Downtown Church

Does Your Congregation Sing?

A church in the suburbs has remodeled a majestic, historic Civil War-era church in downtown Greenville, SC and planted a satellite ministry there. I visited last Sunday and heard something I haven’t heard in a long time: a congregation actually singing.

The place was packed and their worship setup was simple: a male worship leader with acoustic guitar, female backup singer, keyboard and djembe. I’d imagine a full band wouldn’t work so well in the reverberant environment of the old timey rectangular Baptist Church layout with hard floors, plaster walls and stained glass windows. Sitting in the balcony I could hear the musicians fine and could tell the minimal sound system merely supported the natural acoustics.

The same reverberant environment that would make a rocking praise band difficult to tame made for a rich singing environment. The congregation knew the contemporary worship songs and everyone was singing. Loudly.

I can think of another very contemporary church in town where I’ve looked around during the “worship” music and nobody’s singing. Not that you could even hear them singing if they were – because the band is so loud.

Like I’ve said before, your music doesn’t necessarily grow your church, it helps define who comes to your church. The historic church attracts a young, hip crowd who probably went to a Caedmon’s Call concert the night before. The rocking church attracts a young, hip crowd who probably went to a Linkin Park concert the night before.

But whatever style your church, your congregation should be singing (even if your band is loud.) If they’re not, maybe these reasons will help you discover why:

1. The key is too high. Tenor worship leaders tend to sing worship songs in the key best suited for their voice, and that’s usually not a singable key for a plumber in the crowd. Don’t feel you must do that Chris Tomlin song in the same key he uses – your tenor worship leader will still sound fine a step or three lower and everyone else will then be able to participate.

2. They don’t know the songs. As worship leaders we know the worship songs, sing them once or twice and tire of them quickly. We also forget the average person is completely musically illiterate. At a church where I worked as pianist many years ago we wondered why people weren’t singing. When we looked at our song list we had about 100 praise songs and 100 hymns in rotation. If we sang four songs each week we’d end up singing each song on the list about once a year. Pare down your song list to something manageable and learnable.

3. They don’t like the style. I was talking about this topic once in one of my worship classes and a man asked the question “I’m doing all the top praise songs so why is my congregation not singing?” He had the typical electric guitar driven pop praise band.

I asked him “What would you say is the favorite music style of the average person in your congregation?”

“Bluegrass” he answered.

A Bluegrass loving congregation isn’t really going to get into the latest Lincoln Brewster tune. But they might like the same tune in an acoustic style with a little mandolin or fiddle thrown in. Worship leaders, don’t try to make your congregation like the music you think they should like – get a sense of who they are and tailor your worship experience to them.

This week: plant a few spies in your congregation this Sunday and ask them to report back whether people are singing or not.