3 Reasons People Don't Sing

Today I led worship at New Harvest Church in Salem, Oregon. It is a church full of people I grew up with and the first church where I consistently led worship for the adult services on Sunday morning. You could say I cut my teeth at New Harvest. It was great to be back and great to partner with my dad in the services. Here was the set:

  • Prelude: Reign in Us
  • All Because of Jesus (A)
  • Beautiful One (D)
  • Responsive Reading
  • Better is One Day (E)
  • Jesus Paid it All (B)
  • Special: I Will Lift My Eyes (A, Bebo Norman)
  • The message was on Matthew 11:25-30
  • Made Me Glad (Bb)
  • Came to My Resuce (C)

Wow…that was a lot of music. What is even crazier is that because it was the same songs in each service, I had to learn more songs last weekend. My head hurts just to think about all the songs from the past 2 weeks.

Overall it was a great morning. I thought the band did great and it is always fun to sing with Rose.

One thing was in my thoughts as I walked away from the church…A lot of people don’t sing on worship songs. The very last thing I want when I lead worship, is for people to be disengaged and not singing.

Leading today I felt like plenty of the people were not singing, just staring. It would be different if they were in a posture of worship and not singing, but most often I just see people staring at the screen or at the band. And believe me, this is a problem at more churches than just New Harvest (including my church home). Here are 3 reasons or thoughts of mine, of why people don’t sing. You could also read it as 3 ways to create a culture in a church where people disengage and don’t sing.

  1. Do too many new songs. I don’t have a rule of thumb of how many new songs are too many. I think some churches can handle more than others. Too many forces people not to sing because they never feel comfortable with the song.
  2. Do performance songs. I don’t have a rule of thumb of what makes a song a performance song instead of a worship song, but I think of it as one with a big instrumental solo and/or hard to sing lyrics. For most people an instrumental turns into staring at the band and hard to sing lyrics make people feel stupid because they can’t sing them right.
  3. Leading the stage, not the seats. Leading worship can be a terrifying thing sometimes. It can be quite easy to just lead the other vocalists and the band instead of encouraging the congregation to sing and adding something to the songs. My worst habit is to just sing the songs and call it good. I hide my fear of leading the congregation by rarely talking. Somehow worship leaders need to strike a balance between leading the congregation too much and becoming a distraction and only leading the band.

Why do you think people don’t sing at church?

(Sunday Setlists)

  • windbag

    Why don’t people sing at church? Hmmm….lots of reasons. One of the things I’m convinced of is that people aren’t engaged in worship because they honestly don’t get the concept that God inhabits the praise of His people and that where two or three are gathered, He’s there.

    You’re right, that’s a lot of songs in one week, but it can work in the right setting.

  • http://www.justinkirkendall.blogspot.com Justin K

    Great songs! isn’t it great to come back “home”?

    I think you nailed the top 3 reasons why people don’t sing
    I think another one to add to the list:
    They get distracted.
    Church people can get distracted at ANY little thing. Their kids. THe person in front of them. The person behind them. Someone on the stage. Different stage set up- you name it- they will find it and focus on it! 🙂

  • http://vinthomas.com/blog Vin Thomas

    It is always very awkward for me to lead when people aren’t “responding” in the way I can relate to. I am not going to judge their worship experience, but it is very hard for me to lead in an environment where I feel I am fighting the current.

  • http://www.heasley.net/eblog/ Elaine

    There are times when my range just does not match with what is being sung. It may sound silly, but on some songs, if I can’t come up with an alto-ish harmony part, it can just be frustrating. So, I sing in my head. Not all the time, just some times. Other times, I feel like if I sing, I might just cry, so I just breathe and listen and feel blessed by everyone who is sharing their musical gifts.

  • http://seth.heasley.net/blog Seth

    I’ve always been uncomfortable with starting songs with solos, at least after the songs are well established “regulars.” When I’m in the congregation, it always puts that “are we supposed to sing?” fear into me.

    I think your #2 one is probably true. Unfortunately, many pew-dwellers probably don’t think instrumentalists can worship while playing.

  • http://thefirstthought.wordpress.com Janaki

    “Leading the stage, not the seats” I like that, it’s very very true. It’s easy to make sure the band is on the same page and leave the congregation in the dust. I really appreciate the leaders who actually lead us. As a worship leader I agree it’s easier to just sing and run through the songs, I feel like talking and interacting makes me vulnerable- and that’s scary. I am intentional when planning out our sets by planning out when and what I’m going to say.

