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.
- 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.
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?