My congregation sings better than they did a year ago. I’ve been their worship leader for a little more than a year, and I’ve seen progress in their participation in worship through singing. They sing louder, they sing more heartily, and more of them sing than they did a year ago.
This realization occurred to me as I was reading an article on the decline of congregational singing, and it caused me to wonder why we’re not part of the trend.
Here are 10 things I did not do over the past year that I think has helped our congregational singing:
1. I did not turn down the lights.
Too often worship services look and feel like concerts. The problem is that concerts are for listening, but worship services are for singing. Keep the focus on the congregation, not just on the stage.
2. I did not turn up the sound.
Loud volumes prevent the congregation from singing. If they cannot hear themselves sing, they will not sing. If they cannot hear their neighbor sing, they will not sing. If they can hear both, they will be more likely to sing.
3. I did not try to sound like the YouTube video.
These videos can be helpful teaching tools. Watch to learn the melody and style, but then turn them off and don’t go back. They’re generally produced as concert settings, and they’re not your musicians. Let your musicians be who they are, and make room for the congregation’s part.
4. I did not try lengthy or frequent instrumental solos.
I like a well-placed instrumental solo, especially if used strategically to help the congregation think about a Scripture on the screen or to simply “breathe in” the text they’ve just sung. A “Selah” moment can be helpful, but too many of these and/or long solos tell the congregation to check out. It’s like saying to the people, “This is not about you.”
5. I did not try the newest worship songs.
We need to give some of these new songs time to prove themselves. I like trying new songs, but only after I’ve seen some staying power in them. There’s also a threshold in a worship service for new songs. More than one new song in a service is risky. A new song each week is too much. Protect worship’s familiarity. That’s perhaps your greatest aid to congregational singing.
6. I did not try to get rid of their old favorite songs.
Part of the damage from our race to acquire the newest songs is our simultaneous rush to discard the older ones. My congregation loves some songs I don’t like as much or may even be tired of. But if the theology is sound and the musical setting is appropriate, let them sing. It’s not about us!
7. I did not try to greatly expand the song library.
CCLI currently lists about 300,000 songs—and new ones are coming out every week. How many songs do we really need to sing every year? Probably about 40 to 50. We have more songs at our disposal than at any other point in worship history. That means we need to say “no” to most of them.
8. I did not try rhythmically challenging melodies.
While contemporary worship chord changes are simpler than traditional hymnody, the melodic rhythms can be quite complicated. Smooth it out, take out the solistic turns and variations, teach it well, and make it congregation-friendly. Who cares how cool it sounds if the only ones singing loudly are on the worship team?
9. I did not try too many songs in a worship service.
We can argue about how people should really want to sing more, but every congregation has its saturation point. Since most haven’t sung the rest of the week, Sunday is a vocal workout. If your congregation is singing well for three or four songs, but by the fifth are beginning to drop out, you may not be serving them by adding the extra song. Don’t criticize them. Serve them, meet them where they are, and help them grow.
10. I did not have my band play on every verse and chorus.
Musical accompaniment has one major purpose: supporting congregational singing! The most important sound on Sunday morning is your congregation. Have the band stop playing occasionally to let the people hear one another. I promise they will sing louder and more heartily in response.
Let the people sing!
Editors’ note: This article originally appeared at WorshipLeader.com.