[notice]Hugh Wetmore is a songwriter and student of worship trends. He invites you to join the worship conversation by commenting on his monthly column.[/notice]
Tigers face extinction. The rhino population is diminished by more than 2 per day. At current poaching rates, elephants will disappear within 12 years. Our grand-children won’t ever see these majestic pachyderms. Unless they are conserved NOW, through breeding programmes.
I find it hard to believe Steve Knopper’s prediction that MUSIC will disappear in our lifetime. He has argued this in his book “Appetite for Self-Desctruction”, and has produced a video documentary “Before the Music Dies”.
He writes “This is one of one of the saddest parts of the change story. The music industry is dying a slow death. Not just because of illegal downloading. It’s the lack of innovative new music being given a chance to get to the people who would like to hear it. Greed and corruption is the problem. The record labels and the radio conglomerates are simply self-destructing. Over 40% of the music purchased today is “catalogue items,” meaning traditional music that the public is familiar with – older established artists. This is also true on the live concert circuit.”
But I can more easily believe that a vital sub-category of Music is dying out: CONGREGATIONAL SINGING is rapidly becoming extinct. Hear Jeff Ling’s plaintive question: “Why do we hear a continued drum-beat of concern that CONGREGATIONS ARE BECOMING CROWDS OF OBSERVERS rather than worshiping disciples? Why do we hear people referred to as “shoppers” for the best music, lights, effects and band rather than committed members contributing to the health of a local church? At some point I have to ask myself the question, is the worship I lead drawing people into a deeper love for Jesus and desire for His glory or am I skating two close to the shallow ice of ‘spectacle’ parading as the beauty of holiness?”
Do their lips move?
If you doubt this, do your own survey of a range of Christian churches, as I have done. See the people enjoy the worship songs, the band, the vocals, the illustrated projections on the screen. But can you hear them singing? Do their lips move? Do they grab a new breath between the sung sentences? Do they sing out loud with enthusiasm? It used to be that way, and I have a few old recordings to remind me of what Congregational Singing really sounds like.
Rare congregations still sing exuberantly. I attended a Memorial Service at a small-town Presbyterian Church last month. 400 people packed the sanctuary. And they sang! How they sang! Old Hymns, Contemporary Songs. They enjoyed affirming their faith in song. They were led by a piano and organ, and a happy choir (what’s that? you ask!). So we gave the deceased brother his send-off to an even more enthusiastic worshiping congregation around the Throne. I was so blessed in that worship environment I wish they’d have a Funeral every week!
The trend of “worship by proxy” that is killing off the Singing Congregation species must stop! Save the Rhino, yes. And save Congregational Singing too. Let’s breed more and more Singing Congregations, and replenish what once was common in every place where God’s Spirit was reviving His people.
How do we do this? (1) It requires a convinced change of Mind-set, especially among Pastors and Worship Leaders. The leadership must accept that Congregational Singing is pleasing to God! While many Scriptures urge personal praise, here are some that encourage communal sing-along praises, and congregational declarations of God’s word and actions: Psalm 95:1,2; 96:1-3; 98:4-6; 100:1,2; 105:1-3; Ephesians 5:18-20; Colossians 3:16. To reverse the trend that is killing off congregational singing will require well-communicated, intentional strategising by the leaders. Tell your congregation up front: “We’re going to change the way we sing to God and each other. YOU will be singing the psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, and WE in the music team up front will accompany YOU. Not the other way around.”
Choose singable songs
(2) Then these leaders and their music/worship teams must choose songs that are easily singable by ordinary people: a clear melody line with no awkward surprises, clear, consistent, foot-tapping rhythm, and an easily spaced syllable:note ratio with no over-crowded lines. Leave out the riffs and the long gaps between verses. Keep the volume down so that the amplified sound does not take advantage of the unamplified masses.
(Sing the more complicated worship songs as performance music. Tell the congregation to follow the words and enjoy the music, but ‘please don’t stand and try to sing along’. They will be far more blessed than they would by muddling along in the maze of amazing music!)
(3) Then give a clear lead with visual and audible direction that will inspire the whole congregation to sing together with confidence. If you see many non-singers, don’t pick on them, but with a smile, encourage EVERYONE to join in the singing. Tell them that we’ve come to sing together, not to enjoy a stage-concert. “You are the singers, not the audience!”
When the song or hymn is well-known, cut the instruments and sing together, a capella, for an occasional verse. In these days of Eskom-ic Woes, I have enjoyed the singing in church when the power has been off. Remember how Jesus and His Apostles sang a hymn at the Last Supper, with no sound-desk. Unplugged. A mellow male-voice triple-quartette!
Aren’t you now enthused to get your Congregation singing? Go for it! God will smile on you. And Congregational Singing will not become an extinct dodo.