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Top five reasons people don’t sing

You’ve chosen your songs, the band is amped, you launch into your first song ready to hear something amazing, but the painful truth dawns on you that no one is really singing. Why not? What went wrong? Here are my top 5 reasons why people don’t sing.

#5 Cultural cringe

Australia is generally not a singing culture, and I have found this to be particularly true in Perth. Compare the singing of the national anthem at your local primary school with its North American counterparts. Australians don’t sing. Or do they? Perth oval on a Sunday afternoon. (Admittedly, they are mostly Poms.) 80s band reunion concerts. It’s not always tuneful, but when we want to, we sing with heart. We may have to work a little harder than our British or American or African brothers and sisters, but even Australians – when their hearts are stirred – will sing with passion.

A number of years ago our church decided to cut out singing in the service for the noble reason that singing can be alienating for the outsider as it is counter-cultural in Australia. But what we came to realize was that our singing was a powerful demonstration of the work of the Spirit in the people of God. Christians sing because they have been given something wonderful to sing about!

Just because it is weird, doesn’t mean it is not powerful. So persevere, because there is an inner singer hard-wired by the creator in every person, no matter how deeply it has been buried.

#4 Technical problems

If you live in a culture where people are hesitant to sing, it’s really important to get a few things right so that people (a) want to join in and (b) don’t feel exposed. There are a few obvious technical problems that will prevent people from singing well.

• It’s hard to sing in full voice when the wrong powerpoint words come up. It’s worth spending extra time to get this right.
• It’s hard to sing confidently when the equipment or (personnel) is not up to the task. It’s worth getting training in this.
• It’s hard to sing well when the trombone is louder than the song leader. It’s worth everyone getting there early to ensure the sound people are able to get the levels right.

Most people know all this, and on our more organised days we sometimes even get it right. Here’s the thing I have more trouble convincing people of. Mostly, the worship music we listen to is created for a stadium. Mostly, we sing in a room. It’s tempting for the band or sound guy/gal to think that only old people have problems with loud music. But if you go for the sounds and volume of a megachurch, the band might sound amazing, but look around. So often, no one is really singing, young or old. It’s because they can’t hear themselves! All they can hear is the band!

If you can’t hear the people around you, you will actually sing less, not more. Try it out. Next time you sing Amazing Grace, cut out the band for a verse. I guarantee it will be the verse the people sing the loudest. Why else meet together to sing, if we can’t hear each other? This doesn’t mean it has to be a capella. But it might mean turning down the band.

#3 Problems with the band or song leader

An under rehearsed or under skilled or untuned band will not inspire confidence in the congregation. Yes it is true that God is more concerned about our hearts than our talent. But if the music is bad enough to be a distraction to people, then it does not serve them. A servant heart will sometimes choose not to play.

Extra time to practice is something that is hard to convince people is worthwhile, but you will often find that when the band starts sounding better, band members will enjoy the practice more and therefore be more willing to give the extra time. Likewise for the extra time it takes to tune and to get the tempo right. (Tuners and metronomes are your friends. Even people with perfect pitch and perfect inner rhythm use them.)

Often unenthusiastic singing is related to the song leader. If the song leader appears unengaged or unconfident, people will follow their leading. On the other hand, if the singers have the kind of facial expression that would be best left for the privacy of their own home, people will feel uncomfortable. If you are unsure how you come across, try filming yourself or asking people for feedback. Not always a pleasant experience, but we need to be willing to change if we want to serve people well.

#2 Problems with the song

This is so big I have devoted a whole article to the subject, but to summarise;

• Give people melodies that are singable

• Give people lyrics that are worth singing about.

Don’t let the band choose the songs unless they have also sung them. In fact, it’s worth making the band sing a whole new song together before practicing. Choosing songs because of the hooks or groove is an easy trap to fall into because they are more fun to play. But if the people are not singing with you, it’s best saved for another setting.

#1 People’s hearts are not engaged or moved

It is not the band or the “worship leader” who draws people into the presence of God, it is Jesus who is our true worship leader, and only he can engage us with God, in the power of the Spirit. If we are not drawing people’s attention to Jesus, we worship in vain. You can arm yourself with every technique in the book, which may all help, but are ultimately pointless unless God is working in people’s hearts. So pray for your people. Pray that God’s Spirit would warm their hearts to the gospel. And yours.

© 2013 Liz Gordon

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