Why Aren’t People Singing?

Kimberly MacNeill offers practical tips for helping your congregation sing, and to understand why they don’t:

Worship leaders, week after week, pour their heart and soul into leading their congregation in a time of worship through music. They plan and they practice and they pray. A team of musicians shows up prepared and ready to lead people in singing praise to God. But, all to often, at the end of the day, it didn’t turn out as “good” as they hoped. In the evaluation time, it is noticeable once again, that the people just didn’t seem to be singing. It is disappointing. The worship leader wants so much for the people to sing out in passionate praise. “Why aren’t people singing?” they ask. And though some worship leaders are willing to admit that some songs just don’t work, the lion-share of the conversation finds the people at fault: they don’t really care about worship: they aren’t passionate about God. “Well, that’s on them,” says the worship leader. “I’m doing all I can.” No doubt, he or she is doing their best. But, there is something they might not know, and it would help if they did.

There was a time in American culture when people grew up with a foundational appreciation and understanding of music. In elementary school the class sang songs. In a later grade, everyone had a music class that explored all the instruments. In Junior High everyone was in the chorus one mandatory semester. Lots of teens chose to join the high school chorus. Most families did go to church and kids learned church songs; hymnals had the actual music score in it as generally speaking, people could read music! See, not all that long ago, people grew up singing out loud, in public; it was part of life. But when school budgets started getting cut, the Arts Department was the first to go. The music foundation went away. In addition, as Christian music expanded in influence, it took on a more “professional” edge and became more performance oriented. Bottom line: singing was now for the musically gifted. If I ask someone in today’s world, “Do you sing?” they almost instantly say, “only in the shower.” And if someone says they occasionally sing “karaoke” they almost always add, “you know….because I’m drinking and so is the audience!”

So now, here we are. Though we have a culture that loves music and has easy access to it, today’s music is mostly about listening to other people sing. So, the idea that when people come to church once a week and are expected to sing out loud in front of both family and strangers-well-they are looking for ways to get out of that! After all, they have never done that in their life! The good news is that many people think the worship music is good. In fact, for some people, it is the reason they come to church – they love the music. Listening to it ministers to them. But, that doesn’t mean they want to sing it with you.

So, what can the worship leader do? Continue reading.

Sign up to receive weekly WorshipIdeas every Tuesday morning in your email:


Essential reading for worship leaders since 2002.


Get the latest worship news, ideas and a list

of the top CCLI songs delivered every Tuesday... for FREE!