To sing or not to sing… that is NOT the question. Over the 20 years that I have been leading congregational worship services I have been faced with a very perplexing question: “Why is our congregation not singing?” To which I have been given several suggestions of what “I should do” to entice “them” to sing. Many of the comments range from subtle suggestions of their preferred style or taste in music to the very blatant responses regarding instrumentation (i.e. drums, guitar or …wait for it… organ), certain voices on microphone or off microphone. The suggestions pour in like sweet tea in a glass of ice on a hot summer day: if you don’t put an end to it soon you will have an empty pitcher and no more to share and no one to share it with.
As a worship pastor/minister of music I struggle with many of these same thoughts. Why is it that our congregation doesn’t sing? What if I add more “traditional” music or what if I add more “contemporary” music? What if we turn off the screens and sing directly from the hymnal and only the hymnal? What if, what if, what if… Please. Are you seriously going to tell me that the congregation will sing if you give them what they want to sing? PAUSE RIGHT THERE!! I have heard this argument before and I have personally tried this in many churches. It is not true. It is a fallacy. For every person you gain, singing a song they like, you lose another one because you’re singing a song they don’t like.
In order to fully understand congregational singing we have to know where it came from. There are many passages in both the Old and New Testaments that talk about singing to the Lord. Many of these passages refer to singing a new song to the Lord. Yes, I said, um, I mean God said – a “NEW” song. But in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 do tell us that we are to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. But it doesn’t end there. We are not only to sing those types of songs but to sing them to God and to each other, i.e. congregational singing. It doesn’t say, “come to church and let somebody else sing those songs to me and for me.” If we know what the Bible says about these things and we still refuse to sing then we either don’t believe God’s Word, God Himself or believe that it was just a suggestion and not actually a command. Either way we have moved the focus from singing to God to our own selfish desires of style and type of music.
Are you still with me? I hope so. The point is this: not whether to sing or not to sing but – who is the singing for? The singing is not necessarily for me or you. It’s first and primary focus is to glorify the Lord and give Him all of the worth that He is do. How many of you have every sung to your children when putting them to sleep? Have you ever been so happy that you whistled a tune or you made up some lyrics and sang a melody (even if it was by yourself)? That is an expression of joy and gratitude. An expression of love and compassion. God wants His children to sing to Him. To give Him praise and glory. So, you can see that the focus of congregational singing should be on God, to God and for God not our selfish preferences.
Please understand I am not saying that familiarity and knowledge of songs is not important to aid in congregational singing. However, familiarity and knowledge of a song should not dictate or equate our preferences. As a worship leader, let me just say that there are many Sunday’s that I sing songs that I personally don’t care for or even like. Yes, the lyrics are uplifting and some even straight from Bible, but the tune or the style that it has found itself is not my preferred style of music. Familiarity and knowledge of songs alone can and will assist a congregation in its ability to sing together. Just be careful not to let the argument slip into a preferential war.
As far as getting a congregation to sing I conducted an experiment. Through the course of approximately 6 months we utilized only hymns from the hymnal and sang them with fervor as we lead. Unfortunately, there was no increase of congregational singing. For a couple of the services we even left off the screens and encouraged the congregation to pick up the hymnal and sing. A few folks may have sung out more than normal but we did not inspire more people to sing. That leads me to the conclusion that the average church goer has given over their responsibility to praise God in song to the people on the platform. This is where I would like to point you to another article that was written by a man named Bob Kauflin. You can find his article by clicking on this link: http://www.worshipmatters.com/2014/02/10/i-worship-god-by-singing-you-should-too/
Please note that I am not endorsing worshipmatters.com as the go to authority on Scripture. That authority is given to God through the working of the Holy Spirit. It is well worth the read and I pray that this post has challenged you to truly think about your part/responsibility in congregational singing. So if “to sing or not to sing is not the question” then what is the question. The correct question regarding congregational singing and your responsibility is: “Am I going to be obedient to God’s commands and sing to Him with all of my heart?”
I pray that it has challenged you to get into God’s Word and search for what God has said to His children, the church about singing to Him. God bless you as you continue to your journey as a disciple of Christ.