Why They Don’t Sing on Sunday Anymore

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Looking around the church last Sunday I noticed that the majority weren’t singing. And most of those who were singing barely moved their lips. The only voices I actually heard were those on stage with microphones.

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That’s been the case for years now–in churches large and small. What used to be congregational singing has become congregational staring.

Even when the chipper “worship leader” in contemporary churches bounds on stage and predictably beckons everyone to “stand and worship,” the people compliantly obey the stand command, but then they turn into mute mannequins.

What’s behind this phenomenon? What happened to the bygone sounds of sanctuaries overflowing with fervent, harmonizing voices from the pews, singing out with a passion that could be heard down the street? I suspect it’s a number of unfortunate factors.

Spectator set-up. Increasingly, the church has constructed the worship service as a spectator event. Everyone expects the people on stage to perform while the pew-sitters fulfill the expectation of any good audience–file in, be still, be quiet, don’t question, don’t contribute (except to the offering plate), and watch the spotlighted musicians deliver their well-rehearsed concerts.

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Professionalism. It seems it’s paramount for church music to be more professional than participatory. The people in the pews know they pale in comparison to the loud voices at the microphones. Quality is worshipped. So the worshippers balk at defiling the quality with their crude crooning. It’s better to just fake it with a little lip syncing.

Blare. The musicians’ volume is cranked up so high that congregants can’t hear their own voices, or the voices of those around them, even if they would sing. So they don’t sing. What would it add? The overwhelming, amplified sound blares from big speakers, obliterating any chance for the sound of robust congregational singing.

Music choice. Sometimes people refrain from singing because the songs are unfamiliar, hard to sing, or just cheesy. Sometimes worship leaders choose a song that may thematically tie into the day’s sermon topic, but it’s unsingable. Sometimes worship leaders choose lame songs written by their favorite songwriters–themselves.

I admit. I’ve joined the majority. I’ve stopped singing. I’m not happy about it. I know I should overcome these barriers and just praise the Lord with my very unprofessional vocalizations. But I long for an environment that evokes my real heartfelt vocal participation.

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About Author

Thom Schultz

Thom Schultz is an eclectic author and the founder of Group Publishing and Lifetree Café. Holy Soup offers innovative approaches to ministry, and challenges the status quo of today’s church.

16 Comments

  1. I think one of the main reasons that you touched on a tad is that, PEOPLE DON”T KNOW THE SONG! In my church at least, we’re singing all the new stuff, and some we know, some we don’t. You cant expect people to actually worship when they’re staring at the lyric screen the whole time. The thing is though, you start playing Come Thy Fount or some other timless hymn, and our church is eyes closed, hands up, top of their lungs worshipping. WLeaders, you don’t need to change it up every week to make us praise God.

  2. Pingback: Why They Don’t Sing on Sunday Anymore | WorshipIdeas.com

  3. I think there are a number of reasons why folks don’t sing. I agree with the reasons listed above. I think there is another reason and that is ( at least in most Baptist churches) poor acoustics in worship centers. Most churches anymore are built for preaching and for cheap maintenance, not singing- largely because buildings designed with good acoustics for singing are expensive. There is no substitute for good acoustics. And you cannot overcome an acoustically dead room with electronics. It is amazing what happens to singers when the acoustics are good and when they are bad. When acoustics are poor we shut down because we feel isolated. When acoustics are great we feel part of the community of singers, a part of something bigger, not alone. Most of our congregants are not very musical anyway. They lack confidence. An acoustically “dead room” discourages good singing. Get rid of the carpet, find an acoustic engineer to help make room modifications. Build new worship centers with worship as the priority. Saving money cannot be the first priority. Build it right the first time. Its a long-term investment that will pay off with great returns.