  • http://ash-nits.blogspot.com ash

    they don’t feel comfortable b/c they can’t (and that really is a personal thing b/t them and God)

    they’re more private when it comes to the worship of their faith…aka, they don’t sing. (which isn’t wrong)

    or your #1 is probably a big one, new songs can be awkward…for anyone.

    new to the church- haven’t really caught onto the vibe yet (i’m talking about people who have been there more than once)

    shrug- it’s a tough one, but ultimately as a leader, as long as you’re evaluating yourself regularly w/ your team and so forth, that’s first. there’s a fine line in taking the responsibility for leading the worship and letting their “lack of singing” interfere w/ yours. just some thoughts

  • http://mikeymo1741.blogspot.com Mike Mahoney

    Great thoughts, Tyler. This is something worship leaders need to be thinking about every week.

    I agree there is a fine balance between working to do a song well, and making it too “performace” oriented. Also, number one is very true. When we realized that we had introduced over thirty songs in the last two years, we decided to scale back. We made a commitment to NO new songs for six months. While the musician part of me has been a little bored, the worship leader part sees people responding well to familiar tunes.

  • http://www.dangerousdreamer.wordpress.com chuckazooloo

    i think you hit it on the head. we did a song for the last three weeks that i absolutely love, but it’s a difficult song and so i’ll let it go, because i want my people to SING!!!!

  • dennarr

    Tyler, Great set, and I think you nail it on some of the reasons.

    One thing I had to learn right away when I started leading worship was to know the overall bandwidth of my church for new songs, because this directly affected their singing. If I threw too many new songs at them, they just didn’t sing because one time, once a week just didn’t make a song memorable for them. While I was always up on the latest songs and repeatedly listened to the new one(s) to play it well, they weren’t. Of course there are some who do buy a CD and listen or listen to Christian radio, but quite honestly, most don’t.

    Also, I had to remind myself that just because someone is not singing, didn’t mean they were not profoundly worshiping – sometimes we trap ourselves into thinking that. As WLs, we are often response-driven…which is not totally wrong, but can cause us to fall into the cheerleader role rather then the lead worshiper role.

    One final key is truly modeling worship – away from the platform. When people see me living life – the good and the rough times – and yet genuinely worshiping the Lord in a visual way, it demonstrates why we sing and to/about Whom. It’s the Psalms! Sometimes, people need a real-life person they see dancing AND crying out to help them understand what worship involves.

    Bottom line: It’s about discernment and familiarity with your Church body.

    One thing I have specifically begun to pray for weekly at our practice is the person who stare blankly at the screen – praying that the power of the Holy Spirit would work in them.

    Sorry for the long reply…it’s my heart!

  • http://www.aworshipfulheart.typepad.com jan owen

    I agree with an earlier comment that many times the keys are not accessible. And also, I think that so many just don’t get it. We have not taught on worship so there is not a good theological foundation for worship in most of our churches. And it’s important to always remember that not everyone coming to church is even a believer……..as worship leaders we have to teach as well and encourage, but probably not everyone is going to engage.

  • Steffanie Oltmans

    I totally agree with your top 3! Another thing that I have noticed that can really make a difference in the congregation is the worship that is displayed in the leadership of the church(I am referring to the leadership who are not on stage during worship). If those in leadership positions are not worshipers most people in the crowd will not worship either. On the other hand if those in leadership are passionate about worship it makes it a lot easier for the crowd to drop their guard and enter in. Maybe this isn’t the case in every situation but I have found it to be true most of the time.

    • dennarr

      Steff – Right on target about leadership setting the example. One of the things I love about my pastor is that he demonstrates his worship (even when he’s not jammin’ on the lead guitar)!

      The flip side (for me at least) is staying through the whole service – modeling that worship is also using our intellect and absorbing God’s Word…the applying it. I stay through both services. I know some can’t do this…it’s just a personal thing for me. Plus – we don’t have a green room!!! 🙂

  • http://www.stephanieorefice.com Stephanie

    We recently talked about worship in my Bible study! It is ridiculous how many people are incredibly distracted in worship.. “should I sit down, should I stand up?” “I can’t see around that girl because her hands are raised.” “I’m going to stand up, but is there anything on my butt?”

    Worship is probably a time when we are the most spiritually vulnerable, and wherever God is doing work.. Satan is right around the corner trying to sabotage it.

