Confessions of a Worship Wars Mercenary

It’s been brutal on the blog-o-battlefield. Since last week’s Holy Soup article “Why They Don’t Sing on Sunday Anymore,” I’ve been dodging incoming fire from hundreds of commenters and hundreds of thousands of site visitors and social media shares.

I’ve seen that people have very strong feelings about this subject. Music is a highly subjective thing. Everybody has an opinion on how music should be managed in a church setting. After this week I have new appreciation for the difficult work of music leaders and the mine fields through which they must delicately walk.

Even though I’ve been in church all my life, grew up in a family of music professionals, taught drum lessons, and have a son and daughter-in-law in our church’s worship band, I’ve learned some new things this week. I appreciate the analysis of the technical side of music, the importance of the audio mix, and what methods have been tried–successfully and not.

“Everyone sings in my church.”

Some commenters report that everybody sings in their churches, and they see none of the problems I mentioned in the article. That’s good news.

We all see life through our own lens, wherever we happen to be. This article reflects my view. But my lens is a national one. My work puts me in contact with thousands of churches from coast to coast. The views in last week’s article are not drawn from any particular church–and not from my own church, which works hard at being intentionally participative.

Rather, my reflections in the article represent a composite of thousands of churches in America that have indeed seen declines in participation–and not just with congregational singing.

“You have fueled the fires of new vs. old. God help you.”

I am sorry. I did not intend to ignite the old worship wars, pitting traditional music against contemporary music. It seems a number of commenters attempted to “read between the lines” and judge me as a mercenary against contemporary music. Not true at all. I love the contemporary genre. And the classic hymn genre. And bluegrass. And jazz. God can be worshipped with all kinds of genres.

Musical genre is not the issue. Congregational participation is the issue.

My comments about over-amplified sound speak to congregational participation, not mere decibel levels. And if we’re talking about participation, it’s important to consider what we–regular attendees and visitors–hear in the room. If we hear only the people on stage, then it sounds like a performance. If, however, we hear the clear sound of the congregation, the community of believers, praising the Lord together, then it sounds like participation.

The performance issue is one that is particularly troubling with Millennials. Their authenticity antennae are up. We recently talked with a college student who explained why he left the church he attended. Watch this brief clip.

During our research for our new film, “When God Left the Building,” we talked with a young Millennial man who joined the worship band at a large church. Over time he became uncomfortable with the performance-focused stage presentations. He walked away. Eventually he joined a church that intentionally strived to focus the congregation’s adulation squarely on Jesus. They placed the musicians behind a curtain.

Successful Christian band Gungor recently took a similar step with a participatory worship event called Liturgist. Band leader Michael Gungor said, “Liturgy is built on the work of the people, rather than on anybody in particular. We create an experience that has very little to do with Gungor. We hide individual personalities. We make it more of a collective experience.” So the band is artistically obscured behind a translucent curtain.

I recently experienced this fully enveloping time, joined in the robust congregational singing, took part in the Eucharist, and thoroughly worshipped the Lord.

“You don’t love the Lord.”

After reading and reflecting on hundreds of comments this week, I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon. The blog was about “why they don’t sing.” The singers made lots of speculations about the hearts of the non-singers. But the singers’ speculations bore no resemblance to the non-singers’ actual reasons for not singing.

The singers’ predominant speculation/judgment is that those who don’t sing are not spiritual enough. In essence, “If you loved God (as much as we do) you’d sing.”

In our book, “Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore,” we document this tendency of those on the inside to presume to know the minds of those on the outside. This judgmental tendency is one of the major reasons why most people avoid church.

A reader sent me this message this week: “Shame on you for placing yourself at the centre of your worship. It’s not about you, pal.” Does this shaming approach work–with anyone? I don’t believe so. It only perpetuates the public’s view that churchgoers are judgmental and hypocritical. And, assigning all blame to the silent pew-sitters sends the message that leaders believe they have no room for improvement.

Fearless conversation

Finally, the unprecedented reaction to last week’s article shows me there’s a lot of pent-up, unresolved emotion on this issue of music and singing in church. And, as much as I appreciate the blog traffic and comments, we really need to be engaging in face-to-face civil conversations in our congregations about this stuff. Rather than speculating about one another, we need to sit down with one another, listen to one another, understand one another, and explore together what it means to worship.

We are the Body of Christ. We represent different parts of the Body, with different perspectives. But the Father desires to see his children work with each other, to accept each other, to love each other. And worship him together.

137 Responses to “Confessions of a Worship Wars Mercenary”

  1. Well said! There are too many in our churches who defensively fold their arms and refuse to accept insight into any of the many reasons why SO many of our churches are flailing about clueless as to why we can’t compel new people to join in our lackluster comfortable worship. I think God had something to say about that in the book Amos.

    • I think churches need to have a better balance of the “old” and the “new”. I love most of the new music and am a musician myself. But i grew up in a conservative Baptist atmosphere and also LOVE singing out of that old red hymn book. i HATE singing off the wall.and i hate competing with fancy musicians on the podium. signing with them, yes. I go to many EHSSQ & Gaither concerts and sing right along every word.

      If the church has a wide range of ages in the congregation, they need to feed them all. this early traditional service and later contemporary service is doing nothing but excluding people and dividing your people (church) into groups.

      • October 18, 2015 at 3:25 pm

        I agree and am heart sick about the LA k of hymns 8n the church. New songs are great but it is all one way. I just have a really hard time with worshipping in the new atmosphere. I try and have prayed to no avail. Don’t know where to go from here.

      • And at your Gaither concerts, do they use hymnals and not have screens? And do they sing a balance of old and new or just the gaither songs?

    • I’ve led worship for 14 years to this point. To be honest, I appreciate Thom’s view point. I have found many songs in the worship genre that are artistically well written, but too hard for the congregation to sing. Many times I would criticize my self for the songs I write to be “too simple” or “not dynamic enough”. Yet without fail they always seem to get the best response because the average person could engage in worship.. The Lord asked me not to “sing over their heads, but lead them to sing…

    • Elizabeth Harrell Reply October 1, 2014 at 1:34 pm

      But there’s one kind of music nobody here is talking about, and it’s a cultural thing. As recent transplants from the northeast to the Blue Ridge area, we find ourselves in a church whose 25-voice choir sings ONLY country Gospel to lively, professional instrumental tracks.

      Yes, this is the music of a couple of generations ago, but the greying faction in our congregation is still active and still in charge (mostly of the music). Quite a few youth are very much involved in this folk genre – providing percussion or guitar accompaniment, and we don’t see this kind of music fading any time soon.

      Now, a praise band of youth (and the occasional guitar-playing middle-ager) does lead the worship service monthly, and a seemingly endless supply of young soloists perform contemporary worship “specials.” But the occasional guest groups are almost always blue-grass gospel.

      Another kind of music – and as a Christian of a certain age, I can still recall them – those vigorous “youth rallies” where song leaders pumped their arms about, the pianists traveled up and down and all over the keys, the organists played with the vibrato stops out, and the occasional trumpeter blared the upbeat melodies with virtuoso flourishes. The packed halls of kids and adults sang out on all the verses of the choruses and sons with gusto. The tunes were catchy, the lyrics usually theologically sound, focused on the salvation message, and the energy palpable. Then we would all sit down and listen to the “special music”: A quartet in good harmony singing at a fast clip, a trained (pop or operatic) soloist with yet another arrangement of “Jerusalem,” or “I Walked Today where Jesus Walked,” a bright and cheerful brass ensemble, a ladies’ trio in close harmony, and – as yet – no drums in sight. We were primed to hear from God

      Sure, those were performances, but we gladly joined the spirit of it all. It was the happy prelude to the message, always followed by the invitation. Then, kids streamed down the aisles, as the music played, to commit to Christ, or to rededicate, or to volunteer for missions… whatever the invitation asked.

      So fast-forward to today. Enough has been said about contemporary music, and I heartily endorse much of it for Scriptural lyrics and an appropriately relevant sound in the democratic musical language of our younger generations. No longer must the soloist be classically trained or a virtuoso, as anyone with a decent grasp of guitar chords and rhythm is welcome, and most of the praise team’s singers can carry a tune.

      But in our Southern Baptist church, the country vibe reigns.

    • I am in total agreement with this comment.

    • Wow – there are so many reasons why I don’t sing in church, it would fill up a book. Lets start with: I want to sing songs that mean something. “These are the days of David, rebuilding the Temple of God?” — uh ,, no, he wasn’t allowed to build the first one, let alone rebuild it.
      “Lift Jesus higher, for he said if we lift him up he will draw all men to him?”… Um… he was speaking of the manner of his death! Should we join the Roman’s who mocked him?
      How about 7-11 songs — seven words, repeat 11 times (or sometimes 111 times). Blech!
      And what is with the volume! Don’t they realize that it will actually hurt the ears of the listeners?
      And why is only one style being chosen. (And it certainly isn’t MY style – and I like a lot of different styles, just not those chosen.)
      And why do they not let members of the congregation join the worship committtee? (It is reserved for the “inner circle” – who apparently have never read the Bible, or studied it, or have any musical taste.)
      How about those songs sung in a different language? I am sorry – I won’t sing words when I don’t know what they say.
      Like I say – I could go on and on…

  2. Diana Whitlatch Reply May 28, 2014 at 6:48 am

    Your final paragraph says it all. God loves all His children and wants us to gather together in love and acceptance – whether we sing or not, whether it is traditional, contemporary or a mix of both. What’s that camp song?….”All God’s Children Got A Voice In The Choir”!!! Talk to each other and love one another.

  3. I believe your comment about insiders and outsiders really strikes “a chord.” I would have said that congregations sing, until I steped off the stage and began attending church as part of the outsiders rather than a leader. I have seen first hand how few really do take part in what we call worship. I think that a big part of the problem is that the church today fails to address the fact that every member has gifts to share when the church comes together. That is clear from 1 Corinthians. We have created a place where a few can use their gifts in music and proclamation, while the rest are expected to sit silent and take notes. From the comments to your last blog it was clear to me that the ones upset where those who are active getting to use their gifts in the service. For the rest, the only option is to take up the offering… or disappear .

    • That’s great! But I have to point out that only includes those who want to be on stage or part of a structured group. That still doesn’t help include the rest of the congregational participation who are happy to sit in the pews and who aren’t interested in being trained, but rather would just prefer to be in the moment.

  4. Amen to all above and both of Thom’s blogs. The fearless face-to-face conversations are just beginning. May they not be snuffed out.

  5. And welcome to the Church. Your’e likely to get this kind of reaction to almost any issue you dare to dig into in a church. Just one more reason why some leave. The politics and vitriol are just a bit much as people seek to protect their sacred cows.

  6. You have definitely hit a lot of nails on the head, here, especially with your links. A good book I read on the subject was “Why I Left The CCM Movement” available here:

    I have been critical of CCM since the 1980’s, even as I was making my own attempts to write CCM. I think it’s wrong to outright condemn any medium as unfit for worship. However, one has to be careful to remember that the Greek work for “church” is “eklesia”, which means “to call out”. Christianity is not the world and should not look like the world, or have the same sound, smells, or touch. While we need to reach people where they are, we also need to then pull them to where they should be.

