If you’re a worship leader or Pastor, you’ve likely seen rants (disguised as blogs) on ‘why aren’t people singing’ in church. I don’t think anyone has all the answers but for what it’s worth, here is what I’ve observed.
First the Obvious
Let’s get these out of the way. Most every worship leader knows that people will not sing if they don’t know the songs, the songs are too difficult, they are presented in a style that is foreign to the culture or the songs are too high. These are the obvious things.
If we major on the obvious, we risk rendering ourselves irrelevant. So yes worship leaders, we need to get these things right and just because they are obvious, doesn’t mean they aren’t important. But these are prerequisites. These things can all be in place yet people still might not sing. So what are the less obvious reasons people might not sing?
It LOOKS Like A Show
Don't get me wrong, it may BE a show if the worship team is bringing the wrong attitude to the platform (notice I don't call it a stage). Bright lights, smoke machines, camera crews and big screens don't help the case here but that doesn't necessarily mean these things are bad. But even without these things, some people simply associate a band (especially a good one) as being a performance. Why? Because that's what they hear OUTSIDE the church. Inside, they expect mediocrity. That's unfortunate too because the Bible says we should play skillfully for the Lord.
There is nothing inherent about a well-polished worship band that prohibits singing. Pastors and leaders just need to tell their congregations this and lead by example. Furthermore, even if someone can't get it out of their head that it's a 'show', at most U2 concerts for example, people STILL sing.
Volume is complicated. For instance, one school of thought says that if things are too loud, people can’t hear their own voices so they won’t sing. Another school of thought says that if the volume is too soft, people won’t sing because they CAN hear their own voices (and more importantly their neighbor can hear them).
So which is it? I’ve found no definitive data. But I suspect that it depends upon the person. However, if your church gets its theology right, the latter can be mitigated. Keep reading and I’ll explain.
I was born and raised Pentecostal. One thing I can tell you about Pentecostals is that they sing. Not only that, but they shout, dance, hoop, holler…. they are generally far less self-conscious than their counterparts. Matt Redman had a song called Undignified that describes it very well:
“I will dance I will sing to be mad for my king
Nothing lord is hindering the passion in my soul…
And I’ll become even more undignified than this
Some would say it’s foolishness…”
On the other hand, I find that mainline denominations (as an example) tend to not be very expressive with singing. Why the differences? I believe they boil down to culture and theology…. keep reading….
Those Pentecostals and Charismatics have a theology that breeds and attracts a certain culture. Their DNA produces people who are expressive. They are hungry for a faith that is emotional so of course they are going to sing. On the other hand, a lot of churches are more reserved. Many churches hunger for an intellectual pursuit of God. Human nature tends to swing from one extreme at the neglect of the other. So one side values the heart at the expense of the mind, while the other does the opposite… No wonder the truths of Christ are filled with the tension of opposites we call paradoxes.
What is the culture of your church? What attributes of your church’s culture should you accommodate as a worship leader? Which attributes should you challenge in order to lead a body to conform to the image of Christ?
Another cultural factor is shyness and insecurity. But this is also tied to theology so keep reading….
“O clap your hands all ye people, shout unto God with a voice of triumph." - Psalm 47:1
"Thus I will bless Thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name." – Psalm 63:4
“Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.” – Psalm 33:3
“Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;” - Psalm 95:6
“Let them praise his name with dancing… “ - Psalm 149:3
So the fact that the Bible speaks of the raising of hands, shouting, singing, dancing and kneeling as valid expressions of worship is indisputable. But what is your church’s theology? Does your church view these passages as prescriptions or only descriptions? Are these commands or are they simply examples of what CAN be done but aren’t required? This largely depends upon your theology.
I won’t go any deeper here but let me encourage you to study how Jesus handled Scripture in terms of descriptions vs prescriptions. At the same time, we do know that just because Noah built an ark doesn’t mean we are to do the same so tread carefully. The greater point is that interpreting God’s word requires careful study and a pure heart. The answers to these questions are in the hands or preaching Pastors and Bible teachers more than in the hands of worship leaders.
I personally believe it is usually safer to assume a Scripture is prescriptive unless it is blatantly obvious that it is descriptive. The old joke is that the Scripture teaches that Judas hung Himself and it later says, “Go do likewise”. The point is to always take Scripture within context.
I get the sense that many churches prioritize making believers feel comfortable instead of challenging them through the transformational cleansing of the Word.
Does God’s word tell us to bring the comfort of praise? Or isn’t that word supposed to be sacrifice? Does the expression of such worship look like the rocks that Jesus said would cry out if we don’t, or does it look more like David who in self-abandon, danced before the Lord? Preachers, teachers and leaders, what can YOU do to get people to sing? Your worship leader is in charge of the prerequisites but you have a part to play as well.