It seems like a lot of people have forgotten how to sing! Certainly, they are out of the habit. Covid, for months, prevented us from singing together. The person (or people) at the front could sing ‘at’ us, but we couldn’t join in, and for many it seems to be a difficult habit to get back into…
So, what can be done to help?
In my experience, people will give a number of different reasons why they find it difficult to join in with sung worship; and none of them are related to Covid. The problem, overwhelmingly boils down to confidence (or a lack thereof).
Opening your mouth is a risky business - you never know what might come out of it. You might sing the wrong words! Or the wrong tune! Or, even, mostly the right tune but in entirely the wrong key (like my roommate at university). There's also the worry that 'everyone's a critic' Gone are the days when singing was something we did around the campfire, or with the family at Christmas, or down the pub with friends. For years now talent shows have been a keystone of mainstream entertainment and have thoroughly pervaded our culture. So it’s easy to feel, when we sing, that the people around us are rating our performance - perhaps with Simon Cowell’s voice in their head making unpleasant comments about strangled cats? And I get the feeling this is particularly the case for the younger generations who have never known anything but this culture.
But worship is not a performance for others, and it's important that we regain that truth. Worship is an expression of affection for the God who first loved us. It is us, as a community of believers, reminding ourselves and each other of what we believe. It is our duty to praise our God, because He is worthy of that praise. Worship, is the church declaring to our God, and the world around us, this is what we believe, and this is who we are. Think less X-factor, and more, Liverpool fans butchering ‘You’ll never walk alone’ in a passionate display of pride and unity!
So how can we get our congregations singing like that? Filled with joy and enthusiasm, and less self-conscious about how they sound?
Well, it’s not an easy journey, but there are three things that, in my experience, can help. The first two we will look at below. The third, is more involved, so we'll talk about it briefly, but I’ll tackle it in more depth in a separate article. I’ve also created a worksheet for you and your team to work through… but that is all to come. For now;
The First thing I'd encourage you to do, is talk about it. If you're in a position of leadership, you can be honest about the fact that we’re all out of practice. Talk openly about the fact that not everyone finds it easy to sing in front of other people. At the same time, you can emphasise why it's important and valuable for us to sing together. Hopefully people will be left with the feeling that they're not the only one (a feeling which we're all guilty of sometimes) whilst also hearing that their contribution is important. It's important for us all to remember, worship is not a spectator sport!
Secondly, the key is key. If you're a musician you probably already know what I'm talking about. If not. Ask a musician. It is possible with most songs in most contexts to transpose the music either up or down. I think we've all been in church and struggled to sing along with a particular song or hymn - having to either mumble in our boots it's so low, or screech at the rafters because it's so high. Again, talking about it is fundamental. Get your musicians and the people who plan and lead your services together and talk about what works and what doesn't, both in general and specific terms.
Remember, men and women will probably find it more comfortable to sing in different keys (although I wouldn't recommend trying the same song in different keys at the same time - that won't make things better). Children will find it comfortable to sing at a different pitch too, and that's important to factor in. Try and find a good middle ground, where possible, and be ok with different musicians doing a particular song in different keys. There are a couple of songs that myself and the other lead musician in our church sing in very different keys. If we vary things a bit, then hopefully everyone gets some of what works for them, as having something in a singable key makes it much easier for people to sing!
[Here's an example, if you’re still not sure what I mean; Amazing Grace in most hymn books will be in the key of G. I usually play it in the key of E (3 semi-tones lower) and have sung it comfortably in D (another 2 semi-tones down). There are 12 semi-tones in an octave, so a jump of 3-5 makes a big difference. Potentially, the difference between not being able to sing half of the song and being able to hit even the high notes].
If you're church have access to SongSelect (which is a very useful tool - see songselect.ccli.com) then changing the key is pretty easy. Alternatively, many modern electric pianos and keyboards, have a 'transpose' function, so you can play from the sheet music in G, but what comes out of the piano sounds like it's in E.
The third thing is songs. The song's themselves are important! What you are choosing, who's doing the choosing and how often you repeat songs are all important things to think about.
With repetition, there are two issues; The first is too much repetition - I'm looking at you 'Shine Jesus Shine' and '10,000 Reasons'. But more of an issue for most of us, is too little repetition - it’s not too few songs being used, but too many!
The answer to this? A restricted song list for all of your services and gatherings where there is singing. Does that sound like a crazy idea? Well, I believe in this case, less really is more, for a number of reasons; not least that people are far more confident singing songs that they are familiar with.
This is a big topic, so I’ve written a second article where I talk more about the positives of a restricted list. See Part 2 for more thoughts on how to get people singing, and a handy worksheet to help you create your own focussed song list!
Part 2 will be available next Monday (28 March)
James Henney is the Diocesan Worship and Discipleship Enabler. He is keen to work with anyone who wants to develop their leadership in both Worship and Discipleship, and as well as being an experienced Worship leader, is also a trained Coach.
If you have any question, or comments, or just want to get in touch, you can contact James at;