    My church is full of enthusiastic singers. It’s something we cultivated from day one, 15 years ago. But, as we continue to gravitate more toward CCM, this joyful noise is beginning to be affected. I site many reasons for this in my blog article;

    One of the biggest problems I see, of course, is that CCM was first and foremost pushed by the Trinity Broadcasting Network and others who have now morphed into the Faith Movement, a decidedly unchristian movement that has, through media, infiltrated its heretical ideas into , for lack of a better word, the mainstream denominations. That it appeared with the Charismatic movement is no coincidence. It places the emphasis of Christianity on what the people are doing, instead of what Christ did. It plays upon a cult-like religious fervor that is well-served by CCM.

    Overall, as you pointed out, and as the young bassist in the link did so pointedly, we need always to be wary of motivations and objectives in everything and not let worship become a psychological exercise. The stakes are much too high to be playing with people’s emotions for our own gratification.

  7. I wonder if there is a connection between those who don’t like to sing and those who just come to put in their time on Sunday morning?

    • There’s one way to find out, Kendal. Sit down and talk with them.

    • Kendal. Usually I am quiet when making comments to others here, but yours intrigues me, as I too wondered why others do not sing in church on sunday morning. All I can do is share my personal experiences. I have noticed most churches in the US do not use hymnals, which I grew up with, so not knowing songs that are on a wall by projector are new to me. I also wondered why some leaders and others who sit in church are not singing, and was told they are praying, and reflecting on the words. Words can play powerfully in our minds and hearts. A long time ago, I was told worshiping (singing) is just as important as praying. (Prefect example was David.) and when we do sing, its as I am saying to God, I not only believe, but I confirm/understand and commit to what it is I am singing about. (Personal reflection is so important to build a deeper conviction.) Therefore, Lord I am committing or recommitting these words that I sing to you. Looking at it this way, as I am also praying to the father this way. Sometimes it even helps me to listen more intently to the quality of voices around me. I then realize, how great it is to be around those gifted singers, as well as the rest of the church to drown me out, but from time still making the attempts I need that are necessary. I am sure you will receive different answers from others…..Then, there is also the worse case scenario. I am struggling (and we all do). Making it very difficult to sing, as there may be unconfessed sin in my mind/heart which I need to repent of….that is when it would be appropriate if someone who knew me would ask genuinely how I am really doing spiritually…..

      • Well put Steven. My husband and I are struggling without a church home. Worship music is very important to us.(especially me) Most churches focus on the entertainment rather than participation of worship music.

    • I read this book and while I agree with some points, I do not agree all of the CCM movement is bad. The church has seen many changes over hundreds of years including the introduction of hymns which were not received well at all. I mean they wanted to sing songs written by men and woman rather than chant scripture!?!?! How world and carnal!! The church is to be separate from the world, but it also must remain relevant to the current generation or it will die and then where is it’s influence?

    • I don’t think so. Most people come to church because they really do want to be there. Most people don’t sing. They just don’t. I run a music studio and I ask people on a daily basis if they like to sing. The overwhelming response is “Oh NO! I can’t sing and I don’t like to sing.”

  8. I have found that no matter what the musical preference in a congregation, if you have an attitude of only letting ‘trained’ musicians involved in the music program, the congregation will become passive observers. It is crucial that church music directors promote broad participation in the musical offerings presented, encouraging people to improve their abilities, as they are doing this for God, not for the congregation…

  9. Pastor Rob Nedbalek Reply May 28, 2014 at 8:49 am

    I can say only one thing, old friend, “AMEN!”
    Without Face-to-Face conversation, this issue is only going to grow and become more divisive.

  10. Certain boundaries should be set. That will be determined by your church leader, board, elders, deacons, and the congregation. I believe your blog hit some core issues, that DO need attention from time to time. Bible warns us of being comfortable and legalistic. We forget public worship is important, however, and most importantly our personal relationship and how we may worship in private is also just as important. Music is an incredible way of outreach; our purpose. It is essential to ways of communicating with different ethnic groups as well as our youth. Thom, I am grateful for your blog. It not only makes me reflect on what is happening around me, but also what motivates me in my personal relationship with Christ. I am reminded life is about what is happening now, and there is nothing wrong with change, as long as everyone is growing within the same purpose. Calling each other higher. I am glad we have a bit of diversity here. As we can all still learn from one another.

  11. I’d be curious if you are only in contact with dispensational churches or you have spent some time in reformed churches as well. And if so, what differences do you encounter.

    • Kevin, my work takes me to all kinds of churches across the Christian spectrum. More and more, the church trends are more similar than they are different.

      • I thank you, Thom, for initiating this discussion and ‘taking the heat’ of the battle! That you read all the comments is amazing! I am only a third of the way through those appending the original article.

        I surely sympathize with those critical of the vapid lyrics, the ear-splitting noise, the loss of songbooks [with 4-part harmony to learn and be taught, and words with wisdom from the ages]. It’s made a spectacle that ‘you can hear down the street’ but has it aided anything the church is there for?

        A Facebook sharing gained a lot of folks who disagreed with you. My agreement with you produced a bunch more shrill complaints, nearly all from performers. My challenge to them to come visit my prison ministry was met by dead silence! Worship is not meant to be confined to the Sunday morning hours, but should reflect and inspire the worship of living and serving.

  12. I confess that I am among the non-singers. I have been for years. I find that the sing-a-longs in church produces a manufactured worship experience. Why is it that the church has embraced only one form of corporate worship? Since I am not a singer and don’t enjoy singing (I don’t even sing along to the radio) being required to participate in a mandatory sing-a-long does not put me in a worshipful state. I imagine I am not alone in this.

    My worship of our Lord is deeply personal, real and overwhelming – the kind that fills me to the point my heart could burst. That kind of worship comes from a relationship with our Lord, and cannot be manufactured. My family and I regularly experience this together when we are out enjoying God’s creation. So to those who speculate that people who are not singing in church don’t have a meaningful and growing relationship with God, you could not be more wrong.

  13. Well, Thom, my experience is still the same as yours. As is my view of what is wrong here. Oh, how I wish I could find a church where they worship the Lord and not the music.

  14. My early church experience was in an older, conservative, traditional kind of church. Granted, it was in the days before “contemporary worship,” but I do have vivid memories of the song leader pulling louder and softer responses from the congregation via his pitch, motions, and body language as we all sang the “old hymns.” I also don’t recall a lot of “worshipful expression” on people’s faces, but most everybody sang. I don’t know how this fits in the current discussion, but inauthentic worship is not a new phenomenon.

  15. Approaching 70 years of age I certainly have observed and concur with your writings about today’s modern worship service. If I had a platform and reason to write, I would match, in a much less eloquent way, your comments . It seemed natural and wholesome to sing with the old folks when I was a child the songs of the church. When we all get to heaven and what a day that will be sounded like heaven to me. I was asked to sing with a gospel quartet when I was 17 years old. County and state gospel music conventions were the thing to be a part of . Seemed like old and young understood and enjoyed the music. I now saying and an adult choir at our church We have two services this second being the upbeat modern music

  16. Excellent two articles. Glad to hear some are considering muting the appearance of musician participation by some type of curtain. I never thought of that.

    I too at times since I don’t perform as much because I’m doing other ministry, watch around my congregation and count the standing mannequins as they “watermelon” though the music until the time of congregational prayer releases them from their compelled standing aches. (especially the older ones!)

    In the responses I’m keen on seeing by the amount of ego where the wolves lie within the sheepfold of worship bias when we should be looking for improvement. It is not a good sign of the times.

  17. “Musical genre is not the issue. Congregational participation is the issue.”

    Amen. God can be worshiped in many genre. We have a young father of 5 in our congregation who writes Christian Hip Hop. This is not my preferred genre, but I enjoy it just as much as contemporary, classical pieces, and hymns. Why, because the message in the music is scripturally sound, and it is done in such a way that it is easy to remember, very much the same as the scripture songs I grew up with at Calvary Chapel, in the “Jesus Movement” days of the 1970s. God can, and does, use many ways to draw us to Himself, and He WILL be glorified, because it is His will.

    As for congregational participation, I find that it is a matter of confidence, or a lack thereof.

    One of the methods that we have found to develop it, is to station choir members (we have a chancel choir, a men’s chorus, and a couple of mixed acapella ensembles) at different spots within the congregation. It is amazing the response you get when folks around you are singing in full voice, it takes the spotlight off of you and lets you participate without feeling like you are standing out. We have had some wonderful congregational singing using this method.

    Another method is to not expect the congregation to know a new song cold. We teach it to them first. This sometimes takes a couple of weeks, but it is very effective. We start by having a choir or ensemble member sing it as a solo one week, followed by using it in the next weeks service in which a singer will sing the first verse, and the congregation joins on the following verses. Just a little bit of familiarity like this goes a long way toward building up confidence, and everyone can enjoy it.

    • Good points! I would say that 80% of the music has to be familiar to get 80% of the congregation to sing. When there are lalalas and other non word phrases, most people stop singing. Most people in the congregation are not there to pretend to be a performer….so they stop singing. Song leaders, worship teams…call them what you may but I consider their job to be one of assisting others into the tune or the words….not performing. If the song is unfamiliar in a singing way to the people then they are left being awkward and do not sing. And the folks on the “stage” continue as if everyone is participating. They need to learn to read their own audience. I have never seen a survey about music in my church, and there have been many other surveys. I think each church needs dialogue on this because the music is usually where many people can participate and feel like they belong.

  18. What is it with us human beings in which we are so driven to enslave each other and ourselves with all these outward things such as this? If someone doesn’t feel like singing or singing loud, should they just fake it so they don’t get judged and scolded by their fellow Christians? Being God is watching our hearts, there is certainly no way to fake it with Him. I can’t even to pretend to like liver. We need to quit trying to control others and just enjoy our own relationship with God, what ever that looks like.

  19. Thank you Thom, for your wisdom and for putting yourself “out there.” I honor your opinions and take the wisdom I can use for my ministry without judgment.

    You are a blessing to the world and I appreciate you!!!

    Love, Karyn

  20. Great articles and I pray it does get us all talking instead of yelling or criticizing. Having lead worship for many years in a church that will soon be 50 years young, I have heard it all from both sides and seen people hurting. Our church is kid of blended and people do sing out on both old and new songs but if the volume level is too high it drowns them out. I tell our sound guys, if you cannot hear the congregation, it it too loud period!! This summer might be a good time to pull some people together and work on the balance a little more while keeping it fresh.

  21. Thom – I cannot thank you enough for all of the helpful information you provide here on your blog, in your books, interviews, etc.
    My home congregation here in Utah is right in the thick of all of this, and it helps that you are addressing the topics one at a time.
    Wow – dealing with these emotional issues is like walking through a minefield!
    Patience, patience, patience, love, love, love. Take a deep breath and try again.

