Congregational Singing Lessons Revisited Part 1

There are at least six practices that can discourage congregational singing. Some of these may be affecting the singing in your church service. Some simple changes can make a big difference.

The other night as I reviewed Worship Leader's November 2011 eNewsletter, the article Congregational Singing Lessons by Stan Endicott caught my attention. He stated, “If your church doesn’t sing it’s probably because of one of two things: either they haven’t been invited to sing or the obstacles to their singing have not been removed.” I realized I am blessed to be in a congregation that sings, but that has not always been the case at MLCC. Stan identified four dysfunctions of congregational singing and made some suggestions. I will summarize each and add my self evaluation then I will add two more.
Not realizing the congregation is present
Stan’s suggested actions are providing clear direction on who is singing and when to stand (a maximum of 12 minutes) plus corporate reading of scripture.

Self Evaluation Grade: A. I have a simple straightforward approach: the team leads the congregation vocally by example. When only the women vocalists are singing, it’s a part the women sing. When only the male vocalists sing it’s a part only the men sing. By doing it this way, no verbal instruction is needed. I know other leaders like to create more vocally interesting arrangements which are certainly more engaging and fun for the team, but I’m not convinced that approach is more effective for congregation singing. I visited a church where I was unsure, by how the vocals were handled, whether I was supposed to sing or listen. It was unsettling, caused me to sing tentatively, and made me feel like an outsider.

Our worship leaders provide direction on standing and sitting. Since our sets are usually three songs (about 12 minutes) and we don’t normally stand for all of them, standing time is not really an issue for us.

The worship leader or a team member reads a scripture passage every Sunday. Having the congregation do it together is a possibility, and I tried it for a season. I found the congregation doesn’t read aloud well. When I stopped the practice, no one said a word, one way or the other.

Vanilla song choices
Stan’s point is that finding great songs that are congregational in their appeal requires time, review a lot of songs, and getting help from others to overcome personal tastes.

Self Evaluation Grade: B. I know need to work harder finding songs. We have some great songs, but I know we can do better. Great songs are hard to find, for all the reasons Stan mentioned and more. His photo analogy of taking 14,000 pictures to get 30 for a National Geographic article makes a good point: one needs to take a lot of pictures to have a few great ones. He recommended not settling for the normal path of finding good songs. I take this “normal path” to mean using the latest CD by your favorite artist(s) or even the latest the Song Discovery CD; he doesn’t say. He does note “the process of finding great songs is extremely important.” I’m always looking for new approaches, but I was disappointed that no process details were included and also no evaluation details of how to recognize those great songs.

I know I need to spend more time looking for songs, but I hate wasting time in the process. My biggest obstacle: I prefer to read the lyrics before deciding to listen to a recording. One reason is that I don’t want the music to drive the selection process. It’s easy to compromise on content when a song is fun to play and sing. Another reason is that when I listen to recordings, often the lyrics are not clear enough to understand the meaning of the song even after listening several times! As a result, I didn’t bother to consider the free MP3s offered in the same newsletter because I knew from past experience, the lyrics would not be as easily available. (Just to verify that things had not changed, I went back and clicked the link for the free MP3s; sure enough after entering personal info and security text, no lyrics were available to download at the same time. I bailed out!)

Food for thought:  What strategies are you using to avoid “vanilla” song choices?
I will cover the final two dysfunctions and add two of my own in Part 2.


Post a Comment