Three questions for worship

Who is watching? Who is singing? Who really cares?

This is a three-question commentary, so please stay with me.

First: Who is watching? As I was standing recently (20 minutes!) in a contemporary church service (and since I didn’t know the praise song) I found myself looking around at the host of people — over 500, young and old — as they stood quietly — some with hands folded, some with hands raised, most of the eyes on the praise leader and enjoying the moment. The music was upbeat, not too loud and very energetic. I began to think: “Is anybody watching these people?” If they were, they would certainly note the second question.

Who is singing? Would the watchers be surprised to discover that those singing were few and far between? There were a few hearty voices being lifted up, eyes toward heaven, some with raised hands, swaying to the beat and praising God for all they were worth. But there were hundreds of others not singing a note.

So as not to disturb those around me, in my mind, I asked myself: a. Why aren’t the majority of people singing? b. Do they not know the songs? c. Were they tired from a late Saturday night? d. Were they hoarse – hundreds of them? e. Did anyone care that these people were not involved?

Which brings me to point three: Who really cares? Well, I, for one, care greatly. Maybe this is from my many years as a minister of music/worship leader. I worked very hard to ensure that people were encouraged, cajoled and led to sing hymns and praise songs heartedly and to the Lord.

It is my opinion that there is a great joy to be gained from putting our voices together and singing joyful praises to the Father of Lights, the Master Musician, the Great Creator and the Lover of the souls of all people. And when lots of people in any congregation just stand there doing nothing, it really bothers me. Why? Because everyone should be involved singing praises to God and not watching the music leader become a soloist and we become an audience.

Here’s where it gets sticky. Read on at your own risk! These are my personal thoughts. You are free to agree wholeheartedly, half heartedly or disagree.

1. Oft times, worship leaders are singing so loud that only they and/or the praise team can be heard. If that is true in your church, then most of your people are not singing. That is a guarantee.

2. Oft times, the worship leader chooses songs that have not been properly taught to the congregation, and they find themselves trying to sing along to a tune and words that are not familiar. This doesn’t cut it:

“We’re introducing you to a new song this morning, so sing along as you can and join us.” Wrong! They will not sing along and join you. Take some time and properly teach a new hymn or praise song, and you will be amazed at the response.

3. I did note that particular Sunday that the song set included a couple of familiar hymns set to a contemporary style. (I’m not on a “sing only hymns” crusade; I’m on a “sing something familiar more often than something not familiar all the time” crusade!) Most of those who had not been singing suddenly came to life that morning when the hymns were sung, and the volume of the congregational response increased. I’ve heard this same thing happen before with contemporary pieces, but they had been carefully taught.

So, the crux of this short article is this:

— The worship leader and praise team should turn down the microphone volume. God is not necessarily in loudness.

— Some familiar things, both up-tempo and slow, should always be chosen, including hymns.

— Encourage the congregation often. Leading the congregation really works. Put the microphone down and lead the people with a gentle motion. Make the congregation your largest choir.

This post originally appeared on ABPnews.com on January 26, 2012.

Bob Burroughs

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About the Author
Bob Burroughs is a composer and arranger who directed the Florida Baptist Convention church music department until his retirement in 2002. He is author of What Think Ye?: Essays for Twenty-First Century Leaders, Pastors, and Church Musicians.

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