  22. I am a church planter who is focusing upon regathering young people back into the church who have left it for whatever reasons. Young people are pretty smart and savvy. They look for a genuine worship experience whereby everyone feels ushered into the presence of God. Wanting to know more about what that looks like, I press them for more. This group seems to settle upon a very common theme–the church is too polished and professional.

    Professional speakers. Professional singers. Professional choirs. Professionally sounding and professionally predictable. They tell me if Jesus is the center of the worship, then why are there stages and pulpits? Why isn’t there more emphasis upon the leading of the Holy Spirit and the spontaneity of it? They feel like an audience that is only led and does not get to participate. So they left the church.

    We now meet in living rooms and coffee shops and at picnic tables around the city. Someone with a guitar contributes as the Spirit directs. Someone with a testimony contributes as the Spirit directs. Everyone is engaged in a discipling relationship and are eager to go to the next meeting! When we all gather together, no polish, no professionally smooth worship, but a lot of voices raised together in celebration of the One true God!

    Our average age group? 17 to 26 years of age. They are coming back to church and this time they feel like they are important.

    • Pastor Bill, your comments are right on target. My 20-something age children have said this very thing. They grew up in the church with some hymns and a transition to the worship “show”, and are desperate to find a place where they can be a part of the worship, not just watch a show. This makes me so sad. The thing that I love about the Catholic mass is that the vocalists and instruments are behind the congregation in most churches. The melody is simple, singable with a clear message. There are no complicated musical bridges, instrumental interludes that disrupt the flow of the song, and the words/music is available in your pew rack. The complicated sound systems and microphones, variety of instrumental musicians, vocal contortions, and loud volume do not lead us all into worship. It is actually very distracting and can keep us from worship. I look around our Sunday morning services and see few people singing, and I know it is for a variety of reasons. Worship has become a real circus in most evangelical churches. If it weren’t for the teaching and worship in communion, I would give up as well. It seems like we have taken a good idea (worship songs based on scripture) and taken it down a completely wrong tangent. There is something to be said for the Quaker meetings where quiet allowed the Holy Spirit to speak to believers and move among the congregation.

  23. I remember reading part of a biography of a woman whose name I have forgotten. But, I do remember this that she said: “I discovered that I was a snob about snobs!” It’s the old “Do it my way or I will judge you!!!”

  24. Thom, I am wondering if you have had any face to face conversations with those of us who love to sign along in the churches that play the music loud? Despite what you seem to think, some of us do participate in those churches. It seems you are only focusing on those who don’t.

    Instead of seeking to make all churches play music in the way that you think is correct, perhaps we need both types of churches and those who love to sign with the loud music should continue to attend those churches, while those who don’t should attend churches where the music isn’t loud?

    Some of us would be very uncomfortable signing at a church where the music is not loud. Would you have the same concern about our lack of participation at churches that play the music the way that you seem to think is the correct way? If so, would you blame the worship leaders in those churches for making me too uncomfortable to sign, or would you judge me as lacking spiritual maturity for not participating?

  25. Just a couple of comments.Worship is not singing according to the New Testament. I did a study of the word ‘worship’ and to my surprise it meant to lay prostrate. The analogy was a general of an army who had lost the battle and been captured and he lay prostrate before his captor to signify his loss and the captor’s rule over him.

    If you read Acts two carefully you will note that the New Testament Church met together to eat food, have fellowship, pray together and be instructed with the apostles teaching. No where does it say they sang. Acts 2:42:46.

    • True, but hymns must have been part of their lives because Paul and Silas sang hymns to God when they were in prison, and they didn’t have hymnals, so they must have sung them often enough to be able to know them off by heart. And you’ll have to forgive John for questioning your conviction.

  26. Thom, have you received the baptism of the Holy Spirit? Has God ever healed someone through you? Have you seen signs wonders and miracles? Have you experienced the power of God? When you experience these things you will sing at the top of your lungs and you will not care if everyone around you is singing, because the only one you’ll see is Jesus.

  27. Mr. Kennon — every or nearly every reply by you on the first blog post and now this have been snarky, condescending, arrogant, rude and sarcastic. You have offended many people by questioning our spirituality and love for God. I hope you will actually sign off, because you promised to do it once before and add nothing but division and a mean spirit to the the discussion.
    I have no “heart problem” or “worship deficiency.” I cannot sing a song I don’t know and have not had the chance to learn. I don’t listen to the radio non-stop and don’t know the words to every new song. I am not the only one who finds the push towards new music steeped in arrogance. Many of the members of all churches are older, and have been instrumental in building the church they now sit in without the ability to participate in the song portion of the worship service. Even if the words are ‘on the wall,’ many cannot see that far or through the rows of people in front of them. This insistence on change for the sake of change marginalizes the people among us who are due respect and inclusion.

  28. I think your analysis of why people don’t sing is right on. However, as far as I can tell, our congregation is engaged with the music in worship even though many are not singing. I can also say that practiced as the music is, it is bathed in prayer.

  29. Well written. Here’s my testimony. As an unqualified singer in church, and one who has difficulty singing unless it has a simple rhythm, I too go blank when we are introduced to a ‘new song’ that requires backing vocals and various vocal gymnastics to get to the end of the thing. When people talk about the ‘old’ songs verses the ‘new’, I get the feeling there is misunderstanding between rhythm and recording. The old songs have a simple rhythm, are usually written in a poetic style and are aimed at the multitude, whereas the ‘new’ songs need a certain degree of studio mixing and various other complicated techniques to be sung, and lack that poetic nature, and for the great unwashed they are very hard to sing. They might sound great coming out of the stereo but they don’t sound great coming out of my mouth. So I stand in silence, wait till its all over and then we can get into the ‘real church’ stuff for the rest of the morning. Sorry muso’s, but you waste a lot of your energy at times and many of your ‘admiring’ audience are not standing in adulation, they are standing so that they wont be noticed.

  30. I appreciate the encouragement to seek to honor God and love Him and those for whom Jesus died. I am more comfortable when the music isn’t loud and when I can hear those around me. I also find That I can love and honor God when the music is loud and no one can hear or notice me…kinda like a prayer closet in the middle of the room of people.”

  31. Doesn’t it also say in Acts that the early church only sang “traditional” hymns from the 19th century blasted from a pipe organ led by a choir in robes?

    Oh wait, NO it doesn’t.
    I say the CCM and new-fangled worship is heresy:
    bring back true traditional music like it describes in the Bible – Psalms sung to Harps & Lyres.
    While we’re at it, how come no one brings their unblemished goats to sacrifice in worship any more?

    Get a grip, worship warriors, we invent in our small minds what traditional or authentic worship is. If it is about what we want, it is not worship. As a pastor I can look out at the congregation and tell who is worshiping God and who is making idols or just using up air.

    •   “I’ve learned that necessity is not a fact, it’s an interpretation, and that too many people confuse the intensity of their feelings with the likelihood that they’re right.”-Michael Josephson, ethicist

    • Only God knows the heart. I am certain that you do not know the condition of everyone’s heart. When I am worshipping sometimes I look joyful. But sometimes my appearance is less than joyful when Father and I are talking things over….

    • Can you also tell those who are spiritually burdened by the music chosen? Those who look pained as they sit through a performance that’s using God’s name and words thinkng it’s pleasing God, but all they feel is the overwhelming pressure that it’s not at all doing so? Do you believe there are still prophets, those with the gift of prophesy? because that’s who’s doing that.

  32. Thank you for your follow up! My continual worry is that the focus here is on the physical issues of worship in church today that may need tweaking but will continue to fuel the fire for complaint, instead of focusing on the spiritual issues and our need to put our eyes back on Jesus! I thank you for getting the conversation started. I would certainly be encouraged by some bible verses that could be included in this conversation! Thanks for your closing comments: “But the Father desires to see his children work with each other, to accept each other, to love each other. And worship him together.” Amen! Psalm 34:3 Glorify the Lord with me, let us exalt his name together!”

  33. Thom, I’ve read both of your articles on this topic and find them helpful for the church. HOWEVER, several, but not all, responses used inflammatory words that generated a lot of destructive emotion, IMHO. These kinds of behaviors are why I don’t want to be affiliated with the BIG church anymore. I am guilty of being one who uses inflammatory words and emotions. I’m sorry for my behavior, but not my love for JESUS! I take the Bible seriously, but not literally. I believe in marriage equality from a biblical perspective that sees Scriptures through the lens of our loving Savior. Yes, as a gay, single dad, and pastor, I believe that God created me beautifully just the way I am. I believe it’s ok to doubt and question faith and the Bible.
    I’ve been a worship designer/planner for churches. I love the variety of genres, ok, maybe an organ snob and favor the electric guitar over acoustic in worship. But at the end of a worship experience, I ask myself, have I experienced Jesus through the people around me? Has my preferences somehow hindered someone from knowing this God I love so much? As a worship designer/planner/leader, have my personal preferences gotten in the way of others so they can’t participate? Do I help create a safe place for holy dialogue to occur in worship among the people of God about God?

    Thom, your article challenges the church to think of others and threatens some of our preferences. Thank you. We need to be challenged. I need to be challenged. You have taught me the importance of asking people what they think. The gives opportunity for helpful dialogue and gives me reality check to see if what I am doing in ministry is relevant.

    Jay, a pastor just trying to live out his call by loving God and each other through prayer and dialogue.

  34. I really respect how you handled this topic in the midst of criticism and insult. Thank you! May we all fix our eyes upon Jesus and worship!

  35. In a way I find your posts rather humorous. So I am a singer….one who enjoys singing. I enjoy hearing others sing. I have done some specials over the years. But I am just that….generally I do not listen to make sure all of those folks around me are singing. This is what I find real funny!!!!!….I just sing away…..I do listen for my grandchildren because their parents want them to be singing….Sometimes they look at me oddly along with other children because I try to sing alto! I THINK THAT IS ONE SAD THING IS MANY CHURCHES ARE GETTING AWAY FROM SINGING IN PARTS. After many years of being in a choir, thankfully I hear the alto or remember such….My point is we need to be the example. Show others you always sing… is a good testimony, Within the church we now attend….(have had some issues, oh is that a story) The music is a mix of hymns, contemporary that is mostly choruses. What I find sad is that they do not have any outside folks sing, ever from what I understand. Never a fresh voice to bless your heart. It appear they are afraid they will have someone in who shall I say, they don’t appreciate, Because we are recent members, there are things we find out regularly that are just not part of what we would like to see be part of “our” church. So at this point we are doing as our daughter has suggested, to step up to the plate to kindly incorporate/suggest/do what we see as a need within this church structure. So why not be an encourager of showing your ‘worship’ by singing out..So my conclusion is we are there to make a difference. The difference will be for Christ… see others trust Him and one day share in His kingdom

  36. Well said. So thankful for a church that several years ago realized this from a solemn assembly and from this was born a way to avoid this arena, it is heart warming not to have the church set up like a rock comcert and old and new songs alike being sung by the congregation. I can honestly say, I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house to worship!