    In reflecting on the times the past few weeks where I have not been singing, the reasons have been:

    #1. the key (good call to previous comments) .. I am not about to make the people around me suffer through me trying to hit some of those notes.

    #2. the newness of a song. Even if I don’t like a song.. I’ll sing it if I know it. but if it’s new? nope, just stand and look.

    #3. don’t like a song. That sounds ridiculous, but there are just some worship songs I do not like.

    That’s all I got.

  • http://theo-geek.blogspot.com/ Marie

    It has less to do with the music itself (I believe) than volume, the feeling you’re at a professional concert performance and have nothing to add to it, and the feeling of a lack of spontaneity. ‘Now I’m going to worship God. Two fast songs; two slow ones, then we sit down and wait for the sermon.’

    It’s hard to explain, but I’ve lately been asking myself why I can’t bring myself to sing and in fact actually feel uncomfortable during worship; not a particularly emotional person by nature, I don’t raise my hands during worship and feel inferior by those who do. But on the other hand, I’m not going to fake it, so I won’t put ‘em up just so I’ll look more spiritual.

    Our praise team is phenomenal – true professionals. Now, I can’t sing. I have other gifts, but musical ability isn’t one of them. So, this is the only form my worship can take; but I simply have nothing there worth offering God. I may as well do everyone a favor and let those who can sing (like the worship leaders) do so.

    Also, I find it hard to be joyful on demand. I can pray and confess, adore and talk to God on my own, but in an auditorium with 500+ other people, I find it extremely difficult to produce the kind of emotion needed to make it genuine worship. It’s rarely the actual lyrics that bother me (with the notable exception of Matt Redman’s “Let My Words be Few”, which makes me cringe). I’m sort of agreeing with the song in my heart, but can’t bring myself to sing….I guess I have a “worship disorder”.

    So I don’t think peeps not singing is any reflection on the music or the leaders. Most of us see the leaders as so far out of our league that we’d just assume sit down, shut up and let you guys do your thing anyway. It’s hard to concentrate on God when you’re watching a class-act performance, but it’s equally hard not to feel self-conscious standing there mutely. I just can’t squeeze emotion up like toothpaste out of the tube.

  • Dominic

    #1: When it comes to new songs I general keep it to a maximum of two song in a 6 song set. I also will repeat those songs for the next month (3 weeks straight, one week off, one week back on) and then consider it part of the churches worship “vocabulary”. Even then that’s still considered a “new song”. Not everyone makes it in to service on time engage in the beginning times of worship through song. Also, not everyone attends on a weekly basis so its key to be sensitive to that with new songs.

    #2: Special Music numbers have a place in the service especially if it helps convey the passage being taught, the overall theme of the the service, the drama/video,etc. When musical interludes occur, I find it helpful to project a passage of scripture that ties into the theme of the song or if the song comes from a passage then that’s even better. People who are auditory learners may just enjoy the musically aspect and worship in that way, but for the visual learner they may gravitate more towards watching whats happening on stage so the passages in my experience have been very helpful.

    A side note would be to focus on multiple mediums in the course of atime of musical worship to help engage the body. Something like 2 out of 10 people are auditory learners and most congregations consist of about 90% to 95% of an auditory expereince. That means we’re missing 80% of the people 90% of the time. As leaders this is really crucial in helping and teaching our congregation in ways that they can understand and gorw in their worship outside of the church walls.

    just some thoughts….

  • RunGirlRun

    Just found this site … great discussion. I really like the comment about being joyful on demand during singing. (It’s a heart attitude, I know.) I love hymns, and enjoy singing new, or contemporary songs. But as a lover of both musicianship and thought-provoking lyrics, I find that I have less of a desire to sing if the music is boring. Our church has very talented musicians, but everyone tends to stay on the “non-offensive” musical side. And when “modern worship” song lyrics flash on our screen, I want to run away because they are so poorly written. But if I’m trapped in the middle of the pew, I just don’t sing.

    The lyrics must be praiseworthy to God, for He is the sole object of our worship. I hope I’m not insinuating that singing is only a feel-good experience, which I flat-out reject. But it’s okay to put an R&B, or country, or a capella twist to a familiar song. Perhaps when the music sounds happy (more major chords, a discernible melody, musicians smiling), more people might be engaged in singing?

    Great post. Thanks for your thoughts!