Look around during church singing. More and more people spectate and don’t participate. Why?
Here’s my take… in a rough order of priority:
The #1 Problem–the songs are too hard to sing.
Praise songs are often unsingable due to complicated melodies, a high pitch range made for castrati, and shallow cheesy romantic lyrics that could easily be applied to human lovers (“sloppy wet kiss” are actual lyrics of highly popular praise song).
To make matters worse, the worship leader then deviates from the new or difficult melody to sing some harmony part or adds a cool-sounding lick.
The #2 Problem–the songs are too repetitive.
If the praise song lyrics are simple enough to sing, they are usually repeated ad nauseam. Legend has it that a music worship composer was asked what he did and he answered, “I write praise songs. I write praise songs. I write praise songs. I write praise songs. I write praise songs.”
These repetitious musical ditties have commonly been called 7/11 songs–seven words sung eleven times. Annoying! Like “Its a Small World After All” ride at Disneyland. Soon you want to scream, “Stop already!”
Thank God the church has embraced the oft repeated biblical admonition to “sing a new song.” But we have too often sacrificed lyrical substance for contemporary musical style. Fresh passion need not exclude the profound.
When introducing a new song, the worship leaders should sing it through before including the congregation. Teach it before expecting participation.
The #3 Problem–the poor use of the screens.
Screens get heads up and eyes forward. But often the words are too small to read–like a tough eye exam chart. Or the trendy font style is hard to decipher. Sometimes the background graphics are busy, distracting, grabbing more attention than the lyrics. And then there is the three-second delay for the next phrase. People want to sing, but are forced into a continual catch-up stutter, getting more frustrated than closer to God.
And when a different refrain or stanza appears on screens than what the worship leaders sing, I’ve actually overheard swearing-“Can’t you get the d-mn words right!” Not exactly a worship experience.
The #4 Problem–the band and singers are too professional or too unprofessional.
When the praise leader and band make it more of a rock concert performance, people feel uninvited to sing no matter the prodding from the platform. Warm and simple worship-leading draws in others.
The polar opposite to slick music is sloppy music. One need not be a “studio cat” to sing up front, but off-key vocalists and instrumentalists make everyone cringe, not worship. Why is it the flatter the pitch the louder the vocalist?! Which leads to the next problem…
The # 5 Problem — the music is too LOUD!
Loud praise is encouraged in the Psalms, but not a deafening volume that nearly makes the ears bleed. I literally fear that in our litigious society, someone will win a major law suit against a church for permanent ear damage due to the harmful volume of the worship band and singers. That drummer who thinks the singers are only background to his banging sticks — he often wears protective clear plugs or in-ear noise-cancelling headphone-monitors. Singers often do the same.
“But rock concerts hit 110 decibels!” some argue. Yes, but only fools who wish to permanently damage their ears attend them without hearing protection. Hearing is a Christian stewardship issue, not a competition with the world’s rock concerts.
I’ve personally put my index finger over each ear with blasting praise bands. I sang and smiled to make sure those around knew I liked the praise, just found the volume painful.
Ear plugs may be the answer, seriously!
The #6 Problem– talkative song leaders.
When song leaders preach and pastors sing it usually spells disaster. Well-chosen connecting words enhance the worship music experience. Too much talk between songs puts the congregation back into listening mode, rather than singing. People get into a singing momentum. Sermonettes between songs stalls singing’s big “mo.”
One of the most effective practices a music worship leader can do is fit his songs and brief comments into the message theme.
The #7 Problem–lack love for God… and holy honesty.
All the blame for lack of congregational praise singing does not fall on those leading. Worship music done right will not force a cold heart to praise an unknown distant God. But few things thaw an icy-hard heart or begin the mending of a shattered heart like passionate praise and worship music led by humble musicians.
On the other hand, People need permission not to sing. An unbeliever seeking God may not want to sing words that are not true in his life.
A Christian may be in a similar place. “I Surrender All” by the old hymn writer, or Clay Crosse, or Kim Burrell, or UK Vineyard Erie, or anyone else still makes a bold commitment of “all.”
As the pastor about to preach, I’ve had to give pause when what I was singing I could not honestly say. My silence during the singing has been some of my most honest worship and confession to God.
Addendum: My thoughts are not directed at any one church (certainly not mine now, although we are new church plant that is growing & learning too) but thoughts after 40+ years of ministry, visiting many churches all over the country of varying sizes and denominational traditions.