  37. As I look back on all the comments between this article and the first…. I feel as Christians we are kinda missing the point. Shouldn’t our churches be so full of visitors and “lost people” that they don’t know the songs so in turn they don’t sing every week? The church isn’t to form a Christian bubble it’s to honor, glorify, and worship Jesus; proclaiming His name throughout our communities! There are plenty of Churches in the United States- if you don’t like the music at the one you attend now go find another one that better suits your preferences! These articles are not about core doctrines they are about preferences!!!

  38. Perhaps what’s most challenging is when I find myself agreeing with what you’ve written… only to know that (as a lead pastor) the worship team in our church is sensitive to critique. Even linking them to an article like this could make them feel that I don’t appreciate them. What makes worship teams amazing to the church is that they are sensitive to things the average congregation member isn’t; however, what makes worship teams hard to work with is that they are sensitive to things the average congregation member isn’t. 😉

  39. “Musical genre is not the issue. Congregational participation is the issue.”


    Like you, I have visited over 40 different congregations in a 7 year span. Actually, I have stopped counting. Every time I go, I sit further back in the congregation and observe the congregation during “worship”. What I have seen, every single time, is that if worship equals signing, the evangelical church of America is not worshipping. The congregation is certainly NOT singing. I have witnessed this over and over and over again, so I don’t care what kind of objections any one raises about this. The church at large, is NOT singing! Maybe they are in your church, but I also look at the big picture. Don’t believe me? Sit in the back of your congregation this week and look around. Surprise!

    I pastored a church for 10 years, been on staff at a large church as a worship leader, helped plant several churches and built worship teams from the ground up multiple times. I also have been a regular guy in the pew, one of the “led” ones. I am also a professional musician. I have no beef against music.

    As a young worship leader, I would always blame the people for not singing. They were unspiritual! I remember stopping the first song midway through the first chorus in disgust for the lack of participation, telling everyone to greet someone, and walking off the platform in disgust. I was mad! How could these people be so in the flesh? (The irony of my own actions escaped me at that point!)

    As a more mature believer and leader, I now realize that if people are not singing the songs we play, that is on us. We are worship leaders. As worship leaders, our job is to lead the congregation, not shove something down their throats.

    I have written extensively about this over at There is a major problem with the contemporary worship movement and I suspect the worship leaders know this. Instead of defending what you do against all attack, and ignoring the issues, I suggest worship leaders wrestle with the issues and find solutions that work. They are out there!

    • Yes, congregational participation is the issue. The worship leader should be like a gardener, facilitating the congregation in worship. Discover what kind of seeds are there, then find the right soil and the right conditions. Help them flourish before God.

      The problem with many contemporary WP songs is that they are better suited to a performance by a soloist with a band. And of course, the congregation does not (cannot) participate. So instead of the entire garden flourishing, we have a couple well-tended plants while the other rest are limp. Who wants to go to a garden like that?

    • I’m curious: if you were so concentrated on watching others not worshipping, did you have time to actually, you know, worship?

      And those solutions that work of which you speak: do all of them involve casting aside contemporary worship?

      • Scott: “I’m curious: if you were so concentrated on watching others not worshipping, did you have time to actually, you know, worship?”

        Do you mean “Did I have time to actually, you know, sing the songs, because that is what worship is?” Then, yes. It is very easy to sing with your eyes open and to rotate your head to the left and the right while doing it. Just because I have witnessed this undisputable truth (The gathered congregation, is not singing our songs) over and over again with my own eyes during the singing times, does not mean that I wasn’t singing at the time.

        However, the point would not be muted if I wasn’t singing. The fact stands: the vast majority of the gathered congregation is NOT singing our songs. If we truly care about worship, we should recognize this.

        Do your congregation and yourself a favor and try it this Sunday with an open mind. Sit in the back, and observe what your congregation really thinks about “singing as worship” You will be surprised at what you see.

        “And those solutions that work of which you speak: do all of them involve casting aside contemporary worship?”

        Of course not.

      • Jim: “Did I have time to actually sing the songs, because that’s what worship is?”

        You completely missed the point of the original question, although you did manage to answer snark with snark, so I’ll give you credit for that. Worship is a very broad term that includes, but is not limited to, singing. There is an absolutely gorgeous video on Youtube that our church has used as a call to worship a number of times, a video that utilizes the Jeremy Riddle hymn “Sweetly Broken.” The video scrolls through a number of things that worship is not — i.e., entertainment, lighting, or sound — and concludes with this searing pronouncement:

        “Worship is not about us at all. It’s about Him. (Worship is looking) at God and placing Him above all else.”

        So, as to your recommendation that I follow your lead and sit back and observing the congregation, I will pass, thank you very much. As I enter into worship, I will try and bring all that other stuff — including what others around me are doing — to the foot of the cross, laying it down, and gazing up at my Lord and Savior. And I will try and allow my response to simply be, wait for it,…


        You made a very sweeping declaration in your response to my second question, one that’s at odds with the last paragraph of your comment. You don’t “suggest”, “imply” or “insinuate” you state outright that there is a “major problem” with contemporary worship, one that worship leaders need to “wrestle with” and “find solutions that work.”

        Here’s your second bite at the apple: what, specifically, is wrong with contemporary worship? What’s so wrong with it that requires fixing, but not so wrong that it needs to be abandoned?

  40. Well, I do like to sing, and I have been in the choir, and I will sing now if the hymn does not seem to resemble a merry-go-round theme, but as often as not I find I get more spiritual sustenance from a plain spoken service. (I’m a Latin-rite Catholic).

    I’m now 50, so I was in the post-V2 sweet spot of “let’s use more contemporary music to keep those young people in church!” I can’t speak to non-Catholic experiences, but all my years (years!) of experience of contemporary music has really led me back to an 8 am or 5 pm quiet Mass. I really am here to worship, not be entertained or led by a P&W (in my specific case) cantor with plenty of talent and plenty of ego to go with it.

    I don’t think the music is reason people have left the church, but I do think we have now created passive congregations who think that this modern music is best left to professionals and they just put up with it.

    I also think there is nothing, absolutely nothing wrong with a reverent spoken Mass–it is as close to chant as most us of will get. I will take it over an overblown show tune production any day. And my 11-yr-old (also a musician) feels the same way.

    This may be a cultural preference, but so what: I do not scorn people who can genuinely worship with contemporary music, but no one should denigrate those of us who don’t “feel it.”

    • Cathy, your response resonates a lot with me! I am a full time musician and travel a lot. After all these years of “worship” and worship leading, the one element of corporate worship that resonates the most with me is weekly communion and reciting the Nicene Creed, without music!”

      These two elements, have the ability to re-center me in my faith, no matter what else is going on in my life. They are simple, and the “church” has utilized these elements in worship from the beginning.

    • I think, if you scroll through the comments, you will find that those doing much of the denigrating are coming from your side of the issue.

      But since you brought up not scorning people, I’d like to add something. As someone who attends a contemporary worship service, I’m getting a little tired of hearing our songs and our worship called, among other things, “an overblown show tune production.” There’s a word for that, by the way. It’s denigrating.

  41. Thanks Thom for your blog; I’m new to it – turned on to this by a member of my church, and your insights are dead on. As a pastor, I agree: When the connection between the leaders and the led is confusing, broken, damaged, strained, or non-existent, then everything in worship struggles – not just the music. I think the underlying issue in fractured worship is a serious disconnect between the leaders of the church and those who are coming, and yes- the cure is to sit down and get to know those whom we are leading in worship. How do any of us lead people in a church without knowing them, without that connection? With music, it’s not the genre, but the connection we share in worship. If people aren’t participating in a worship service designed for participation, then something is very wrong. (And if leaders aren’t creating participative worship – the wrong begins at the top). We’ve introduced new songs to our very mixed age congregation – in a way that teaches and values the message we’re singing to God, and we’ve seen people embrace and participate in singing because we’ve led them to that point, and because we know what speaks to them – and what doesn’t. We use every genre. We’ve also allowed our student ministry recently to lead worship where that connection wasn’t established – and we had exactly that; a lot of listening, or “toleration” and no participation. Fortunately, I have a music minister that recognizes some music just isn’t going to reach that goal – participatory worship – and we don’t use it. Some of our hymns with so many eighth and sixteenth notes – it’s not going to be pretty trying to get a song that was great for a soloist sung by a couple hundred people. We’ve also found ways of taking a new piece of music and using an intimate means of a soloist to teach a verse as we bring people in; it helps build that connection. And I agree with the technical issues: I was always taught that a sound system should be just enough to make it seem as if it wasn’t there – certainly not to overpower those gathered to worship. If instruments and sound equipment overpower the congregation, then that is a critical technical error: It should enhance, not overwhelm. As a pastor, I don’t want my people kicking back and saying “Oh, well done guys!” and being attendees or concert goers rather than participants. We are gathered together to share the experience of worshipping the most high God, and if our church leaders do not approach worship with that conviction, then the church dies with an “us v. them” mentality. That’s my opinion anyway, and your blog is a wonderful affirmation of seeking that holy connection between God and His children – each and every time we worship; to participate together in an offering of praise.

  42. My “takeaways” from all of this. 1) these discussions/disagreements will probably go on forever 2) Worship leaders and team members should definitely be sensitive to the needs of their congregation — be picky about lyrics, get the volume and mix as good as you can “in the house” not just in your ear monitors, pay attention to the key of the song so most people can sing it, do what you can to avoid coming across as a concert performance.

    I’ve heard worship musicians say that once their sound leaves their gear on its way to the mixing board, their responsibility for what happens in the house ends. I don’t agree with that. For one thing, doing worship correctly is work and I don’t want to do that work if my instrument or voice is too loud or inaudible in the house. It might be better, as a musician, to lay down my instrument and volunteer at the sound board if the volunteers handling the board just don’t really get it. Obviously this has to be handled carefully — no need to antagonize volunteers unnecessarily. But at the end of the day, it might require asking someone to get training if they really don’t understand mixing.

  43. Thank you for your blog.. just read the two about worship and singing, and what a relief to read my thoughts coming from the keyboards of others. For several years now worship has been so difficult for me… I started having migraines because of the vibration from the too loud bass guitars, the double sets of drums, the volume being way too loud. We tried sitting in different parts of the church to no avail. And I would come home with my migraine, collapse into bed and sleep the pain away the rest of the day. I started not going to church until later, after worship was over so that I didn’t have to experience pain and cause my family to suffer without me one day a week. Sometimes I didn’t even go to church, or would go and return home because the service was “wonky” and the worship was mixed in with the service so I could not find a time to go in and be a part without finding myself in pain yet again.

    And all the the time I would try to listen for voices. My own, my son standing beside me, my husband on the other side. People behind my or around… no voices could I hear except those on the microphone. If you could hear those over the sound of the instruments. My older son started volunteering at the soundboard, and on the days he worked it was … a little better. But then the music director corrected him and said not loud enough. We measured the decibels, as the church said they always did. The problem was their meter measured the overall decibels for the entire service, not just during worship. Too loud… 100 was hit often.

    I still looked around, and wondered if I was along in wanting to sing, wanting to hear other people’s voices singing to the Lord in praise… but everyone seemed to just go along as things were.

