Congregational singing wasn’t destroyed overnight, and it won’t be relearned overnight. But in time, implementing these ideas would begin to build a singing culture in our congregations once again.
Congregational singing is dead, and we have killed it. If it wasn’t dead before Covidtide, it probably is now. So let’s start again, and let’s get back to basics. The pop-worshiping house cover band style will never grow and sustain a culture of singing.
Here is a new way forward.
Teach your people. Teach them why we sing. Teach them why we sing the songs we sing. Teach them that anyone can sing, and how to sing as well as they possibly can. Teach them to sing liturgy, psalms, and the best hymns. Christians must understand their history as a singing people and the biblical mandate to sing together, or they won’t understand why they should sing in the first place. Singing is your job as a worshiper.
Dust off the organ console.
There’s a reason the organ was brought back into the church during the Protestant Reformation. It wasn’t because it was cool. It wasn’t that it helped people feel “connected.” It wasn’t because it was relevant, and obviously not because they were listening to organ music in their cars! (Side note: Rick Warren doesn’t get it.) It was because the organ is uniquely able to support sustained, hearty congregational singing. It’s not that I hate guitars. In fact, I listen to guitar-driven popular music all the time. But even when amplified, the guitar just isn’t up to the task of leading and supporting a large group. That’s not what it was created to do.
Bring the choir back.
With a choir, you have a significant part of the church committed to serving as an example and encouragement for the rest of the congregation. And it’s much easier for a hesitant singer to join in with a sizable, confident, prepared group than a soloist or smaller ensemble.
Make it obvious that your congregational singing isn’t supposed to be a pop performance.
Is it really any wonder that congregational singing has declined as the church has increasingly mimicked the musical entertainment of our culture?
When the congregation’s role in singing is shifted from primary to dispensable, as if they’re singing along at a rock concert or with the radio, there’s no compelling reason to sing out. Even our vocabulary has changed. Instead of chancel or platform, we have a stage. I even read something recently recommending the creation of a “worship producer” position. Want to offer christianized pop entertainment? Keep it up. Want to revive congregational singing in your church? Don’t make it into such a spectacle. Turn up the lights, stand still, and be serious about the task at hand.
Get rid of the lead singer.
While we’re on the subject of performances, there is absolutely nothing that kills group singing like a soloist crooning into a microphone. If it is absolutely necessary to have an individual leading by themselves, make sure it’s someone who can model a warm, pure, neutral tone, without affected vocals or ad-libbing. If possible, eliminate the amplification, or at least have them step back from the microphone after bringing the congregation in, so that the congregation learns to take initiative and not simply defer to the leader. Build a culture in which people are confident in their own ability to sing.