Worship leaders around the world are changing their church’s worship (often unintentionally) into a spectator event, and people are not singing anymore. Here are nine reasons why congregations aren’t singing anymore — and what we can do to change that:

  1. The congregations don’t know the songs.
    Today, worship leaders are providing a steady diet of the latest, greatest worship songs. But too high a rate of new song inclusion in worship can kill our participation rate and turn the congregation into spectators. It may be best to introduce no more than one new song in a given worship service, and then repeat the song for several weeks. People worship best with songs they know, so we need to teach and reinforce the new expressions of worship.
  2. Worship leaders are singing songs not suitable for congregational singing.
    There are lots of great, new worship songs today, but in the vast pool of new songs, many are not suitable for congregational singing by virtue of their rhythms (too difficult for the average singer) or too wide of a range (consider the average singer — not the vocal superstar on stage).
  3. Worship leaders are singing in keys too high for the average singer.
    The people we are leading in worship generally have a limited range. When we pitch songs in keys that are too high, the congregation will stop singing, tire out, and eventually quit. Our responsibility is to enable the congregation to sing their praises, not to showcase our great platform voices by pitching songs in our power ranges. The basic range of the average singer is an octave and a fourth from A to D.
  4. The congregation can’t hear people around them singing.
    If our music is too loud for people to hear each other singing, it is too loud. Conversely, if the music is too quiet, generally, the congregation will fail to sing out with power. Find the right balance — strong, but not overbearing.
  5. We have created worship services that are spectator events, building a performance environment.
    I am a strong advocate of setting a great environment for worship including lighting, visuals and inclusion of the arts. However, when our environments take things to a level that calls undue attention to those on stage or distracts from our worship of God, we have gone too far. Excellence – yes. Highly professional performance – no.
  6. The congregation feels they are not expected to sing.
    As worship leaders, we often get so involved in our professional production of worship that we fail to be authentic, invite the congregation into the journey of worship and facilitate that experience. Facilitation includes singing both familiar songs and new songs introduced properly, all sung in the proper congregational range.
  7. We fail to have a common body of hymnody.
    With the availability of so many new songs, we often become haphazard in our worship planning, pulling songs from so many sources without reinforcing the songs and helping the congregation to take them on as a regular expression of their worship. In the old days, the hymnal was that repository. Today, we need to create song lists to use in planning our times of worship.
  8. Worship leaders ad-lib too much.
    Keep the melody clear and strong. The congregation is made up of sheep with limited ranges and limited musical ability. When we stray from the melody to ad-lib, the sheep try to follow us, end up frustrated and quit singing. Some ad-lib is nice and can enhance worship, but don’t let it lead your sheep astray.
  9. Worship leaders are not connecting with the congregation.
    We often get caught up in our world of amazing music production and lose sight of our purpose of helping the congregation to voice their worship. Let them know that you expect them to sing. Quote the Bible to promote their expressions of worship. Stay alert to how well the congregation is tracking with you, and alter course as needed.

Once worship leaders regain the vision of enabling the congregation to be participants in the journey of corporate worship, we can return worship to the people once again.

Editor’s Note: This article was adapted from a blog post by Kenny Lamm that originally appeared on renewingworshipnc.org. Lamm serves as the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s worship and music consultant.