    I looked for other churches, but the same thing was happening there. So I stopped going. At least at home I can find a service on the internet and I can choose the volume.

    Recently our church “lost’ its music director for another church. And the drums stopped.. the bass guitar stopped. And I can once again attend worship without pain. And I can hear voices… beautiful voices of all the ages, young and old, children, elderly, crackly and beautiful… all raised up to the Lord on high. My heart sings for joy because I can once again be a part of Worship instead of feeling like worship was only for those “up there” with the microphones and the drums. To be able to hear my children and my husband sing along side me… their voices blending with mine and with the rest of the congregation brings such joy to my spirit… and I believe joy to the Lord as well.

    Bless you, and thank you!

  44. I really feel for those “suffering” through worship. Now, it is hard to please everyone, but regardless whether the overall volume is high or low, it should be blended so no single instrument is blasting the others off the stage. And the vocals from the stage are numero uno — meaning if you can’t hear that, everything else is too loud.
    In my church we seem to have a problem with uncontrolled drum volume, while most other instruments are under tight control by the mixing team ( no guitar amps on stage, etc ). I haven’t figured out why the drums can’t be controlled ( electronic drums, special, quieter drum sticks, etc ). If its because the drummer might quit, i’d say let him quit. Otherwise the only alternative is to turn everything else up to match. This is something that can happen when the instrumentalists are wearing in-ear monitors — they may be completely unaware of how loud they are out in the pews. Which brings us back to the sound technicians — assuming they aren’t completely constrained by senior leadership’s directions.

  45. Sorry Im late to the party. Story of my life. Reading the stats just creates an emotion of anger. This anger is because I really don’t know why one mans song brings God into an environment and why another man can sing the same song and it has no effect. ( Some would say thats why God made women);)

    We seem to always look upon the spiritual qualifications of one another as to the success or failure to deliver the Heavenly oil others must see or feel before they decide to join in.

    It is confusing to not be able to bottle the formula that we all desire to have at every place we go to sing or harmonize the choruses and Hallelujahs. However! When God does show up me as the leader is as blessed as anyone who gets that gift. Who knows why we are to be so skilled as musicians and singers? Until The Master pours the oil and we just love, its nothing more than noise and critics at lunch. 😉 Forgive the lack of punctuation, I’m ignorant;)

  46. A while back, I happened to watch a YouTube of worship hymns. As I listened, in my heart, I got carried away and found myself worshipping the Lord. When it was over, to my surprise, I had a feeling of being fed. What is this feeling I thought. I hadn’t felt this for years, but I felt nourished, full, fulfilled. Why was that? I came to the conclusion that I had been starving for years from trying to participate with the rock band music, and had not known it. I thought that I had been involved but the empty feelings were just there under the surface. They only showed up when I paid attention to them. The old hymns are like scaffolds that I climb on to access the worship chamber. I love to sense God on His throne as I bow before Him. I want to acknowledge His kingship, I want to be in awe of Him. He is in control of the universe, He will judge me. I like that picture. The modern songs just don’t convey me there. Most of the songs are new every Sunday and there are seldom any recognizable songs. I find myself constantly thinking about the words on the board, the melody twists and the next verse instead of being able to become lost in the glory of a hymn that I know in my heart. Sometimes, the band will start out playing an old hymn but inject it with an upbeat tempo, and that is disappointing. One singer said “We sing modern songs to help you get engaged, because, well, whatever is a ‘bulwark’?” I thought to myself, “uh, it’s part of a mighty fortress, like our God?” It was disappointing to hear my favorite hymn dismissed. So, now, I listen to it on the Internet and my bookmarks of favorite sites are growing.

  47. Ok I have read a lot of these posts. Some I agree with..some I disagree with say a lot of of us! A few things that permeate the tone of all of this. Worship is very personal and matters to each of us how we feel enabled or hamstring by styling, performance, mix, volume, lyrical depth and quality..etc. Perception effects us.. creating selfish attitudes of entitlement that sully our focus. In the end it’s truly is not about us. We have no authority to critique and offer criticism yet we insist on doing so. The real burden and responsibility is on the Pastoral leadership. They are directly accountable to God for the choices they make and the guidance they prayerfully provide. So if you don’t like what is going on you can change churches and find one that you are truly comfortable with. Nothing wrong with that as it happens all the time. Don’t judge others because they don’t agree with you. Move on!

    What we really have to examine is this. Is God working? Do I see signs of the Spirit of God moving people to action in serving others? Finally it’s this simple. WHERE IS THE FRUIT? Are you reaching a lost world for Christ or are you so inwardly focused that lost people seem so different that you to even avoid trying to meet them where they are? The large number of people that are being reached for Christ in modern worship style churches are generally the result of an initial touch-point that begins with relatable life experiences. Music is just one avenue to make the cultural connection. We can say all day long that we are not to be like the world. Guess what.. most lost people can see right though that anyway. Do you really believe that the lost can hardly wait to sing hymns they don’t understand and are suspicious of anyway? Our lives are such a facade that most believe it’s not real its just Christians playing church. Doing life ..REAL life is what lost people see as valuable and a life changer through Christ. The music is a common ground connection point. The bigger focus is sharing life together. I believe that as followers in Christ our accountability to God is about telling the world about him through the witness of your life. All of us are broken. Time to stop pretending otherwise. The world already knows it!

  48. It’s like I wrote the article!!! I have been on a “soapbox” about the music in our Churches for a long time (I’m Assembly of God)! I agree wholeheartedly with what you wrote. I watch people every Sunday just standing and moving their lips. Once in a while our pastor will sing a couple of old songs and the audience comes alive!!

  49. Here’s something no one has mentioned: Many of these non-singers probably don’t know the songs. Some of them may not have ever set foot in a church before. To these people, a roomful of worshippers swaying in unison to a song they’ve known since childhood is probably off-putting, if not outright daunting. And that could easily be remedied with a simple YouTube link or two each week, letting people know what’s going to be sung next Sunday and what it sounds like, so they can get ready. I would gladly join in but I don’t know the songs and can’t read sheet music. I’m just a regular guy who wants to do the right thing. Churches say they want new blood, but to make that happen, you have to include the guy who just blew in off the street. What it feels like when everyone else knows the songs and you don’t: “Oh. Wow. I guess I really AM Satan.” And with that most people just leave. It’s the exact, totally opposite experience church is meant to provide.

    • The problem with your complaint is that the average guy who’s blown in off the street would not have seen the youtube links put up last week anyway. I whole-heartedly agree that our songs should be easy enough that non-churched people can sing along, at least a little. But due to the kind of society we have, as you correctly point out, a roomful of people singing together is weird. That’s something they just have to kind of deal with, because we can’t ditch it altogether. The church I grew up in has a great practice of playing CDs after the service while people mingle and chat, and if they intend to introduce a new song sometime in the next month or two, they will play it on the CD several Sundays beforehand so it gets into people’s heads. So even if a person has never sung it before, when it comes time to introduce it, they’ll at least subconsciously have some idea of how it goes, if not consciously think “hey, I’ve heard this before”. Sometimes they don’t even realise where they’ve heard it before.

  50. You hang in there. Your first post on this was spot on, and that you’ve gotten criticism is telling. I’ve been saying for years that the church in America is sick, or even doomed to failure, because it ceased to be about one another and became a “thing you do,” a big show and performance. When people challenged me about it, all you have to do is note the many churches that actually pay for professionals to come and lead the worship. And, I know of churches (not many, but enough) who have non-Christians playing in the worship band in order to ensure they have the best musicians playing. Sad times, but thanks for pointing it out.

  51. Oh how I understand. I have been in the Baptist church all my life, but four years ago I began taking a class at a Lutheran church. I have always tended to be swayed more by non liturgical churches. Could not imagine being a part of one of those stuffy liturgical congregations. That is until I started this class. I decided to attend a Sunday service there just to see what it was like. Oh my!!! Liturgical yes, but what an overpowering of the Holy Spirit!!! No song leader, no worship team…..only music from the back of the sanctuary and people singing songs I had never heard before. It was AWESOME!!! I could never have dreamed of something so wonderful. I am a very musical person singing solos, being a part of a fantastic choir, worship team member and having a son who was a worship leader; yet they did not compare to the worship in that small congregation. I recently attended a family members baptism in a large non-liturgical church with three services on Sunday mornings. The praise band was so loud I couldn’t hear myself and finally quit singing altogether. All I could hear was the worship leader and the band. The sermon was fantastic, but I felt more like I was at a concert instead of congregational worship. Thank you for these last two articles. God bless.

  52. Thank you. I have felt very alone; like I have a bad / judgemental attitude towards the “performance” aspect of congregational worship; thinking the problem was me alone. But I haven’t been able to shake it.

    Our church in Nashville was a “behind the curtain” praise team, and I fell in love with it. But in traveling, and now moving to another state, every Sunday morning is a battle for me to even stay in the room, much less sing.

    To know that I am not alone; that this is a reason people are leaving church… I feel like I can engage this inner conflict now. Thank you.

  53. i stopped singing in church (and anywhere else really) because an evil nun told me not to sing out loud, to hum instead. That pretty much stole my joy.

  54. In some of the churches I’ve visited, I get the feeling that the worship leader believes he is auditioning for American Idol. If worship leaders would like the congregation to sing, the music must have a steady tempo without any ad libs. When the worship leader ad libs, the congregation gets confused and just quits singing.

    Thanks for your post. I believe that church has lost a lot by not being able to sing their hearts out on Sunday mornings.

  55. Regarding volume and being able to hear ourselves sing. As a music leader myself, I have found from talking to non-musically-inclined people (and from observation) that, contrary to your original post, people are LESS likely to participate if they can hear themselves too much. They get self-conscious and are worried the person beside them might think they’re bad, so they don’t sing. This is exacerbated by buildings with bad acoustics. The church I grew up in has terrible acoustics – the idea was probably to insulate the building to avoid the church being too loud, but the result is that the buildings absorbs noise and we can hear ourselves sing, and our immediate neighbours, but not really the church as a whole. Put a congregation in one of those old-school timber churches though, and the acoustics are amazing – a flute can play along without a microphone and carry beautifully. Everyone joins in, because instead of just hearing themselves and their neighbours, they hear the group, and are not worried that their neighbour can hear them. People do need to be able to hear themselves just enough to know what they’re singing, but that’s about it really. If they feel like their neighbours can hear them too much, they’ll stop.

  56. Amen.

    I appreciate the food for thought. Don’t be discouraged, brother. You are helping a lot of us out there consider the motivations of our hearts in worship planning, implementation, discipleship, etc. Thanks. Keep up the good work.

  57. Joanne Hagemeyer Reply June 2, 2015 at 8:19 am

    The reason I became part of the music team scene in our current church is because–for the first time–I was in a church which projected words on a screen rather than provide music books (which have, you know, music in them. Notes).

    I asked the worship leader after the first service I attended there how a person could get a hold of the actual musical notation? I had heard of none of their songs, so the whole worship service was actually an exercise in frustration. He said I had to join a team. Evidently, the notes were being held hostage in some dark and hidden place. Only the initiates were permitted to see them.