  4. I’m the worship coordinator at our church, and if we’re going to do a new song, it’s special music the first week and we have 4 worship teams, so the other 3 teams put that song into their song package for the following 3 weeks also. So we do it 4 weeks in a row. As the coordinator I prefer we only teach 1 new song per month that way it’s not overwhelming to anyone!
    I’ve also revised our song selection down, currently we have a total of 70 songs to choose from but I am in the process of revising that down to between 30 – 40 and we’ll choose from that list for probably 3 – 4 months and then I’ll change it up with a new list. This way not only do the worship team members learn the songs really well, and can focus on worshipping instead of reading music, but the congregation also becomes more familiar with the songs and they can worship more freely instead of just staring at a screen.

    • Harold Redline on

      70 songs? and you are going to trim it to 30-40 songs? I’ve been an Organist for over 35 years. I serve a small Church and we RATTLE the rafters on any given Sunday of the year! Our hymnal has over 800 titles in it and if I were a betting man I would wager that we sing or know at least half of them! As this “Contemporary Craze” hit the Church’s I figured I better get with the program. I purchased material to help me plan meaninful worship. Material that would make suggestions for music that would support the lectionary as we use the revised Common Lectionary. The book I purchased listed over 40 hymnals and song books that I would need to have in my Library. Many of hymnals I already have, but many of the song books are no longer in print. Why? I’m glad you ask, BECAUSE THIS 7-11 MUSIC ( and that’s what a professor called it in GRAD school becuase it is mostly 7 words repeated 11 times) has not stood the test of time. It was a flash in the pan that had no substance and told no story as many of the timeless classic hymns do. Give the folks some good music of substance, and I’m not saying that the contemporary music is no good, But it needs SUBSTANCE ! Give them some a balanced music with good solid Accompaniment and they will sing! Solo out that melody line! Have the men sing a stanza and the Women another, or left side sings one phrase and right side sings the next phrase and so forth and so on. Keep it alive and FRESH and people will sing!

  5. Stewart Hough on

    Forgive me, not intending to be picky, but the subject is not congregational singing, it is worship. Admittedly, all we do for the Lord when we come together is worship, but the Praise and Singing is a pure focused form of worship that truly reveals our own spiritual condition: It has little or nothing to do with how good or bad the singers/musicians are, the selected songs or anything else. If we will not open our mouths, even to speak the words, regardless of the surroundings, how can we expect the Holy Spirit to inhabit our praise or bless out gathering?

    No distractions, no excuses, worship in times of blessing or trouble: nothing should deter us. God’s worthiness to receive worship overshadows all our circumstances. If we do not like the songs here on earth, what will we do in Heaven with songs we never envisioned could exist? Are we expecting the Christian top 20?

    We don’t sing in church because we think it is about us and we have become religious consumers who vote with our mouths, wallets and legs, not the spiritually redeemed bride of Christ that earnestly is seeking unity with Christ in mind in heart. God open our spiritual eyes.

  6. I was saved during the Jesus movement. Coming from the Methodist church, I really enjoyed the new music and the worship that was so easy to enter into. Over the years, we have attended several denominations from charismatic on up. I guess we were always looking for something like we had back then…. Settled for what is described in the article. Then, because a relative is in Teen Challenge, we started going to a little country church near there where the 75 men go twice a week. I honestly wish the author could go and experience what we have joyously found. The pastor’s wife is annointed as she loudly plays and sings… But she doesn’t drown out the enthusiastic singing of the rest of the crowd. We are amazed and find ourselves singing as loud as we want to. .. As we raise our hands most of the time…. About a half hour. During the singing, if anyone wants prayer, they are free to go forward for laying on of hands. Yes, it’s charismatic. It’s small. A lot are graduates of Teen Challenge, even the pastor. We thought we would never attend or join a small church, but here we are. We still go to the big churches to hear a special speaker they can afford, but now It just feels good to actually worship like we did in the beginning. .. Maybe even better.

