Mike Harland has written an intriguing article on the state of congregational singing in modern churches.  It raises questions about the role of music in the church.

Congregations not singing

His job as a xxx at Lifeway has led him to an understanding that”people do not sing like their parents and grandparents did. And even worse, the leaders of those churches don’t seem to know it.”

He notes that “worship has become very produced with visual enhancements and top sound re-enforcement.”  Not that it’s bad, in an of itself.  It actually helps the singing if the words are up on the screen, and not small words in a hymnal down in your hands.  It lets them “lift their voices” to the Lord.

The problem is when the it turns into a performance, and the musicians start treating the congregation like an audience.  In those cases, the music gets in the way of worship of God.


In some churches, engaging youth in anything but pizza parties seems a daunting task.  Getting them into the core activities of the church is even harder.  But without the vitality of teenagers, churches get stale and die.

Russell Martin has written an approach to “engage youth in worship” that highlights this warning and suggests alternatives.  In a blog post on theworshipcommunity.com, he remembers when he was a teen, how his own youth pastor asked him to plan the worship services for weekly meetings and special events.  He calls it a turning point in his life.

To Russell, the secret to attracting youth to your church is to “give them ownership.”

They will likely come up with “different, but great ways” to introduce others to Jesus Christ.  “We should not underestimate the talents, abilities, and desires our youth have now and the things they can teach us about worship.”

More important, your youth” know other youth more than you do.”  Visitors “come with friends because someone knows someone.”

More than just training the next generation of church leaders, you are taking better advantage of the Gifts the Spirit has given your congregation.  And it gives opportunity to bring in new people to your congregation.

You just have to give them ownership and let them run with it, even if it’s not the way you’d do it.

Trevor at “Toward an LDS Cinema” has tried to describe a link between shared viewing of a film (a film by LDS producers about LDS topics) and congregational hymn singing.  I’m not Mormon, but the post suggests that hymn singing is viewed differently in the LDS tradition than in the Baptist tradition, being an introduction to the ordinances rather than a part of the ordinance.

He says “is sung to prepare us, its singers, and us, its listeners, for the ordinance: be it the opening prayer (where we all are praying, but only one is speaking), the sacrament (again, a prayer), or the closing prayer. In other words, either direct communion with God, or a ritual where his power is manifest.”

I say part of the ordinance, because in my view, the congregational singing is not a warmup to the preaching, to the “main event”.  The congregational singing of a specific set of words around a theme moves people beyond the place of the theater trailer, the ads of coming attractions.

In my experience, singing – especially hymn singing – is prayer.  Consider the praying acrostic ACTS.  I’ve sung hymns of Adoration, hymns of Confession, of Thanksgiving, of Supplication (requests).  Whether from the old Methodist hymnal, the Broadman standard, or a Shape Note Songbook, many times I’ll hear more theology in the song service than in the speech that occupies the sermon slot in the service.

For that matter, if you have opportunity to attend a Taize service, go!  There is no leader, no sermon.  There is an order of service that guides – but does nor direct – the hour.  There are simple hymns, scripture readings and times of silence to facilitate private prayer.  But it is the music that draws you in.

And so, Trevor, thanks for causing me to think.  I will have to consider the rest of your post another day, after it ruminates a bit.