    I really don’t understand it. The Bible passage is printed out in our bulletin every single week. No one is expected to sort of come up with the whole text, word-for-word, just by looking at a representative picture and the passage’s biblical address. And yet, we ARE expected to come up with every song, regardless if we’ve never or seldom heard it before, note-for-note, with only the words to go by.

    To me this is a continuing patronizing of the dumb sheep by the professionals on stage.

    With the advent of live-streaming the service, why not just watch from home and put the credit card on automatic pay for the collection? Oh yeah. More and more people are actually doing that…

    • Joanne Hagemeyer Reply June 2, 2015 at 8:43 am

      I went back and read some of the comments to the original article, and saw that my point was already made, and more eloquently than this attempt. So it’s okay with me if you just delete my comment.

      It’s a difficult problem. Feeling disaffected in church is a growing phenomenon. Like sex in a troubled marriage, music in church is the little canary slowing dying, gasping for air.

      Asking what the bad ‘air’ is and where it’s coming from are good questions. But I suspect the root is not going to be found in the canary, or the sex, or the music. Better sex does not make a better marriage (no, really, that’s a true statement). Better music will not make a lasting better church experience. It goes deeper than that and has something to do with relationships, roles, framework, and so on and so on.

    • Joanne, I feel your pain. Actually you can go out and view/download the songs with notation ( once you know their titles ). I’ve heard our drummer mention that “I’ve never heard the song before” and this was a case where the week’s set of songs has been posted online well in advance for all of the worship team to observe. So, if you’re going to attend a church that is doing many of the common contemporary songs, it may be time to listen to Christian radio or buy some music from Chris Tomlin and others. Personally I like the idea of multiple/different services so if we have a significant number of members who prefer older styles or hymns, they can worship at such a service. I don’t buy the arguments that it “divides the church” unless your church has 50 people or less ( most churches are “divided” in that sense anyway — you can’t know everybody, that’s what home groups are for )

  58. I see a lot of people addressing the hymnal versus the lyrics on the screen [wall] via video projection and I fail to see the distinction or difference other than of course the hymnal is limited by the same songs sung over and over every week from a book making it obsolete versus having the ability to change to new songs over time. I like what Psalm 96:1 says [MSG] Sing God a brand-new song! Earth and everyone in it, sing! Sing to God—worship God!

    I believe the crux of the problem with the lack of participation in SOME churches today has a lot to do with how they are taught [educated] at that particular church. If you’re looking around at what other worshipers are doing or not doing then perhaps you are also part of the problem…

    Churches need to be proactive and TEACH their new believers/followers of Christ whom of which many are un-churched or who have never been to a church in their lives, how to worship not only in church but during their private time at home alone.

    The lack of participation in churches IMHO has nothing to do with big screens, professional musicians or anything of the sort…. The lack of participation is because there is a lack of instruction and TEACHING….Its about worshiping the Lord of Lords and having an attitude of worship towards Him. Everything else is fluff…

  59. I enjoyed both articles Thom and appreciate your ministry to Him. I was particularly struck by your comment about how the singers seemingly were focused on the hearts of the non-singers; you know “maybe they need to get right with God etc”. (That was my bottom line not yours.) I am 75 and am continually discouraged by too many of our Christians who seem to love to throw stones at anyone that does not either look like or live and believe like themselves. They remind me of the Publican-thank you God that I am not like that sinner beside me. I know that I am that poor sinner that God has blessed and forgiven; but like the beautiful words in the Casting Crowns song- “the world is on their way to you but they’re tripping over me”.

  60. We all like to sing, I should say I love singing praises to my Lord, am denied that joy by what you described.

  61. I don’t think this is even really an issue of old-v-new. I think it’s focus. I was taught three types of hymns/worship songs: those aimed from people to God, those geared to represent God to man and those that are people to people. A good service will incorporate all three throughout the music time, but all I hear in churches now is people to people. It forces our focus on the ‘performers’ and one another.

    Another issue a friend and I were discussing this past week is the clapping after every song. She pointed out that you’re focused on God, ruminating over the lyrics and meaning you’re singing, basking in the glow s d then everyone around you starts banging their hands together, a rioting breaking the moment. This is different than clapping within the song as praise, it’s the reward for the singers snd song they just finished – focus in wrong place.

  62. I realize that this follow up was written in 2014, but how our church families are all affected by this still. My husband is on the technology end of this and feels that his position is one of ministry to the Father and the church. He did not grow up in a family of musicians, but instead has a mind for the mechanics and balance end. When he began in this part of worship ministry, he was excited to be an active part. Sadly, it is becoming a weight and frustration. While the Word of God has/makes no mention of which instruments, how many, or how loud they can be played during worship, His Word certainly Does give us clear instruction on how to treat/love each other in His family. As a vocalist, I see the frustrations of both sides. It is hard to worship with the bass guitar, guitar, and drums blasting thru their amps and vibrating the church. It is also hard to balance the music so that the Whole congregation/family of God feels as one together worshiping Him and Not focusing on the music/musicians. This passage has come to mind Many times. As you read it, please, brothers and sisters, also remember that our Big Brother, Jesus Christ, prayed that we would All become One as He and the Father are One. Oneness doesn’t come from selfishness.

    “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:19-25)

  63. Perhaps it is time to return to basics (i.e., basing our worship on what the Bible says, rather than man). The church did not have instruments until the 7th century and then it was only intermittent. If one were to examine history it would be found that most of the Protestant denominations neither allowed nor approved of instrumental music in worship until the late 1800’s.
    For some reason man thinks he has the right and the authority to make changes to worship as he feels as sees fit.

  64. I enjoyed finding an article that put into words what I want to say to my church. My church has changed in the last year to even louder music and putting the faces of the band members up on the big screens during the worship set. Most recently they turn down the volume during part of the song and guess what, the people start to sing! I ponder the term worship leader….wondering if “worshiper” wouldn’t be more accurate as I am unable to sing / worship and either lip sinc, but more often I stand in silence wishing I had remembered my earplugs. Longing for the images on the screens to be of Gods creation rather than a member of the band. It has muted me, and as I write this I realize that it has overflowed into other areas of my life as well. Thank you for this article as well as the previous one on why we don’t sing anymore.

  65. What kind of worship are we desirous of? The Scriptures describe several types, but only one is acceptable to God.
    Any worship element in which man says I know better than God on this or that has missed the mark and needs to be re-examined!! Or are we willing to let Satan deceive us into believing we are still worshipping God in spirit (from the heart) and in truth (according to Scripture ).

  66. I have been singing in our church choir for almost 33 years. I’ve seen a lot of transition. I admit, even at 66, I love the contemporary music, but still love the songs I learned as a child. I agree with you on most of Why They Don’t Sing……… We have a Music Minister but we do have 2 praise & worship ensembles that alternate Sundays & stand up front with microphones. They are all very talented & godly men and women, some of whom could easily go professional. They sing in our early service & they sing with and in front of the choir in our 11 o’clock service. We have a piano, keyboard, guitar, violon, flute, & drums for congregationals. The choir either sings with tracks or piano. Other than the piano & keyboard, which are center stage, the instruments are positioned on the sides of our stage. I agree that the music is, more often than not, just too loud. Not that it is being played too loudly, but amplified too much. I also feel when the stongest vocalists were put out front, it weakened the choir as a whole. It is a fact that more timid singers are more confident when stronger singers are in the mix and it makes a strong harmonious choir. Decisions are not made by the choir members, but by the leader and/or pastor. It is difficult for the congreation at times to sing because of the reasons you gave. However, I am very thankful we still have a choir and that I am able to participate in it. Many churches have abandoned choirs all together. I thank God ours has not.

  67. It makes all the difference with what the worship leader communicates. If it is, “Sing with me.” or “Listen to me sing.”

  68. I wanted to comment on your statement: “Musical genre is not the issue. Congregational participation is the issue.” I would strongly disagree– the congregation’s participation– or lack thereof— is a HEART issue. if someone has been walking closely with the Lord all week long, I would suggest that they would come to church with so much JOY that they’re about to burst! They sing because they can’t help themselves! If a person is silent, I wonder just how much focus on the Lord there has been in his life on Monday through Saturday.

  69. I LOVED the previous article! I was in a worship band for years, so I’ve been on both sides. But I always preferred acoustic worship with no loud instruments, and good texts sung to or about God that are easy to sing along. It has nothing to do with old vs new. It has to do with the fact that there is a difference between a concert, and worship. Sometimes you want the one, sometimes the other one. We need both. Keep up the writing! 🙂 Greetings from Norway.

  70. I’m bothered at the immense disrespect for the people in praise teams. So many of these posts accuse us (them) of being performers, and one person even said they were “dumb” professionals. How dare any of us pretend to know if someone is worshipping God! Many worship leaders pour their hearts and lives into the 20 minutes of music so many others tear down with little thought or care.

    We have a choice. Stand in judgment of your worship team and skip worship. Or, realize that God has placed that person there for a reason and join them. Pray for them. Love on them. Get to know them.

    Stop tearing worship leaders down.

    Worship is not about the how. It’s about the Who.

  71. Hey Brother, As a worship leader, I feel your pain. As I plan worship each week, I really do try to include something for everybody…hymns, “old” contemporary and new songs. I’ve gotten some really good advice from “Renewing Worship” website. In fact, someone wrote a very similar article called “Nine Reasons People Aren’t Singing in Worship”. I’ve started talking to people in the congregation about worship in general and more specifically, I ask them what helps to create an environment for worship for them. It is at best an inexact science. I pray over the music every week and I don’t have a plan until God gives me peace. There are some in our church who don’t sing as there have been in other churches I’ve served, but don’t mistake that for lack of worship. I’ve had people who never opened their moths in a service, come up afterward GLOWING and talking about their worship experience. If the songs are theologically sound and they point to Christ, people who came to church to worship, will worship whether they sing or not.

  72. :/ I’m so sorry you were attacked for expressing your ideas about a problem that is seen in many churches.

  73. My perspective:

    First, not singing does not equal not participating. I may be an odd duck but my favorite worship music is very high church, sung by a perfect, professional choir, accompanied only by a great pipe organ. this drops me into ‘worship’ mode in nothing flat. I can’t sing at all, but the mastery and the beauty bring me to the point of worshiping a mighty inspiring God. In churches that have this, you usually can’t really see the choir, at lest not as individuals because of the way they are seated. the great music calls attention to nothing but the greatness of God. I participate by listening, and as I listen and turn my heart to God I worship him. The music takes me there so easily.

    And if I can’t have this give me a rocking praise band turned up to 11. seriously. because with a rocking praise band I can sing simple songs at full volume and no one else has to hear my lack of singing talent. And in singing full out, I also find that I worship God.

    But if it’s something in between. say a classic southern baptist church with a song leader and some hymns, I can’t sing, because I become self conscious and maybe I shouldn’t but it takes me out of the moment of focusing on God and puts the focus, in my mind on me. but I also can’t just sit back and listen because the awe inspiring awesomeness isn’t there either. so I find it harder to worship because the vehicle doesn’t work for me. but I know this is just me and others have different experiences.

