Let's face it, we've been there.
We pick the best of songs, practice and rehearse them like crazy, and then play them flawlessly on stage. Everything goes well, there are no musical shipwrecks, and we're feeling wonderful. Then, we take a look at the people and... there's... nothing! No one seems to be singing... and you're left wondering why the congregation is unable to get into the brilliant set-list we are delivering.
As a worship leader, nothing used to deflate me faster than an unengaged congregation. Frustration, anger, misery, disappointment... I'd feel all of that and more... I'd also drive myself crazy later analyzing it all, trying to figure out what went wrong. While this doesn't happen to me so much these days, I can still remember my rookie years when I went through it... often. Experience and time are good teachers, I guess!
7 Keys to Inspire the Congregation to Sing
1. Keep up with what's important
There's a danger in trying to keep up with every new song churned out by the worship music industry every day. It's a losing proposition considering the sheer quantity of new material available now. We can easily get too busy looking for the next great usable song and lose the voice of the Holy Spirit. The natural next step is to lose the congregation.
We need to be striving to keep up with the Holy Spirit instead, trying to listen to His heart and finding out what He wants us to sing. If we tune into the Holy Spirit, our congregations will tune into the worship.
2. Focus on engaging
It's critical to work on connecting with our congregations over and above just musical excellence. Our musical artistry and leadership of people need to work together to create an environment that welcomes participation instead of causing disengagement. Do you have moments to pray, read scripture, be in silence during your worship session? Or it is just song after song after song?
Take a video of one of your sessions and watch it later; you will easily figure out most of your areas of improvement! It's easy to go through a set like a musician playing a paid gig. We need to be thinking more about drawing people into worship.
3. Consider the song mix
Do you also consider the needs of the people when you select songs? Or is it simply, "I like the song, so I will use it"? Traditional hymns, familiar classics, a new song, and so on... have a good mix of songs; don't be a one trick pony that can only pick and play one particular type of songs. A good set-list will have something for everyone.
4. How loud are you?
Check your volume level, is it too high or too low? Are the vocals heard well above the musical instruments? Is the drummer pounding away too much? Is the electric guitarist overplaying all over the song? If people are unable to hear themselves, they won't feel like singing, it's as simple as that. Work on setting a comfortable and balanced sound.
5. What are we singing?
Look at the lyrics... are they making sense? Are the songs fitting into the overall theme of the day? Are the lyrics worth singing together? Worth singing to the Almighty God? Appealing to the culture and tradition of your Church? Are the lyrics able to teach Godly truths and explore the Gospel? Think about how people of different age groups would feel about the lyrics that we are singing; would they make sense to everyone?
6. Infuse dynamics
Is everyone playing together at the same time from the start to the finish of every song? Is yes, then, there's a problem. Stop thinking like a musician and put on the attitude of an arranger. A good worship session needs to have some quiet intimate moments as much as those high anthemic moments. Too much of both is bad.
Figure out which instruments need to be playing in which sections. More importantly, figure out when they don't need to be playing! If there are no valleys, there would be no mountains, right?
7. How familiar are the songs?
This is probably the no. 1 hurdle that comes in the way of congregational singing: they don't know the song! Worship leaders and musicians learn songs faster than the average congregation. We also tire of songs quicker, and so we keep selecting more new songs, thereby successfully compounding the problem!
Take time to teach the new song, repeat each section many times when playing it for the first time. Be patient with people and don't have more than one new song in a set-list. Maybe two at the most if the songs are simple enough. As a rule of thumb, more familiar songs and the least number of new songs is the way to go.
Remember, if the congregation is not involved, it's music, not worship.