Common denominators for super congregational singing — Hugh Wetmore

Hugh Wetmore is a songwriter and student of worship trends. He invites you to join the worship conversation by commenting on his monthly column.

Noting from last month that:

  • Congregational singing in many churches lacks enthusiastic participation, and that
  • Crowds outside the church-context usually sing enthusiastically,

We ask …

“Why should such sing-along crowd singing not happen more in our churches?” Let’s catch a vision for congregational singing! Let’s have a revival of enthusiastic congregational singing! Let the people sing!

This month we begin a series that will identify those common denominators that make crowd singing take off like a rocket. Crowd singing happens in advertising crowd songs, national anthems, political protest songs, and folk songs. Then we will see how embracing these successful factors can help us boost the level of our congregational singing in church.

It is God Himself who wants His people to sing congregationally to one another! Our desire to revive group singing in the church is God’s desire too. Colossians 3:16.

Enthusiasm for the message of the song
This “message” criterion is most notable in advertising songs and protest songs. (It is least noticeable in folk songs and nursery rhymes!). The message of This little light of mine advertising crowd song is to sell Maq washing powder that will make your shirt or blouse shine bright white.

At the recent week-long ANC policy conference, the message of some of the campaigning songs was so strong that the leadership banned all songs that promoted any candidate for president. Never mind that it had a good melody. The lyrics were embarrassing to the leadership, that’s why the songs were banned. But the rebels loved their message, and sang them lustily.

Some of our congregational songs have a message that enthuses congregational singing. Have you ever heard a congregation mumble and stumble their way through Majesty! Worship His majesty!, Blessed be Your name or Onward Christian soldiers?

But sometimes the song’s message is so weak, that no sincere Christian is motivated to sing it. Would you be enthused to sing Down from the mountains a gay little stream leaping along, murmuring stream singing of purity? (Sankeys 701) Or do you even understand what this song means: Over the mountains and the sea Your river runs with love for me? (Songs of fellowship 975) Have you seen a river run over a mountain or over the sea?

Give your congregation lyrics with a clear message that inspires us to sing it together!

Spontaneous singing
The songs can be sung spontaneously — just one person can trigger a crowd to sing it.

This happens all the time at political gatherings.

I remember when my wife and I were members of a church at rural Nkanga (Libode district). There were no instruments. Just one person would trigger a hymn, and within 10 seconds the whole congregation would be singing along, often with antiphonal harmony. That congregation knew how to sing!

Raymond September, a pastor with a heart and mind for congregational worship, wrote in the June 2017 Issue of Baptists Today: “Some cultures enjoy singing acapella. Let them participate by singing a group song, harmonising without music. Try to incorporate simple songs of other cultures in the services.” Such singing instinctively draws those of other cultures into the mix, and you find yourself singing along with the congregation, better than you’ve ever sung before!

In urban churches, such spontaneous acapella singing only happens when the electricity is off. I’ve heard some fantastic congregational singing during power failures, when, bereft of electronic instrumental accompaniment, the songs rise from a hundred liberated voices to the throne of the Almighty.

But not all songs can be sung so freely by a congregation without instrumental and miked vocals on the platform. If this can happen, you know this is a song eminently suited to congregational singing. That’s what we need: songs that get the people singing!

If crowds in the unchurched world out there can find messages worth singing, and don’t need a professional ‘worship team’ up front to get them singing, then surely we who have the message of God’s own word can get our church congregations singing even more enthusiastically! Let’s do it!


  1. Great article, Hugh!

  2. Thanks Hugh!