    That is why I find value in having a range of church to choose from. if all the churches in the area offer different types of worship experiences rather than trying to copy each other, then people of all different style preferences can maybe find something that works for them.

  74. I completely agree with you, Thom. It isn’t about the style of music or the volume of the music. It is about the heart. My worship pastor is always reminding us that we are not worship leaders, but lead worshippers. Worship shouldn’t just be a Sunday thing, but an everyday lifestyle. When we as musicians incorporate worship into our everyday life, that worship becomes infectious. My prayer every time I walk on stage is that I will inspire others to worship our Most Awesome God not through a show, but through my own heartfelt worship.

  75. I realize I am late to the party on this, but as someone who has experienced both traditional and contemporary worship services in just over 40 years of church attendance, I wanted to contribute my two cents.

    I have been in contemporary services in which the name of The Lord was lifted so high the building could not contain it. And I have been in traditional services that were drier than the Sahara and deader (more dead?) than a funeral home. And the reverse is true as well.

    Worship starts in the heart of the believer. If you aren’t prepared to worship when you walk through the doors, it doesn’t matter whether the songs are from the 18th century or the 21st, and it doesn’t matter if the lyrics are out of the hymnal or projected on a screen.

    Now, I’ll admit that discussions about church music can be very uncivil at times, and that’s true about a lot of church issues. When people are very passionate about anything, civility is one of the first things to get tossed aside.

    But here’s the thing. If you call yourself a “worship mercenary” and use words like “battle” and phrases like “worship wars”, then at least some of the lack of civility is on you. You can’t have it both ways.

  76. No sir, “honest conversation” isn’t what we need. That simply fuels our western culture narcissism. What we need to do is get back to our N.T. mission and music has little (if any) to do with that. I recently became pastor a church in which 2 distinct styles exist. I struggle more with the attitude of the choir sophisticates than anything. They are much more pompous in musical excellence and performance. So pious about “being the best” and so loud with the huge pipe organ I cannot hear anything! In the contemporary, the attitude is better simply because they don’t even think about “the wars”. They have moved on and are over it. My prayer is to get both groups on mission, and that isn’t a musical style but a heart posture of obedience to our Lord. However my biggest obstacle is with those who are old enough to be the mature ones. Unfortunately, too much country club mentality (I.e. Please Me!). Let’s move on and quit stirring the pot old fella…

  77. A worship leader told me that they were told that some other well respected and looked up to Leaders In The Field deliberately chose keys that were “ambitious” so that the congregation had to sing louder in order to reach the notes. They also deliberately increased the volume to cause people to sing louder to hear themselves. I’m not sure if there is any validity to this , but it would have the opposite effect on me. Falsetto is not my loudest singing voice. (I’m a man.)

    My own personal opinion is that the elimination of the hymn book has meant that the predictability of the music and where it is going is gone. What words are coming…how many times we repeat a line…what verse we are on are all gone. If the projector is a little behind…or the worship leader changes direction, people are left out. Nobody wants to look silly in front of a group, and a self conscious person singing the wrong words in a group might be outside their comfort zone.

    Someone is going to be left out in this discussion. And now a days people take everything personally. No matter what is done, someone is going to take personal afront to it. That’s the nature of our society. Good luck to those who are trying to resolve it.

  78. I don’t think it’s as much as new vs old.. I see it as being willing vessels for God to move vs selfishness and being in the line light. We have put God on the back burner and taken prayer and supplication and searching and seeking God to give us what we need to Lead in Worship and replaced him with Schedules and a order on how the service should go. Now don’t get me wrong I believe in practicing and being prepared but a very big part of that is by praying!!

  79. Marvelous! Both blogs. Last week and this!

  80. Research has shown that prolonged exposure to sound levels above 110 decibels causes hearing impediments in the future. This is a documented fact. As rule of thumb you are under110 decibels if people can speak to someone next to them without significantly raising their voice. I have mentioned this to several worship leaders and sound team leaders.. None has purchased a decibel meter; none has reduced the volume. I believe a business opportunity exists: to sell a decibel meter that cuts off all sound if sound level goes above 110 decibels for more than 5 seconds. If this was installed the congregation could hear itself sing!

  81. As a person who was not raised in church and used to listen to rock music, and was saved at home age 23 when Jesus came and said “Give your life to Me, I am going to make you an example.” And then He taught me about music and other areas that had to change, and then led me to start going to church, that was 29 years ago.
    I said that to say yes I or “my flesh” likes some of the music that is played, but my spirit is grieved at times.
    I am a worshipper but at times I have been in ” worship” services that I would not call worship but more praise and some are more like a concert. In these times I feel the grieving of Holy Spirit and I can not sing but only pray.
    So for some people it may not be the same reason we are not singing, maybe because we want to worship our Lord, and He wants worship but at time the songs or the music is not worship. ( and at times the music is being worshiped.)
    I do not know many old time worship songs but I do know the Lord who called me out of darkness and set me free and taught me what music is worship and what is music that mostly feeds our carnal nature. And I do know the church needs to ask God to shine His light upon us and show us what He wants. He told us to worship in Spirit and truth, which will take us into the holy place, where the flesh and carnel nature dies more and our spirit becomes more holy, more one with Christ. True worship brings encounters with a living God and the effects produces change.
    Church, let us come back to the true heart of worship!

  82. I am a minster of music at a Presbyterian church.
    I agree with your article stating that the congressional singing is lacking in spirit and effort. I had decided that our church members don’t like to read the hymn’s lyrics. Many members in the congregation sometimes will sing the chorus of the hymn and not the verses. During the morning hymn, I’ve started choosing songs that have more repetitive lyrics. I’ve stopped using many of the beautiful Presbyterian hymns because they aren’t appreciated anymore. Our church is leaning toward a more contemporary style of music.
    I lead the congregation singing praise songs with my praise team but only some of the church members worship through singing. Others stand when admonished and sing some.
    I agree with your article. Maybe some worship leaders don’t see all of the congregation, all the way to the back of the church as the Spirit swirls through the air.

  83. I can’t understand why they cannot
    do a mixture of both! That way everyone gets the best of both!!

  84. Tom, I have been a youth pastor for decades…. fought to move more toward contemporary when I was also a pastor during part of that time, and love all styles of music. I’ve taken teens to lots of big arena worship events, planned similar events on a smaller scale for many camps and retreats for teens and have been, for the past several tears, blessed to have full band youth worship bands……. and during much of that time I saw it WORK well… It is true I have always fought to keep the sound men and band to keep the volume at a good level (loud enough to be exciting and yet not so loud it hurts ears or isolates the singers in the audience.) Lately we have had another round of rising volume (sound board upgrade… ) anyway… I looked around the room and the band was going strong and sounding good , except too loud for anyone in the audience to hear but their own voice… and lots of kids were not singing. I came away thinking that the band would tend to blame the hearts of the people in the crowd, but I have a suspicion that loud is getting passe. I found myself thinking, not for the first time, that it’s time for the rock band concert worship style to go away. i fought for it and loved it for years and years… and it was working… but i think it is time for something fresh and more REAL…. more personal, intimate, and participatory. Do you know of corners of country where the cutting edge is already moving past the slick loud stage show toward something more exciting. I bet there are millenials out there that are creating what’s next… and I am ready. The best, freshest thing I have felt for a while was a hipster church in Nashville, a small thing with a talented band, but never too loud though waaay more hip than any of the other bands i know. they were hip because the people in it were really hip, but not acting hip. they were just who they were and they were there to worship. Great quality, but so down to earth and other young people singing with feeling…. The songs were fresh and from places i had not heard… a couple songs were “ascend the hill” reworked hymns , one beautiful song was by the Torwalt’s, and some of the other staples. (jesus culture…) God’s presence was there in that rag tag little barely refurbished church (reclaimed from having gone from once being a traditional church to a seemingly unused building to a place where grunge bands held shows….seemingly… and then this church group moved in and made it homey (with out losing the do we paint it or tear it down? edge ) It was all the instruments but it was not a rock show. The tone was worship…. humility…. God’s presence…. singing WITH the audience. (or so it seems to me) I found your article doing a google search “where is the cutting edge worship at today” , “new trends in worship”… and other failed attemps… finaly trying “why people don’t sing” PLEASE point me to where I can read about the groups who are tying to get off the now passe “rock concert” worship show feel thing. I know some people are just finallly getting their shot at it and it is new to them…. but … I have tended to be ahead of the game until recently… and it’s time to get out there on the cutting edge and feel the fresh air again. HELP…
    and thanks for risking saying what you feel. Please email me if you get this far and are still reading

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Don. Yes, we’re seeing Millennials reject the polished worship shows of their parents’ generation. They’re more interested in an authentic, real and humble approach. I think we’ll see them leading the way in helping corporate worship return to its true roots.

  85. I’m 64 years old. I have attended church my whole life. I can only speak for myself. When I don’t know a song, I have a hard time. I try to sing along, but I find myself focusing on the song. If it is a song I know, I can close my eyes not looking at the teleprompter, or anything else. When I close my eyes I can sing and truly feel I am worshiping and entering God’s presence. Then all else fades away and I can truly worship our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

    • A Charles Swindoll comment from a long-ago interview in which he was asked about his greatest fear for his preaching ministry was the danger of manipulating his hearers’ emotions. He sensed that such influence would block effectively and immediately the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the hearer. I think his wisdom here is relevant and applicable.

      Sent from my iPhone


  86. Your article here and your article “why they don’t sing” places no accountability on the participant. I wholeheartedly agree that the “reasons” that you give why people don’t sing contribute to the phenomenon; however, your argument is based on a premise that assumes that if we stopped the “performance,” turned down the music, got rid of the lighting, and never sang a new song, that everyone would sing. There’s alway accountability with the congregants: some are tired, some are in sin, some just want to take in everything–be “fed,” some just don’t like singing. There are a host of reason why people don’t sing. Our goal should be to create an environment where the most people would be willing to participate. I agree with you that the church may have gone too far, but I propose that there we’re good intentions in all of this, trying to create environments to help solve the problem of people not singing. Your premise is that people before now have always sung. It may have seemed that way with just a piano and music leader only. Maybe they are still singing but we’ve just drowned out the sound.

  87. IMO, pride-filled showmanship and raucous “praising” have generally come to displace reverence, and the physical adrenalin rush has displaced the spiritual appetite for and the quiet approval of the Spirit.

  88. Very well said! I am old enough to have started singing with hymns, and was there when we started singing choruses in church. (Remember the Maranatha Singers! ) I was a teenager at the time and remember thinking that the “old” people complaining needed to keep up with the times! Now I’m one of those “old” people that believe that something is missing in the modern day worship services. While I think that people are responsible for themselves and entering into worship, I do believe that some of today’s modern worship songs don’t have the depth that the older music has and doesn’t draw the congregation in. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with keeping up with the times and the worship team being professional and modern, nor do I think we should get stuck in the mire of some of the old hymns or choruses, I do believe we have lost something in the modern day worship services. Sometimes new isn’t better, it’s just new.