    • I attend River of Life church in Jacksonville NC and I am sorry for the so called worship that goes on in some churches. We have incredible participation in praise and worship it is NOT a spectator sport. There is such freedom in the Spirit and as for the new songs. Do I know them all? NO! but thank God , I can learn just like I have learned songs all my life by singing them. Do I like every song we sing? Probably not! but I can honestly say I find that 90% of the new songs are incredible anointed and bless me as I learn them. The number one reason I believe we enjoy the praise and worship at our church and enter in is that our leaders, singers and musicians, are PRAYER Warriors, first. Praisers and worshipers always went first before the battle began, in the Bible. We have NO stars in our Praise and Worship team just individuals with incredible gifts and talents who LEAD us into the throne of God every week to enter into the Presence of the Lord. Most old Hymns are anointed and were given to people through the Holy Spirit…Well HE hasn’t stopped creating beautiful songs HE is is still writing them through people. Yes there are noise makers with no talent who want to be the object we look and entertain us but I thank God it’s not that way at River of Life and I know there are MANY churches worldwide who are truly privileged to also have true worshippers leading their congregations. By the way I’m an old lady, not a youth! My advise is “If you are being entertained at your church instead, of being ushered into the Presence of the LORD, find a church that isn’t full of entertainers; but FIRST make sure you aren’t so set in your ways you can no longer receive the new gifts GOD is bringing through this generation. Afterall the Holy Spirit is STILL writing songs…..

  7. Alexander Andino on

    It has a lot to do with our spiritual condition. The bible has a story on the book of Joshua that a man aas caught commiting a sin and the test for that sin to be exposed was to put the man to worship and he could not do it. The burdens of sin will cause us to stay static and not to ppen our mouths since we feel that we ar e not worthy of praising and worship our Lord. I do totally agree with everything the article stated, this one I shared can be considered as another one of yhe major reasons for thid phenomenom. Let’s ask God for forgiveness, He will cleanse us and make us whole. May the Lord keep on pouring His blessing on all of us and the disire to live for Him. At the end of the day, He’s worthy to be praised and worshiped just for the wonderful things that he has done for us! Blessings to all.

    • Alexander Andino on

      It has a lot to do with our spiritual condition. The bible has a story on the book of Joshua that a man was caught commiting a sin and the test for that sin to be exposed was to put the man to worship and he could not do it. The burdens of sin will cause us to stay static and not to open our mouths since we feel that we are not worthy of praising and worship our Lord. I do totally agree with everything the article stated, this one I shared can be considered as another one of the major reasons for this phenomenom. Let’s ask God for forgiveness, He will cleanse us and make us whole. May the Lord keep on pouring His blessing on all of us and the disire to live for Him. At the end of the day, He’s worthy to be praised and worshiped just for the wonderful things that he has done for us! Blessings to all.

  8. the music is too loud it hurts my earsthese so-called worship leaders have not been called they are only performing…some of the music I have heard in churches are from the pit of hell. why aren’t the pastors doing something and putting a stop to this terrible Music….why should the congregation have to stand for 30 to 45 minutes in agonywhile these people stand on the stage and perform

  9. I can not hear the people singing in our church they say to bring young people to church it must be LOUD IF we keep it loud we are going to deaf I wear a hearing aid I take it of when I go into church.

  10. I kind of disagree :)

    If you can ever make it to Flower Mound, TX I’m inviting you to see how our church worships! We love singing loud and worship at our church!

  11. If churches actually taught the power of worship…and believed it…and expected something to come of it…worship would be different. It has little to do with the music, acoustics or anything else. It has everything to do with people in relationship to the creator of the universe. (Joshua 5&6 for starters) Where are the leaders who want the people empowered?

  12. Mark Martinez on

    Great article. I have been leading musical worship as well as other types of worship (since God calls us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices as our spiritual act of worship) for many years (not led in a formal capacity for several years now) and agree with the challenges presented. I also do event production professionally and have volunteered in the tech areas in church and understand the challenges there. It’s definitely a tricky balance and takes great worship leaders to be able to instruct, lead, and be led by the Holy Spirit. I also married a children’s pastor (not serving in that capacity currently) and have seen her lead children in worship and was amazed. I also must say how much i appreciate Group publishing. I have seen their product and how well it is tied together in presenting the Gospel.

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