I love it when congregations sing so loud that the soundman has trouble hearing the worship band over the people singing around him. Worship leaders – if the congregation is not singing, we are not doing what God has called us to do. Here are a few things that I’ve learned that can discourage your congregation from singing.
1. Frequent and long instrumental solos
The goal is to get the congregation to be involved. If you have too many solos and they are too long, it can cause the congregation to disengage and become spectators. In certain situations, a well placed solo or short 4-8 bar instrumental works well. But be careful not overuse them. I generally use them only as short transitions to the next section. I also find short song intros are generally the best (4-8 bars is ideal).
2. Doing too many new songs
I love new songs and the band loves learning new songs. But, the congregation doesn’t get tired of songs as fast as we do. They haven’t put in hours of listening to and rehearsing the songs or playing the same songs in multiple services. They just hear it once on Sunday morning and maybe on Christian radio. A congregation can only learn so many songs. Be careful about how often you introduce new songs.
3. Having too many songs in your worship rotation
There are hundreds of thousands of worship songs and hymns. I recently read that CCLI has around 300,000 worship songs in their catalogue. But, how many songs does your congregation really sing in a year? Probably only 40-50. My advice is to continually edit your overall top songs list and repeat songs on a regular basis.
4. Using songs that aren’t the best of the best
There are great songs and there are average songs. Learn to pick the best of the best. SongSelect has a ‘most popular’ list that really is the songs that congregations love to sing. Some worship leaders avoid ‘popular lists’ because they think that is unspiritual. But I believe the Holy Spirit is speaking to worship leaders all over the world and one of the results is a consistent list of top songs that most churches are using.
Side Note: That doesn’t mean that other people’s Top Song list are the best for your congregation. Each congregation has its own culture. Top Song lists also don’t include your locally written songs and songs that God is personally speaking to you about. But, it is a great place to start.
5. Putting songs in too high or too low keys
Your average person does not have a huge singing range. The ‘Rule of D’ (top note is around a ‘D’ i.e. C-Eb) is a great guideline for choosing the best key to sing in. If you pitch songs in comfortable keys the congregation is more apt to sing-along.
6. Using singers and band members who aren’t worshippers
When your congregation sees singers and band members who are fully engaged and worshiping the Lord with all their heart, it encourages them to do the same. Encourage your whole team to memorize their music. Teach them the attitudes of worship and the actions of worship: standing, singing, clapping, raising their hands, dancing, bowing down, playing instruments, shouting and giving. Teach them to be passionate worshipers on and off the stage. Teach them the importance of good stage presence and the power of smiling.
7. Making the arrangement and rhythms too complicated
It’s easy to lose a congregation if the form and flow of the song isn’t musically obvious. Certain musical forms (i.e. intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, double chorus, tag and end) really help congregations feel comfortable about where the song is going. Don’t create unnecessary complications to solid musical form.
Also be careful about using melodic rhythms that are too complicated. Congregations are learning to sing more complicated rhythms but be sensitive to where that musical and rhythmic line is.
8. Vocal ad libs that confuse congregations
I love ad libs that help congregations know what is happening next. But sometimes overuse or mis-timed ad libs can throw off your congregation. Really practice the use and timing of ad-libs so they help and don’t hinder congregational singing.
9. Having the band playing all the time
Learn when the band and individual instruments should play and not play. Learn to build a musical arrangement and where to have the band or an instrument sit out a section. Some of the most powerful singing is when the band doesn’t play at all. Creating musical layers gives more musical interest and space for congregational singing.
10. Having miscues with lyrics
Put your best media operators on the computer running your lyrics. Double-check the order of your lyrics and the spelling. Have a full run-through with your lyric operator to double-check for mistakes. Slow and mis-timed or mis-spelled lyrics can really inhibit a congregation from singing with all their heart.
11. Using only new songs
I love to learn and use all the great new songs that God is giving to the church. But I have learned that congregations still love to sing the best of the great hymns and older choruses. Learn to include some classics to help all the generations sing with all their heart.
12. Worship leading without proper prayer and preparation
Time spent in private reading the Word, praying and worshiping, really is the secret to effective worship leading. Learn to develop a daily time with God and teach your worship team to do the same. God will honor you in public when you honor Him in the secret place. When the congregation senses God in the house, they will be more engaged.
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