  89. What does that say about the Jesus they are suppose to represent or what the small eyes of children observe? It’s not really condusive with LOVE.. BTW.. neither is HELL..

  90. I believe there is only one reference int the New Testament on music and instruments (Eph 5:19). Ephesians 5:19New American Standard Bible (NASB)

    19 speaking to [a]one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord;

    The only instrument here is the heart (make melody with your heart).

    I go like an old time gospel singing wit instruments, but that is entertainment vice a worship service. Just my humble opinion

  91. Many years ago, I read an easy by Lewis Carroll complaining about the same things. He was used to Anglican liturgy services in which the congregants stood up and say down while reading or reciting scripture. Then choirs and organs took over the service, making it more a show which a passive audience watched than a religious experience where congregants participated. I couldn’t find the easy on The Internet right now, but I’m sure I read it.

  92. Thom,

    Your article has once again ignited a dialogue between myself, a contemporary worshipper and singer, and a couple friends of mine, also singers but traditional worshippers. I was brouis a ght up as a Catholic with my family and I responsible for the music selections every Sunday (a different group responsible for Saturday nights). We were there EVERY Sunday, save two or three per year if we were on vacation. I have been singing in church since I could read. As my sister and I got older, she picked up the guitar with my dad and also piano, and I was usually pushed to the front singing lead. My mother sang the harmonies, and occasionally a couple other people would sing with us, but we were the constants. We usually had a full church on Sundays because people preferred what they called “the guitar mass.” My participation, however, was limited to the music and what was necessary to lead the people as responses and any actions to be taken were usually led by us as well. We would start the procession for communion, initiate kneeling, standing, etc. Unfortunately, it was more a responsibility than a calling. We worked hard to bring in as much new content as we could or we would change the stylings of the old stuff. As a teen, I was far from inspired as a Christian. I believe many young Christians fall into that. They go to church because their family insists they go, and they go through the motions. Then when they get out on their own, church is the first thing to go in their lives. This is a reflection of the emphasis the church places on the youth. We have Sunday school classes in any church you go to, and that is geared to the young children, singing child-friendly songs. I am now almost 45, and every time I hear an old hymn, I cringe. It reminds me of everything I didn’t get out of church all those years.

    When I was first exposed to the contemporary format, I was little reluctant. I really knew nothing of having a truly personal experience and relationship with God. I LOVED the music! It made my blood flow. I enjoyed the music and how it made me feel. When I made that connection, that was one thing that made me return to church. As I stayed, I learned more about Jesus, what I’d been missing all this years, and I developed a real relationship. I am so glad that I did!!! I did not sing in church then, usually just observing as it was all so new to me. I felt like I was allowed to smile in church and ENJOY it rather than attend out of an unwritten obligation. Everyone is not a singer…not saying in terms of if they are good at it or not, but in their worship. Everyone doesn’t sing with the radio when they listen. And whether people sing or not isn’t indicative of their relationship with God. You cannot know where someone is in their walk with God or what they are comfortable with. It is a process for each person to decide how much or how little they wish to participate, and it might just be that when they go home, they sing to the top of their lungs. You cannot know that unless you’re talking to people, and even then, they might not answer you straight because they feel like by answering the question, they’re giving you space to judge them. Unfortunately, church is a very judgmental place.

    When you speak in terms of the Millennials, you have to consider that “judgement” and how it plays into their lives. I have not met a lot of teens in my life that just throw caution to the wind and don’t care what people think. It’s a great idea, but those are deep roots. Until someone realizes that the only opinions that matter are your own and God’s, that struggle is going to be there. At my old church (we left when we moved), our pastor wanted all of the musicians to be young, teen and young adults. I did not fit the demographic. I sang with them for a short time, but I didn’t fit in with the young people, and it was obvious. It also bothered me a lot. I felt that I had a lot to offer, and I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t want me. I was angry, and that anger permeated my praise and worship. One Sunday, as the music was playing, I could feel it just eating me up. I LOVED praise and worship, and I knew that if I was up there, people could see my love for Jesus, and then they would feel more comfortable entering into their own praise and worship time. What I didn’t understand was that it wasn’t that simple, and God showed/told me why, and it was about those young people.

    As I mentioned above, young people don’t often come with a “no fear” attitude when it comes to being an active, participating Christian in their church. Some see it as “uncool” and something that destroys their “street cred.” That’s precisely why we see such a big deal being made about prayer at the pole, prayer in public, etc. If we can bring in the young people and introduce them to real relationships with God, then we will hopefully start bringing previously uncommitted young people into a Christian lifestyle, correcting the erosion we’ve seen for so many years. I used to be called “goody two shoes” when I was in school because people knew I was at church every Sunday. I was that young adult that stopped going to church when I left home. I understand that struggle. When I was first saved, it wasn’t anything that I wanted to talk about. You wouldn’t catch me wearing a shirt with “Jesus” printed on it. Today, ask away, I’m glad to talk about Him, glad to show Him in my actions! That “acceptance” is a tool of Satan, and we need to blot that out!

    Anyway…that particular Sunday as I was in church and angry, I was praying and talking to God–right out loud because no one else could hear me with the music on. Well, I got a response! He told me “they need it.” They need what? He said that this was how they connect, and this music was how they (not everyone, but those that were on that praise team) would grow in Him. There were people that were interested in the same things, the music, and even if their praise and worship through music didn’t always seem “genuine” to everyone, they were there and they were saying the words, and seeds were being planted. They had the ability to express themselves in that group. As far as the video in your article talking about the pedal on the guitar and people raising their hands when he hit it, I think it’s a bit out of context. I often see people raise their hands during the chorus of a song. It repeats something that influences everyone, and so it seems like it’s the volume, but it’s the feeling. If I can help someone indulge in their praise and worship, I think it’s worth it! They might not feel something, but then again, they might. At that point, it’s not about the praise team, it’s about the person letting down their walls and actually communicating with God. He will meet you wherever you’re at. To sit and pick it all apart and be bothered by the music or how it’s brought to you, you’re falling into a trap delicately set. If the setting isn’t fostering an adequate environment for you to praise and worship freely, find the one that does. To lay it all at the feet of the praise and worship team would be wrong. The tone is set by the pastor(s). The leadership needs to be sure that the right things are happening. Some pastors might just be about the number of people in seats. They may preach the Word, but if everything that goes on repels commitment from people to God, then everything has run amok. That being said, sitting and judging what’s going on around you is not praise or worship. Bottom line is, “Are You Being FED?” If you can’t respond with an all-encompassing “YES,” then it just might not be the place for you. But I, for one, will no longer sit here and try to decide what is going on in someone’s heart when it comes to God. I cannot decide for them. I cannot control their actions. I need only be concerned about what’s in my heart. I am but one person and I cannot reach everyone, but God can. He has methods of reaching people that are impossible to predict. Who am I to interfere in what He can do? I don’t believe that someone can sing the words in praise and worship without eventually understanding what they mean to them. Pray for them when you think they’re missing it rather than recognizing it as a problem.

  93. Terrible truth. Stiff-necked worship leaders who want to put on performances do not care one iota about the honor of ushering praise of the people to the throne of God. Satan was a worship leader before he was cast down, don’t forget.

    We as christians should challenge it by not standing and fake singing. Let it be a visual proclamation against the church.

    Why do churches think putting earplugs in the entrance is the solution??? Earplugs where the word of God is preached? God may plug His ears to the church leaders in response. Prophecy?…….

  94. When I don’t sing, it’s because the band is icky and inhibiting me. The best church I found for singing was about 30 people. They had a very modest guy on acoustic and a female harmonizer. She sang so simply and concisely that I could learn the harmonies on the spot listening to her. These stage churches with the hearing aids and an aquarium for the drummer are just dismal. Pity the poor congregant with musical taste; it’s a hard road. I’m about to just start coming late and skipping the rock-star fantasy moment.

  95. I could not agree more! The familiarlity of hymns is too frequently missing. Perhaps a return toward “old time religion” would increase interest and fervency .

  96. Recently I was in a restaurant that had Mexican music playing in the back ground. Then suddenly the manager cranked it up as the restaurant filled up.
    It went from normal talking level to shouting at the person sitting next to me only. After a few minutes my voice got hoarse from shouting and I said to the lady next to me that I feel tired if shouting and it’s hurting my voice.
    I went to a church like that one time and I love to sing. I don’t like being a spectator in a church Sunday morning.
    I want to sing and worship my Lord and Saviour and I want to stand next to brothers and sisters who are in one accord. People who love the Lord and love people.
    The church I attend doesn’t have this big loud band up there on our stage.
    We have a song leader and most importantly a spirit filled preacher.
    We have specials where someone or a group will sing a spiritual song and we depend on the Holy Spirit to work in our service with out our interference.
    The preacher is my husband and he spends hours in the bible and on his knees and he has given his life to reaching souls. The men in our church are ordinary people from all walks of life. I guess what I am saying is we need to allow God to be in charge of us and of the Sunday worship times.
    Our human flesh needs to check out at the door of the church. We need to come expecting God to speak to us. The words of the songs need to glorify God and mean something.
    It’s a sad state of Affairs today. The music has become more important than the message from God or is that the problem nobody is wanting to hear the message anymore. Oh ya about God left the church concept. Who are the church anyway? God doesn’t dwell in the building! God dwells in his people.
    When we come together he is inside of those who have received Christ.
    I think if every church got on their knees before God and meant business he would move in our services without foot peddles and loud booming drums and electric guitars.
    Lisa Bueckert
    I am a member at the Bible Baptist Church in Red Deer Alberta

  97. Hi Thom, I love both your articles about Worship and agree in essence. Now if I could throw in a couple of other points not fully covered though. I have recently come to a new understanding of “Singing In The Spirit”. I used to believe that meant only singing in Tongues. Being an enthusiastic and rather loud, but not very good congregational singer I have been startled to find that when The Presence comes on a Worship service, my singing and those around me improves 10 fold. There are a few conditions though such as the music not being so loud it over comes the sound from the congregation, also that there are certain intimate worship songs that The Presence rests on, whats more that might change from one year to the next, but then some hymns from many years ago also still have The Presence resting on them. A key I think is that there are people in the congregation who “Abide” in the Lord during the week. The idea being don’t only look for God on Sunday, but find Him during the week and bring Him with you to Sunday services!

  98. Is there any truth to the arguments made by church leadership that they are following their vision and their “church culture,” so those with other ideas can find a church that worships in a way they find appealing?

  99. I like the music on Sonlifetv. They sang worship songs that I know and feel.


  1. The Modern Worship Problem: A Responsed | Jared B. Johnson - June 3, 2014

    […] […]

  2. Josh Pereira | To Sing or Not to Sing…Does it make a difference? - November 3, 2015

    […] Thom follows up his article with a second one entitled Confessions of a Worship War Mercenary […]

  3. How come Nobody’s Singing? | Sue's Pen2PaperBlog - February 9, 2016

    […] (See Thom’s follow-up post here: Confessions of a Worship Wars Mercenary.) […]

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