Why People Don’t Sing in Church

Jorge Sedaca, who is on staff at the North American Mission Board in church planting, posted an article recently about visiting churches and experiencing some thoughts on why people don’t sing in church. I’ve summarized his thoughts below, but the whole article is worth a read for those of you who are interested in engaging a congregation in corporate worship. It is interesting to note that he likes many of the songs that I can’t stand, but hey, to each his own.

Here’s his observations of why people don’t sing in church:

1. The congregation is unfamiliar with the songs being used.

2. The use of too many new songs week after week.

3. The songs selected are not suitable for congregational singing.

4. The overall quality of the songs is very poor.

Hey worship leaders, your congregations want to sing. If you ever find yourself looking out at a group of people while leading worship and find yourself thinking, “man, it’s dead out there. They don’t get it,” Maybe you don’t get it and need to tweak how you’re leading them.

7 thoughts on “Why People Don’t Sing in Church

  1. michael,
    looking forward to reading the whole article. you’ve touched on a subject that i’ve been struggling with since i became a worship leader. in diverse/blended (whichever label you prefer) to contemporary worship styles there is that tug of singing something “new” and singing something that the congregation is familiar with enough to engage with. it’s the struggle between the “i want to sing contemporary stuff” mindset and the “i don’t like learning new stuff” mindset.

    grace and peace,

  2. Thanks for bringing up an important subject. I’m young and short in wisdom, but I’d like to offer my thoughts also:

    The number one reason my people don’t sing is tonal range, and number two is lack of knowledge of the song. If I keep the range of the songs below a high D and teach them a new song before we do it, we almost never have a problem.

    This requires me to change the key of almost every hymn we do (contemporary or historical) for two reasons. The melody line in older hymns was written to be sung by a soprano, with lower voices singing the other parts. If you’re not including those other parts, you need to lower the key so everyone can sing that melody line. Newer songs are written to sound like rock, which calls for a screaming high voice (ex. Chris Tomlin.) Neither of those setups will work across the spectrum of your whole congregation. We do “Jesus Paid it All” in Bb, and “Come Christians, Join To Sing” in E.

    As far as teaching, you need to get them to a place where they are familiar with the song before they’ll comfortably sing it. It’s embarrassing to be the only one who sang it wrong! I usually lead them through a verse and a chorus before we really do a new song, or I may teach it to a smaller group before teaching it to the larger group. It helps to have singable songs that use the pentatonic scale or an easy-to-remember rhythm.

    The other important thing is to make an environment that is sing-along friendly, for lack of a better term. If we go for the rock concert feel, we won’t encourage them to sing along. That environment just isn’t friendly to uniting in truth and song. I turn the lights up a tad so they can see each other, and turn the volume low enough so that they can hear each other singing (this encourages them to sing more) but loud enough so that they can hear my voice leading them (so they’ll sing it right.) I also lose some of the lighting that makes them focus on the front of the room, because I don’t want everyone unable to take their eyes off me and the stage. I want them to look around every now and again and see each other singing. Still, being able to see me so that I can give them leadership is important, so there is a balance here.

    That’s all I can offer. I appreciate that these things are being talked about. It means that we’re concerned that our people sing together. Private worship is beautiful, but there’s something about Sunday- when we all come together. Our job isn’t to sing- it’s to lead our people in singing. How well you sing and how perfectly you hit that note is only helpful if it helps others to sing.

    1. Dave, you have wisdom beyond your years, my brother. Thanks for commenting here. I appreciate your insights and sensitivity to the needs of your congregation, too. I checked out your site and I’m an SBTS grad as well. God bless…

  3. One thing we have tried to do here in Il is to introduce new stuff on Sunday nights. The crowd is smaller, most often more dedicated. When it is done on Sunday mornings, a few weeks later, there is a core group that knows it and helps to lead. We don’t have a choir or others to fill in, so the Sunday night “rehearsal” seems to work.

  4. No, I don’t think that’s it. It has less to do with the music itself (I believe) than volume, the feeling you’re at a professional concert performance and have nothing to add to it, and the feeling of a lack of spontaneity. ‘Now I’m going to worship God. Two fast songs; two slow ones, then we sit down and wait for the sermon.’

    It’s hard to explain, but I’ve lately been asking myself why I can’t bring myself to sing and in fact actually feel uncomfortable during worship; not a particularly emotional person by nature, I don’t raise my hands during worship and feel inferior by those who do. But on the other hand, I’m not going to fake it, so I won’t put ’em up just so I’ll look more spiritual.

    Our praise team is phenomenal – true professionals. Now, I can’t sing. I have other gifts, but musical ability isn’t one of them. So, this is the only form my worship can take; but I simply have nothing there worth offering God. I may as well do everyone a favor and let those who can sing (like the worship leaders) do so.

    Also, I find it hard to be joyful on demand. I can pray and confess, adore and talk to God on my own, but in an auditorium with 500+ other people, I find it extremely difficult to produce the kind of emotion needed to make it genuine worship. It’s rarely the actual lyrics that bother me (with the notable exception of Matt Redman’s “Let My Words be Few”, which makes me cringe). I’m sort of agreeing with the song in my heart, but can’t bring myself to sing….I guess I have a “worship disorder”.

    So I don’t think peeps not singing is any reflection on the music or the leaders. Most of us see the leaders as so far out of our league that we’d just assume sit down, shut up and let you guys do your thing anyway. It’s hard to concentrate on God when you’re watching a class-act performance, but it’s equally hard not to feel self-conscious standing there mutely.

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