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Reason #1: They Don’t Know the Songs

Reason #1: They Don’t Know the Songs

The post, 9 Reasons People Aren’t Singing in Worship, has generated hundreds of responses, some supportive and some not so much. I thought it might be time to take each of the reasons and go into more detail since many wrong assumptions are made by those making comments.

  1. They don’t know the songs. With the release of new songs weekly and the increased birthing of locally-written songs, worship leaders are providing a steady diet of the latest, greatest worship songs. Indeed, we should be singing new songs, but too high a rate of new song inclusion in worship can kill our participation rate and turn the congregation into spectators. I see this all the time. I advocate doing no more than one new song in a worship service, and then repeating the song on and off for several weeks until it becomes known by the congregation. People worship best with songs they know, so we need to teach and reinforce the new expressions of worship.

Wide angle top view of a young man showing don't know gesture

I often refer to songs as a vital part of our worship vocabulary–it helps us express our worship to God. As long as we are singing songs we know, we are able to worship without the hindrance of learning new melodies and rhythms. When we place a new song in our times of corporate worship, we can interrupt the flow of worship. When new songs are first introduced, the people have to take their eyes off the Lord and concentrate on the task of learning the new tune. With this in mind, I believe new songs can kill our worship or they can greatly enhance our worship. Let’s look at this in more depth.

First of all, should we sing new songs in worship? The Bible clearly says, YES!

Sing unto Him a new song; play skillfully with a loud noise. Psalm 33:3

He put a new song in my mouth… Psalm 40:3

Sing to the LORD a new song… Psalm 96:1

I will sing a new song to you, O God…  144:9

Praise the LORD. Sing to the LORD a new song… Psalm 149:1

Singing new songs is not simply for the sake of novelty. New songs are beneficial because they keep us out of a rut, bring us a new sense of freshness and enthusiasm, force us to think about what we are singing, expand our worship vocabulary, and help us capture what God is saying to the body at the time. Newer, contemporary songs generally will connect to today’s culture in a language they understand better than songs several decades or centuries old.

On one extreme, I have observed time after time in contemporary worship services worship leaders introducing many new songs in a single service; for this reason, the congregation ceases its participatory worship in order to (1) learn the new song or (2) turn totally to spectator mode and treat the song as a “special music” portion of the service. In churches that have more than one worship leader/planner, this problem gets even worse if there is not adequate coordination of songs used in worship.

On the other extreme, I have observed in traditional worship services a reluctance to use any contemporary worship songs in the services. I feel this ignores the biblical mandate, the blessings of connecting with what God is doing TODAY in worship music, and the ability to use expressions that better connect with much of today’s culture.

So how do we balance the problem of creating spectators with all the great reasons to include new songs in our worship? The key is how we introduce the songs and the frequency of new song introduction.

First, never introduce more than one new song into your worship set. Otherwise, you greatly risk interrupting the flow and momentum of worship. Second, the number of new songs you should introduce in a given month will depend upon your congregation’s level of new song “tolerance.” Each congregation is different as to the number of new songs they can process in a given amount of time, so be sensitive and watch for signs of new song “burn-out” (e.g. significant drop in the level of participation). For some churches, one song a month may be enough, for others, 2-4 a month is reasonable.

The second most important concept to grasp is how we introduce new songs and the follow up to help them become part of the congregation’s vocabulary of worship. Check out the follow up post for more information on this.

Take some time to evaluate your church’s worship. Are you including too many new songs in a service, causing the people to retreat from participatory worship?

About The Author

Kenny Lamm

Worship Consultant for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. A frequent worship clinician and guest worship leader. Extensive work in worship renewal in several Asian countries.


  1. Mrs.James Clemons

    Having been and still am in a choir all my life thus far, there are some things that I wish to share here. One , my husband sings bass and few and far are any songs which are in his range.Especially those of the contemporary styles. It’s as though the new songs come out in 1st.Tenor only with little thought to those who sing bass and at that 2nd bass! Some will go to second tenor or baritone but rarely even low baritone or bass. 2) The illustrations on screen make it hard for the screened lyrics to be read , there are many with visual problems who don’t wear glasses who should but don’t have them. Beautiful scenery surrounding the new lyrics makes it hard for them to be seen let alone sung!! 3) Using only the lyrics without the sheet music makes it less easy to learn if you can read the music. 4) The choir is given the task often to teach the new songs. If the choir can learn it then hopefully the congregation can learn afterwards.5) Please give the history behind the new songs so they will be given Scriptures as a base for why they are written. Otherwise to me at least if not others the music is seen only as a ‘money maker’ and not a song of worship. So please give the history and Scriptures to the new songs introduced.5) The women’s range in many songs, anthems have taken only to the allto range and sopranos are expected to sing that range in the same volume that the altos can easily sing. That hurts the range of the sopranos in the reverse of the ones who sing bass. 6) Congregations are losing choirs due to emphasis on only praise teams and band instruments aa opposed to orchestra musical instruments. If you can combine both then it’s more balanced. But not one to the exclusion of the other! There is more I could say but these are the thoughts of a choir member.

  2. Paul Aiello

    Learning new songs is not easy. Especially on Sunday morning with others listening in. I’ve discovered an app that helps me tremendously.
    It’s called WHATS MY NOTE? It allows you to create a pdf of a page of sheet music or a page from the hymnal (song book) and the by using your finger on the screen you can play the note and hear your part. (.costs 99cents) but an app I can’t live without now. Highly recommend it to learn new songs.

  3. Anita

    A few years ago we retired and moved from a small church in an isolated community to a much larger church in a university town I was part of our worship team in our previous church and our leader did a good job using both traditional and contemporary music in our services. Fast forward to our new church, several Sundays went by and we did not sing but 1or2 songs in a month that we knew., and discovered several were quite new to the congregation also. Very ¡ because music is an integral part of worship for me. A change in leadership brought a welcome change in music. Our current leader has an appreciation for many types of music and often sends links to Sunday’s music during the week so we can get a headstart on learning the new songs. Our new pastor is also quite musical and he loves the old hymns. Often he will start a chorus of an old hymn and a verse or two. Just the sound of all the a capella voices is like an angel choir. It really pleases the people that would rather do without the contemporary music.

  4. Ann Massey

    I’m 83 and grew up in a Baptist church. I am a Methodist now. Naturally, I miss the old songs. Same with non-church music. I don’t expect the world to change for me, though. I try to sing along.


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