of the songs we are singing in church are just not worth singing! The music is contemporary and well produced, but the lyrics are often written by a well-meaning younger person (either young in age or in the faith or both) who has no real depth to his/her faith and is not well versed in the great truths of scripture. The result can be shallow, vague, or incomprehensible songs that may or may not apply to everyone present.
The thing about a worship leader is that they can sing at the drop of a hat. Because they love to sing, they will sing anything. anytime, anywhere. I sometimes find myself singing commercials from TV! We have to realize that this is not the norm for most people in the congregations we serve. The natural inclination for those who are nervous about singing in public is to NOT sing. If we want to help them express their love, gratitude, and devotion to the Savior through song, we must keep this in mind and offer songs with more compelling lyrics.
Recently, I was at a mega-church service in my city. To be fair, people were singing, mostly those up front. The band was loud and the light show was awesome (I thought I was at a Pink Floyd concert for a moment, but I digress) However, as I looked around, a significant part of the congregation was not singing. Then I realized, I wasn’t singing either. Why weren’t we singing?Everything was top quality. The answer is simple: the songs they offered were vague, trite and confusing.
Here is of one of the songs the team was singing, that the congregation was ignoring. Read it slowly, without any music, and ask yourself if it even makes sense?“We are His portion and He is our prize,
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes,
If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.
So Heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss,
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest,
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets,
When I think about, the way…”
What is he talking about? I am not sure, it is vague. There is also not a consistent thought running through the verse. Are we all sinking into an ocean of grace or is it just believers? What is an ocean of grace and what does it mean to be sinking into it? Ladies, is Jesus your boyfriend? The sloppy wet kiss line, is pretty visual. Are we making out with God, or does it mean that God loves us? It is not clear. What regrets do I have that I don’t have time to maintain? I don’t know, they are not stated. To be honest, I don’t know what this song means or is trying to say. If I don’t know what it means, then why would I try to sing it, if I don’t really like to sing?
I am sure someone will raise the following objection: “I have seen an entire congregation pouring their hearts out to God singing this exact song.” I don’t doubt it for a minute. I think those types of congregations are already full of people who love singing. In other words, they are singing in spite of the song, not because of it.
The reason why non-singers will not sing this song, no matter how well it is executed, is because it is not clear what we are singing about. We may attach our own meanings to the lyrics, and it becomes meaningful for us in that way. However, non-singers are just going to pass.
Vagueness in our songs has an inherent danger. Michael Horton, in his book “A Better Way” says:
“Vagueness about the object of our praise inevitably leads to making our own praise the object. Praise therefore becomes and end in itself, and we are caught up in our own “worship experience” rather than in the God whose character and acts are the only proper focus.”
I think we are seeing this happen all over the country.
I am not passing judgement on the writer of this song. I am only saying that this is not a good song to use in corporate worship because most people who find singing difficult won’t sing it. Also, if you don’t know what the words you are singing to God mean, can we call that worship?
If we want the congregation to worship the Savior in song, we need to heavily scrutinize the lyrical content of the songs we offer them. Here is an example of a clear, biblically accurate song, that compels us to sing. Read it slowly, without the music, and ask yourself if you understand what is being said:
“The mystery of the cross I cannot comprehend
The agonies of Calvary
You the perfect Holy One, crushed Your Son
Who drank the bitter cup reserved for me
Your blood has washed away my sin
Jesus, thank You
The Father’s wrath completely satisfied
Jesus, thank You
Once Your enemy, now seated at Your table
Jesus, thank You“
It is quite clear that we are singing about the central fact of the christian faith: Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins. This is something that every Christian in the congregation knows and understands and whole-heartedly believes. Chances are, more people will sing a song like this.
When the mega-church played this at the end of the singing time, the entire congregation stood to their feet and passionately proclaimed it to the Savior. The band stopped, and 2000 people sang it acapella. This is the kind of response every worship leader wants to see, and it is certainly a response worthy of our King.
If you want more people in the congregation to sing, then you have to start providing better songs. What you must remember is that those who love to sing will sing almost anything you use. The non-singers will only sing in public when the lyrics are worth singing. Resist the temptation to use the newest song that has a great groove and sloppy lyrics. Focus on the lyrics. A great song will have compelling lyrics and good music. Use songs that clearly present the great truths of Christianity: Songs about the cross, and all that the cross means. It makes all the difference. I will be sharing the process I use to do select new songs in an upcoming post called “How To Choose Songs for Corporate Worship”
Worship leader, I want to end this post by challenging you with this: If the congregation you lead in worship, is not singing, it may be due to something you are doing. You are the worship leader. We are the people you lead. We want to worship our Savior. Help us do that, by providing better songs. Don’t blame us for not singing enough or for not being “on fire” enough. Take a good hard look at the songs you are using, and take responsibility for that area. I know this may be painful. If you start eliminating lyrically poor songs, and adding lyrically rich ones, you will see a big change!
Of course there are other factors to consider, but many of those are out of the worship leaders control. We can not control how the congregation lives their lives during the week. We can’t make sure they are actively engaging God 24/7. We can control their spiritual song diet on Sunday morning. We can offer them songs that better engage their mind, challenge their walks and inspire them to live lives of gratitude to their Savior.
Check out the result of 4 different polls and the challenging conclusions arrived at in our post It’s Official: People Don’t Want To Sing So Much On Sundays
Posted on February 19, 2011, in Christianity, Contemporary Church Culture, Worship and tagged christianity, cross-centered worship, Not For itching Ears, singing, worship, Worship Leading, Worship Leading tips, worship songs. Bookmark the permalink. 24 Comments.